Retail suppliers voice concern about the loss of independent garden centres

Concerns about the impact of consolidation in the garden retail market on suppliers were uppermost in many exhibitors minds at the Four Oaks Trade Show this week.

Many exhibitors at the show, which was busier than ever with strong visitor numbers on its opening day, expressed their worries about the loss of more independents as news broke of Sanders GardenWorld’s sale to Wyevale Garden Centres. (see story below). The sale follows Tesco’s take-over of the 21-strong Dobbies garden centre chain. Andy Rollings of Worfield Gardens in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, which specialises in heathers, alpines, herbaceous plants and shrubs, with a customer base of independent garden centres including Sanders GardenWorld, said: “Sanders changing to Wyevale does impact on us — we are not big enough to deal with people like Wyevale. Each time we lose a good independent.” Bernard Hawkes of Growmoor, the fifth largest supplier of compost in the UK, predicted that the in-creasing influence of multiples in the market would reduce the mix of products available to the consumer. “The average multiple will only buy two to four products, while the average independent will stock 12 to 14 — so the consumer will lose out”. Meanwhile, Sadie Lynes of Newbury-based Christmas-tree grower Jadecliff said she feared that the “big would get bigger and the smaller would disappear” and urged garden centres to work with local suppliers. Ceramic Gift Company sales manager Steve Potter said the entry of Tesco into the market would knock prices. “They want more discount every year. Before they’ve even seen the product they want to know how much of a discount you’re offering. All suppliers will be concerned.” But other suppliers exhibiting at the show said they saw the changes as merely pushing along the process of polarisation already under way in the sector between high-volume garden retail and more specialist outlets. Northern Liners general manager John Billington said: “Retail nurseries are increasing orders from us each year. Traditional garden centres are losing plant sales to them as they’ve chosen to take their businesses to other products.” One such retail nursery, Cambridgeshire-based Plantation, is benefiting from this polarisation, said co-owner Sheila Bickford. “There’s room in the market for both — we shouldn’t be scared of the supermarkets. If they’re promoting gardening in general, people will be thinking of it. We just need to find a point of differentiation.”

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