At a recent HTA retail management group meeting, it was revealed garden centres were increasingly being used as a focus for the community they served.
Increased visits by grandparents and grandchildren were noticed during the school holidays, while many reported networks of mothers meeting for coffee, as well as business meetings being held.
More community groups were using on-site lecture rooms, in addition to various education and training courses offered by garden centres. Centres are taking this further by offering crafts and drop-in activities, and running lectures or events, with the aim to drive additional footfall and sales.
London-based Clifton Nurseries events manager Kathleen Sullivan said they ran a series of garden-focused events throughout the summer which helped to bring awareness of the nursery to a bigger audience.
"We see the nursery as an extension of our customer's garden," she said. The events helped extend plants and horticulture to audiences that might not normally have been interested and turned the nursery into a place that did more than sell plants.
Garden centre consultant Andy Campbell agreed there were opportunities for garden centres to become more than a retail outlet through playing a role in informing, educating and entertaining.
"There are a lot of people who are keen to learn more about the garden and gardening. Running events, demonstrations and activities is a good way to build relationships with your customers in the community if you're able to execute it well."
Campbell warned that there was no "one size fits all" option when it came to offering more than just retailing. "If you haven't got the right facilities or resources to put them in or the inclination to do that, or the car park isn't big enough, then it's not right."