The tour visited:
Hillmount Garden Centre, Belfast
Donaghadee Garden Centre
Harrisons of Greyabbey
Woodlawn Garden Centre
The Garden Room at Malahide
Stein said: "My overall impression particularly in Northern Ireland is that garden retailers have to work much harder than retailers in most of England to develop a sustainably profitable business. This is because there is a small population, 1.8 million serviced by at least 10 decent garden retailers including Dobbies. That coupled with wetter weather than most parts of the UK make it a challenging retail landscape. Also garden centres don't open on Sunday morning."
Stein said to compete in this retail environment catering has become a significant proportion of retailers businesses in Northern Ireland - because this has been one way to weatherproof the business.
He said lessons from the tour included:
1. Be known for something - Hillmount, BBQ academy; Donagahdee, lemon meringue pie; Woodlawn, clothing.
2. Promote family heritage.
3. Know who your customers are and what they want.
4. Reduce range on plants to improve stock turn.
5. You have to work hard to get millenials into your business - maybe the catering is the way to do that.
See more in HW 18 March.