Strong end to Easter sales period shows promise for rest of garden retail season

'Cold and miserable' Good Friday for garden centres but stronger sales reported with better weather on Easter Monday.

Squire’s Garden Centres: bumper trading reported on Easter Monday
Squire’s Garden Centres: bumper trading reported on Easter Monday

Gardening retail sales have started slower than in 2014 but with a strong end to Easter are showing promise for the rest of April.

Garden Centre Association (GCA) chief executive Iain Wylie said Easter was "fair" with Easter Monday sales making up for a "cold and miserable" Good Friday.

He added: "Most people are satisfied but sales are slightly down on last March. Last March had phenomenal weather. You need to look at it over the longer spring period. It is slower - there's no two ways about it. The weather in March has been more variable but when the weather has been good for gardening, people have been out gardening. There's been encouraging sales in gardening, particularly in plants.

"Most people I've spoken to seemed to think it was a fair Easter. Monday made up for Friday because the weather turned on the Sunday. Most people are reconciled to being closed on the Sunday but it's a bit frustrating to see people at the gates when you're closed."

Wylie said garden retailers are "getting away from talking about sales being up and down" year-on-year because of "huge variations over the past few years".

Online sellers, being open 265 days a year, 24 hours a day, should "expect to be slightly quieter on Sundays because people are doing other things, one of which is going to the garden centre", he added. "But even an average Sunday in April is worth having in the till."

He said law changes for Easter Sunday opening times are low on the political agenda ahead of the election.

Squire's Garden Centres managing director Dennis Espley said Easter Monday was a "bumper day" but the weekend overall was split because of the weather.

"Friday and Saturday were really disappointing but it has picked up on Monday and Tuesday," he said, adding that people have started buying bedding, shrubs and garden furniture, with compost and gifts better than average.

Matthew Bent, chief executive at Bents in Cheshire, said following a "washout" on Friday, Saturday and Monday were good, with both days up on last year. The improved weather is "getting everyone out and in the gardening mood", he added.

Coolings Garden Centre chairman Paul Cooling said the Kent garden centre was still very busy in the week following Easter, but Easter was down on last year because it fell two weeks earlier.

Haskins chief executive Julian Winfield said the early Easter meant sales were six per cent down compared to last year, but sales are "pretty much level" with this time last year. Sales in the week following Easter were reasonable and it is "going in the right direction".

GCA chair Will Armitage said even though Easter was two weeks earlier than last year, the association's members have done well, with "very impressive" sales at some garden centres.

Wyevale Garden Centres said its garden furniture sales were one-third higher than last Easter.

One "shed" retailer is believed to have had its best day ever for gardening on Easter Monday.

Online sales - Easter Sunday trading performance challenged

Online Easter Sunday gardening sales may not be as high as garden centre owners - who want the law changed to allow them to trade - believe.

Ian Charles, chief executive at the UK's biggest online garden centre Primrose, said Easter Sunday sales were: "About the same or slightly down on a normal Sunday. I guess there are compensating factors - can't go to garden centre but doing family things rather than shopping online. A bit like Christmas Day but not as bad." But QVC said Easter Sunday was "huge" for gardening sales.

Charles said Easter 2015 is difficult to compare because in 2014 Easter was further into the season. "We see sales increasing every week from winter until May/June. So if I compare this Easter with last, we were 25 per cent up, which is pleasing given that 20 April would normally see bigger sales than 5 April."

March sales figures

Garden Centre Association March 2015 figures show sales were five-to-seven per cent down on March 2014. Year-to-date results are flat against 2014.

March outdoor plant sales were 10-15 per cent down and are seven-to-eight per cent down for the year to date. Sundries sales were also 10-15 per cent down and four-to-five per cent down year to date.

But catering sales for March were 12-15 per cent up and five-to-seven per cent up year to date, indicating good footfall but weather too cold for customers to be buying plants.

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