Predicting the future is no easy task

Trying to foretell the future is a mug's game, as those consultants who claimed factors other than the weather were holding down turnover have, after two sunny May Bank holidays and a warm July, now found out.

Peter Seabrook
Peter Seabrook
When Albert Bygraves and his son started growing woody plants in containers in the early 1960s, we could see year round selling, and garden centre development was a natural.

Subsequently, it became obvious that middle-range turnover garden centres were vulnerable — and so it has proved as the pioneer generation have sold out to multiple retailers. The big destination centres are increasingly dependent on coffee shops and Christmas sales, which poses the big question: "What future for plant sales?"

Few of us foresaw the potential of TV shopping channels, online retailing continues to make headway, and mail order offers potential, especially when selling to the better off, older generation.

National flower shows look to have the smell of death about them as floral marquee exhibitors steadily decline in number, size of exhibits shrink and aisles get wider. Two years ago I thought the RHS garden shows were the way forward with ready-made, low-cost sites and services available.

But visiting the Hyde Hall Flower Show this year I am now not so sure. The absence of judging and award for display quality is allowing standards to slip. Further, the Society can hardly expect exhibitors to make an effort when it erects a large marquee and stocks it with container plants to sell in direct competition with small nursery exhibitors.

Now one of the big chains has independent consultants sitting in on buying negotiations, telling experienced horticulturists how to do their job and insisting on a three per cent cut in prices for the coming year. We all know where that will lead.

What future, then, for a UK wholesale nursery growing to a high standard? My advice would be to team up with an online provider and sell direct.     

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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