In areas such as books, moving from discounters to full-price, better-quality ranges is one area where aiming at a higher demographic is paying off, he explained. Blue Diamond sales splits are 18 per cent restaurant, seven per cent Christmas, five per cent fashion, nine per cent leisure, 16 per cent gardening, 18 per cent home, 21 per cent plants, five per cent pets/aquatics and two per cent other, making a 52/48 garden/non-garden split.
Blue Diamond will increase in size from 18 to 20 centres this month with the purchase of a Cambridgeshire centre and one north of that. Roper said high street retailing is "increasingly taking space in UK garden centres, threatening their core heart and soul. 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."
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 all, are treading the same path.
"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. We know as a group there is still good growth to be had in gardening. The growers benefit if stay true to our core."