You have just 12 months to ‘save’ industry, independents warned

Independent garden centres have only 12 months to save their industry from the threat of the multiples, retail guru John Stanley told the Four Oaks Trade Show.

He said: “We face huge challenges as an industry, and its culture has to change. We have a window of opportunity to do that and it won’t be there in 12 months’ time.” Key to this change is the role of the plant manager, he added. “Plant managers have to drive the industry but they need to change their attitude. Right now what they want is a cheap lavender.” Instead, they should be targeting their displays to specific customer types, Stanley believes. “A display aimed at everyone is aimed at no one. You have to ask yourself, ‘who is my target consumer?’” He accused retailers of concentrating their efforts too much on the “baby boomer” generation of 55- to 65-year-olds. “They’re spending more on landscape design or on knitting. They’re not your core business any more.” Instead, retailers need to know how to market to younger consumers, particularly women, he said. “They lead the industry at the consumer level, so you need to understand them better.” Stanley said of the “Generation Y” consumers in the 15-25 age range: “They don’t read emails, but texting is an important tool here and will grow. Is there a UK garden centre on YouTube? If not, why not?” A consequence of this reorientation is that garden centres should be promoting lifestyles rather than individual plants, he added. “Outdoor living drives the category. These are people who want to be decorators, not gardeners, and they expect you to know the trends — in particular, what colours are ‘in’ each season. This is an industry led by colour.” Stanley said selling products as environmentally friendly offered another opportunity. “Our customers are already there — they demand green products in other industries. But this is the green industry.” To know whether they are succeeding, plant managers need hard data on yield, he added. “If you’re not getting £500 per square metre per year, you’re not in retailing. Does your plant manager even know that figure? How can you improve without a benchmark?” Midlothian-based Pentland Plants garden centre manager Carolyn Spray, who attended the seminar, said: “I agree with a lot of what he says. We have young, trendy displays as well as the more traditional. Independents have a lot going for them — you can do what you want, when you want.”

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