Mdj2 Associates director Andy Newman said: "Garden centres will now be looking ahead to the early May bank holiday to really drive sales. I would suggest most will have been pretty reserved in their expectations for an early Easter weekend, as it rarely delivers the kick-start for the season everyone in the industry needs. That said, improving temperatures since Easter will have helped to drive some footfall as keen gardeners spring into action. There is still plenty to play for in April with three weekends still to come before the big bank holiday - and as always a few days of sunshine are all it takes to transform footfall and sales."
He added: "The first May bank holiday weekend usually signals the start of the furniture and barbecue season too, so centres will be focusing plenty of attention on this. We can expect to see Bunnings and B&Q go properly head-to-head for the first time over the bank holiday weekend too, with lawnmowers, barbecues and bedding plants likely to be the key focus. Indications suggest their advertising will be all about price. Garden centres, meanwhile, can focus on delivering the great standards, plant quality and service that sets them apart from the 'sheds'. With seven or eight peak weeks still to come, it really is all to play for."
Malcolm Scott Consultants director Malcolm Scott said sales have begun after a slow start. "May bank holiday is more important this year because of the early Easter, which fell on a bad weather weekend after a wet and cold March. In January, we thought all the all the plants would be over by April, but suddenly it went cold and it's been a bit depressing and most centres have been down until early April."
Garden Centre Association chief executive Iain Wylie said of the May bank holidays: "I don't think it is do or die. Against budgets there's not an issue but looking against last year there are big figures to chase for April because it had Easter in, so these bank holidays will be important."
He pointed out that an early Easter always means lost momentum in garden centres, while Longacres' Mike Ainley said sales are "patchy" although the first weekend in April was good, especially as it was comparing against Easter in 2015.
The weather forecast will see temperatures starting to go consistently above 12 degsC in the last fortnight of the month for the first time this year. Ainley added: "Given that Easter was so early and cold we could do with some good weather for the two May bank holidays." He said the first weekend in April, which coincided with Easter 2015, was better than Easter 2016.
Retail consultant Neville Stein said: "Plant sales over the Easter period were not as strong as they could have been had the weather been more conducive to gardening. A slowish start to the season should mean pent-up demand for plants and if the weather is good at the end of the month the first bank holiday in May could result in strong plant sales. Having Easter at a different time each year brings challenges for garden retailers and makes it more difficult to plan, so there might be some mileage in considering a fixed date for Easter."