Roper questions core gardening decline at industry event

Blue Diamond managing director, speaking partly in a personal capacity at the Chartered Institute of Horticulture's conference, highlighted a lack of focus on gardening and too many concessions in some other centres, giving independents and retail nurseries opportunities to prosper.

Speaking at the event held in London on 30 November, Roper asked: "Are garden centres heading in the right direction? I ask this question in light of high street retailing increasingly taking space in UK garden centres threatening the core, the heart, the soul of garden centres.

"Garden centre customers seek escape from the high street experience. At Blue Diamond we operate non-gardening but retail in a way that has a softer image that gells with the core gardening offer."

The Otley College-trained Roper, speaking from his horticulturist background and not as Blue Diamond managing director, said he sees "worrying signs that gardening/horticulture is being marginalised in some areas of the chain garden retail industry. Thankfully the industry still has strong independents championing gardening although a few not by all means all are treading the same path. Is this the right path?"

He added: "As gardening authority wanes in these retailers, this opens the door of potential opportunity for the smaller garden retail nursery and good plant based garden centres as keen gardeners look elsewhere for a credible gardening offer.

"As we know as a group there is still good growth to be had in gardening."  He added: "The growers benefit if we stay true to our core."

Roper said the Blue Diamond Group will hit £100m sales in 2017 from £94m this year. He added that in areas such as books, moving from discounters to full price, better quality ranges was one of the areas where aiming at a higher demographic was paying off for the group.

Blue Diamond sales splits are 18 per cent restaurant, seven per cent Xmas, five per cent fashion, nine per cent leisure, 16 per cent gardening, 18 per cent home, 21 per cent plants, five per cent pest/aquatics and two per cent other, making a 52/48 garden/non-garden split.

Blue Diamond will increase size from 18 to 20 garden centres this month.

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