Strong December sales reported across garden centres

Garden centre directors have reported strong December 2015 sales. "Last year (2014) October and November were 20 per cent up on Christmas - a trend I think felt industry wide - consumer optimism had returned and helped those months last year," said Blue Diamond managing director Alan Roper.

"Therefore they were always going to be tough months to beat and thus it was a soft start to Christmas. However, December delivered to meet our overall Christmas sales budget. December trade was strong, which means we were very pleased with our overall trade and have ended the year above budget for 2015."

Squire's saw the whole Christmas period up by 10 per cent, with December +12 per cent. The week from Christmas to New Year was 22 per cent up after sales began on 24 December. Christmas tree sales were eight per cent up. Houseplants were slightly down while gifts performed well, particularly in December, said managing director Dennis Espley.

Like-for-like December total sales were +10.6 per cent year-on-year at Hillier. Like-for-like Christmas sales were 40 per cent up year-on-year, while Christmas trees sold out bar a few odd trees by the end of 20 December and were up 12 per cent year-on-year.

Hillier retail director Chris Francis said: "The Christmas season has been a good one for us despite this awful weather. It seems very strange that we are all praying for a cold snap sooner. Fingers crossed we aren't heading towards one of those cold late spring seasons. All categories have performed well except those that include the cold weather products - fuel, plant protection, heaters, etc. Wild bird care has just about matched last year."

Klondyke managing director Bob Hewitt said: "Our overall like-for-like sales were marginally up in December. Our sales of Christmas product were flat on last year but given the atrocious weather in the north and in Scotland I was relatively pleased with the sales achieved." He added: "Our coffee shops and restaurants performed very well throughout the whole Christmas period. The sale period since Christmas has been buoyant."

Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker said December was up 19 per cent for outdoor sales, adding: "Christmas was very pleasing and extremely busy." He said mild weather helped outdoor sales and the year ended +13 per cent.

Needle drop - Harvest Christmas trees later to help avoid issues

Christmas trees must be harvested later to avoid needle-drop issues, according to growers, wholesalers and retailers, after the mildest December on record saw higher than usual levels of returns of trees shedding needles.

Christopher Hood, director at Christmas tree wholesaler Needlefresh, said trees sold through "fairly well" in 2015 but there was "more needle drop, undoubtedly a result of the incredibly mild weather seen before Christmas".

He added: "Growers are aware of the climate getting warmer and there is a lot of talk now about needing to find more softer techniques to ensure trees are as fresh as possible for as long as possible such as making sure they are handled very carefully after cutting and leaving cutting to as late as possible.

"One of the problems is the pressure from multiple retailers to have trees on sale early. For some years there has been constant pressure coming that retailers must have trees on sale from as early as mid November and I sincerely believe that while a retailer can sell 10-15 per cent before the end of November, if they don’t have them on sale until the beginning of December they would still get these sales."

Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker said: "Needle drop was far more than usual due to mild weather conditions at harvest." He added that trees should not be harvested until the second week of November and said the issue needs to be debated or else artificial tree sales will increase at the expense of real trees.

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