July disappoints as garden retailers look towards autumn

Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker says sales growth in March, April and May could not be sustained as the summer holidays began.

He says there is still summer colour to sell with salvia and "fantastic" Allensmore delphiniums available so autumn plants such as cyclamen, pansy, calluna and hebe, as well as autumn young veg plants can wait until week 33.

Bunker says independent garden centres got a "head start" in March with early sales of cherry, forsythia and ribes going well for instance and that was kept up through the main season. But July was single digit percentage figures down.

Dobbies chief executive Nicholas Marshall says July sales were "not far" from budget and were helped by "particularly good" plant sales making up for garden furniture sales that were not as good because of bad weather.

Marshall says the group has cleared stock ahead of July sales and is now well-placed to bring in new, higher quality indoor ranges for autumn and Christmas.

At John Lewis, sales of DIY home products, such as the HONDA Petrol Ride on Lawnmower, were up 67% last week.

GCA chief executive Iain Wylie says the "story of the latter half of the season" was some centres did better than other based on the weather they had.

Meanwhile, retail sales growth picked up in the year to July, exceeding expectations for minimal growth, according to the latest monthly CBI Distributive Trades Survey.

The survey of 111 firms, of which 57 were retailers, showed that the volume of sales grew – driven by grocery and clothing sales in particular - while orders placed on suppliers rose at a solid pace for a second consecutive month. Overall, sales for the time of year were considered to be slightly above seasonal norms.

Looking ahead, retailers expect steady expansions in both sales and orders in the year to August, at paces similar to those seen this month.

Growth in internet sales was little changed from last month in the year to July, and marginally below the long-run average.

Elsewhere in the distribution sector, wholesalers continued to report above-average growth in sales volumes, but motor traders reported the fastest drop in sales since November 2013.

Anna Leach, CBI Head of Economic Intelligence, said: "The warm summer has added a sizzle to our high streets as shoppers defied expectations, with sales growth in clothing shops and grocers driving overall performance.

"But while retailers expect a similar pace of growth next month, the factors underpinning their sales growth are more shaky. Although employment is strong, real incomes are falling in the wake of higher inflation, and that’s expected to feed slower consumer spending growth ahead."


  • 48% of retailers said that sales volumes were up in July on a year ago, whilst 26% said they were down, giving a balance of +22%. This out-performed expectations last month (+3%)
  • 40% of respondents expect sales volumes to increase next month, with 20% expecting a decrease, giving a balance of +20%
  • 32% of retailers placed more orders with suppliers than they did a year ago, whilst 22% placed fewer orders, giving a balance of +10%.
  • 23% of retailers reported that their volume of sales for the time of year were good, whilst 17% said they were poor, giving a balance of +6%
  • Internet sales volumes expanded at a steady pace in the year to July (+43%) and are expected to grow at near similar pace in the year to August (+41%)
  • Year-on-year sales volumes increased strongly in clothing (+34%) and grocers (+53%) in July. Meanwhile sales volumes fell in specialist food & drink (-48%).


  • 41% of wholesalers reported sales volumes to be up on last year, and 7% said they were down, giving a balance of +34%, beating expectations (+14%). Volumes are expected to grow at a slightly slower pace next month (+23%).

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