"Weatherproofing" dominates thoughts of industry leaders at Glee

Extending the season and "weatherproofing" garden centres was a big theme on the opening day of Glee after the record levels of rain this summer led to depressed sales.

Fiskars wants to extends season
Fiskars wants to extends season

Garden Centre Group MD Nicholas Marshall told HW "weatherproofing" was more crucial than ever this year and concessions and restaurants were the way the 129-centre chain were going about it.

Fiskars MD John Grayson said Kitchen Devils knives, autumn products such as rakes and axes and snow tools were all designed to lengthen the sales season and make garden centre business less weather-dependent.

GIMA director Neil Gow said: "Garden centres selling kitchen and homeware are sensible. You'd be crazy not to." He said the longstanding three months good, six months flat and three months loss garden retail law still largely stood.

Bord na Mona, which now runs Vital Earth's sales and marketing, launched more Fire Magic products, with the aim of developing the home fuels section of garden centres. Research showed half of centres do not sell the category.

Scotts Miracle Gro general manager Martin Breddy said after three "pretty good years" the weather in 2012 was the issue that hit the industry but "we need to plan extremely cautiously because we don't know how consumer behaviour is really affected by the economy". He said the current economic conditions were unprecedented.

Fiskars MD Grayson said: "I have to be optimistic about 2013. The statistics say is it really possible to have two of the wettest summers on record running concurrently?"

Greenhouse Garden Centre owner Malcolm Scott said sales were up in the last three or four weeks of good weather, which indicates poor sales in the spring were down to poor weather rather than the economy.

Burcot Garden Centre owner and GIMA director Neil Gow said: "We're 16 per cent up on last September and last September was quite strong though we didn't make much money last September because we were selling a lot of furniture off cheap, which we're not doing this year."

He added that he hopes the garden centre industry will not be tempted to boost its poor cashflow by "flooding the market with cheap product" because it "devalues if we sell cheap" from next year's sales. He added: "Hold your nerve." Gow said the price of out of season products was "almost irrelevant now" with prices having to be so low to sell they probably would not cover cost plus VAT. He added: "It's been a tough season for everyone but retailers have had it easier than suppliers this season because of the diversity of products retailers are selling."

He said: "People are going to be cautious but what's the difference between caution and sense? Over recent years have we been carried away and led by furniture people? It has become easier to deal direct with offshore companies."

* Fiskars has launched a new brand after combining Sankey with its German sister company Ebert to form international label Ebert Sankey, which will sell indoor and outdoor container gardening products. The 1,000-product range is being marketed to independent garden centres, B&Q and Homebase. The range is designed to sell alongside giftware as orchid pots and also includes balcony, patio and self-water pots. New MD John Grayson said this year's rain hit water butt and cutting tool sales and that a new SAP replenishment programme in the last year had caused a "blip" and "let one or two customers down" but the company was now on track to deliver top customer service.

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