HTA conference hears calls for business change

Garden centres and nurseries must adapt for the future post-Brexit, the HTA's annual conference in Oxfordshire has heard.

In a panel discussion on Brexit and the next 10 years of garden retail, Ferndale Garden Centre's Neil Grant said garden retail had always dealt with change and although prices will rise post-Brexit, there was scope for plant prices to rise. But he said there was less flexibility on known-price items such as Miracle Gro.

Scotts ' Sheila Hill said retailers and suppliers needed to share price rises, caused by hikes within the supply chain. She said urban gardeners, the 'connected yard' using Apps for watering and natural plant protection were focusses.

Newey Group's Alex Newey said he can "tweak" product formats to absorb some new costs, but they needed to be shared by the retailer when they filter through post-May 2017.

The conference coincided with a dispute between Unilever and Tesco, in which Tesco ran shot of Unilever groceries after the supplier attempted to raise wholesale prices following sterling dropping 16 per cent since the Brexit vote,

HTA chief executive Carol Paris said: "Garden centres are in charge of their own destinies. We have the opportunity, we have the soace for experiential, educational and entertainment and well-being, the social aspect, air conditioning for plants. What industry would you want to be in other than horticulture?"

Paris and Grant agreed horticulture, and particularly plants, are "undervalued".

Grant and Newey agreed that "collections" of plants would be sold in the future, but Newey said they would not be different plants when compared to today.

After the event, planner Malcolm Scott said: "Garden centres are different to supermarkets because they don't have the monopoly like Tesco to face up to the suppliers. Also, they're not a weekly shop and people are not as aware of prices to the same extent. Everyone knows the price of a pint of milk but not many know weedkiller or slug pellets. Hopefully, there will be more plants from the UK so they shouldn't go up. If it stays the same, this should encourage young plants growers in the UK."

University of Sheffield's Dr Ross Cameron had earlier spoken on climate change and plants, concluding that resilience could be as big a factor as novelty in producing new plants as the climate warms, while flood and drought increase. He said policy makers could help the industry by introducing legislation to make developers use more plants to alleviate the effects of climate change such as the urban heat island effect, and also to insulate houses.

His talk, gardening in a disruptive climate, said climate change predictions were for the climate to be 1-4 degrees centigrade warmer by 2050, with 5-30 per cent more rain in winter and 20-40 per cent less in summer. There would be less snow and frost but more drought and flood and a longer growing season.

He said by 2050 half the country will "rely on irrigation to keep garden plants ticking over", adding: "Volatility is the real challenge-we’re used to variation." This includes unseasonable high and low temperatures, less snow and frost rapid oscillation between wet and dry soils.

His talk, gardening in a disruptive climate, said climate change predictions were for the climate to be 1-4 degrees centigrade warmer by 2050, with 5-30 per cent more rain in winter and 20-40 per cent less in summer. There would be less snow and frost but more drought and flood and a longer growing season.

He said by 2050 half the country will "rely on irrigation to keep garden plants ticking over", adding: "Volatility is the real challenge-we’re used to variation." This includes unseasonable high and low temperatures, less snow and frost rapid oscillation between wet and dry soils.

Pleydell Smithyman's Paul Pleydell said stability brought by "more legs to our table" was the way ahead. He said experiential retailing, weatherproofing, younger audiences, following what sells most per sqm without losing core gardening, renting out space and "bravery" were the future.

He said soft play and butchery were the biggest profit centres garden centres could have at present.

Future Foundation speakers described new technology coming into retail, "disrupting" traditional sales.

Hozelock's Adrian Davey said established businesses can be caught being "incremental" looking for 1-2 per cent annual gains, but "need to be alive to change" as Uber and Air B&B have been.

Raymond Evison of Guernsey Clematis Nursery was awarded the HTA Pearson Memorial Medal.

The HTA moves to new offices near Didcot next week. The venue will be available to hire and could be used for future HTA events.

See more in Horticulture Week.


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