The latest retail sales figures underline the difficulties retailers are facing, with overall sales from January to May 3.3 per cent down on the same period last year, according to the Garden Centre Association (GCA).
However, there is a silver lining for smaller operators, whose sales are only marginally down on 2005.
GCA figures show stores with a turnover of more than £4m were hardest hit, with sales down 6.24 per cent for the year to 31 May.
By contrast, stores with turnover below £2m saw a sales drop of just 0.18 per cent.
Hard landscaping sales were down 15 per cent, outdoor plant sales dropped eight per cent and furniture and barbecues were down seven per cent. The only increases came in unrelated sectors — coffee shops were up nine per cent and giftware rose by 6.6 per cent.
GCA president David Danning said sales varied across the country, with the hosepipe ban clearly having an impact in the South East.
He said: “What stands out most is that those who are well ahead have invested in their centres over the past 12 months.
“There will be some casualties but I don’t think we need to be despondent. We still have an edge because garden centres have people with knowledge and should be ahead on plant quality.”
Garden writer Peter Seabrook said: “It has not been a good year for retail. After two tough years, sales at best are up to last year but overheads have gone up again.”
Independent trade figures suggest retail sales were four per cent down in April, having been 16 per cent down in March and three per cent down in February.
Some garden centres are bucking the trend. Cherry Hill Garden Centre director Janet Summers reported sales were up about 10 per cent on last year: “We are quite pleased, given that it has been a very difficult year. It was building up brilliantly, but then the rain came and now we have got the football.”
HTA figures show horticultural stock sales 9.4 per cent down year-on-year to the end of April and manufactured goods down 27.4 per cent. May saw much of the stock loss pulled back, the HTA said.
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