"As Mary Portas very effectively reminded us at the HTA conference a fortnight ago, we do have some new challenges to face. A demanding economy, new environmental issues, and a digital revolution all mean that it is vital for us to accept that change is happening – and that we have to change with it" she said.
"We have to move on from a retail culture based on just making money at the lowest possible cost – "greed and gain", Mary called it. We have got to recognise now that we have to be more generous and involving in our customer offer – and to give more in order to gain more. Fortunately we have much to give if we get it right, and it needn`t in fact cost us very much either.
"For instance, we can strengthen the services for our changing customer base – real and visible garden design and planting help for instance, as well as having staff who are actually happy at what they do. We can go on improving our hospitality through developing our Catering offers right through the week. We can play more on the heritage and local provenance of our plant suppliers. And we can also strengthen our links – loudly and clearly – with our local communities. We should be proud of what we do in this respect, and certainly not hide it away.
"We should also recognise that we`ve got far more younger customers now coming through the doors. They have a potential over many years to spend far more than our traditional older customers. This new generation need to be addressed through modern communications, they need to be given an exciting and contemporary retail environment in which to feel at home, and in particular they need to be inspired with dynamic and novel merchandising schemes.
"Fortunately the key trends are very much on our side, too. The "New Consumer" has higher personal and moral standards than in the past. People now want to do what is right for the environment and for their local communities, they are rediscovering the garden – home grown produce and contemporary urban gardens are good examples. And they are valuing real and natural things and experiences, not superficial, mass-produced chain-store stuff.
"So we`ve got a lot going for us but there is more we can do, provided we are prepared to go on changing as our customer base changes.
"Our prize winners tonight are characterised by their ability to anticipate the need for change and to innovate to exploit this. So there are Awards for innovation in plants and products, in design and build, in customer service and staff training, and in catering and marketing. And the energy and effort in simply seeking to be the best at garden retailing is of course rewarded as well.
"So let`s now salute those who have gone the extra mile – the award winners."