Seabrook on... reducing orders and cutting waste

Early January is the time to plan for next Christmas -- memories are still fresh of shredding unsold Christmas trees and barrowing poinsettias to the skip. While reviewing sales for 2009 and noting wastage, another difficult number now has to be included.

Eighteen months ago, 3.5 million unemployed looked likely. Now four million looks a more realistic figure. We all know that in the real world no one borrows their way out of debt. Paying back Britain's billions of borrowings will be painful.

Were I to be in the hot seat reserving Christmas trees and flowering pot plants for next December, there would be at least a 10% reduction in orders. While turnovers are unlikely to increase dramatically, overhead costs inevitably will. So how do we budget for all this?

Reducing production numbers for both Christmas trees and poinsettias is likely to keep wholesale prices firm, so retailers have to reduce wastage, actively attack shrinkage (all indicators show a rise in shoplifting) and tailor wage costs to turnover.

Attacking wastage is the easiest of these three and regular inspections of the skip are essential. A neat bay to hold and compost all plant throw-outs reduces skip costs. If you have a demo vegetable plot or ornamental display beds, such material is useful.

Retailers actively looking to give customers value for money and building sales should ensure that there are always bags of seed and cuttings compost early and late in the season when feed levels in universal composts can be too high for small seeds.

Visiting a large number of garden centres across the country, the one thing that really strikes me is how few have a tray containing pots of parsley by the till. These sell year-round given good exposure and out-sell other bedding — except perhaps pansies and violas.

Even if my forecast is too pessimistic and the garden trade soars over the next 12 months, good housekeeping will still not come amiss.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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