The Christmas market is an essential time in a retailer's year. According to Garden Retail Monitor data since 2008, garden centres see an increase in sales of 50 per cent in December compared to November, with many striving to be innovative to make the most of the valuable season.
Clifton Nurseries held its first Christmas fair in 2011, teaming up with seven independent retailers to bring customers a different shopping experience. "You can never sit still," says a representative. "You always have to provide something different."
The Christmas merchandise available at Clifton Nurseries is usually on a small scale, but hosting the Christmas market allowed it to introduce a wider range of items. "We have some seasonal stock but it must not overtake the core stock. With the Christmas market, we got the best of both worlds."
The companies that featured at the market were all keen to be involved. Prometheus Bound Books co-founder and director Marie Stevens says. "By offering some different products, we hoped to be a draw for their customers. At the same time, we benefited from the centre's regular customers."
At Sunshine Garden Centre in north London, award-winning Christmas displays maximised the lucrative market, opening the first display room in mid September. Visual merchandising manager and head buyer for indoor lifestyle Marco De Jongh explains: "Christmas is massively important for us. We showcase the entire garden centre and pull out all the stops to make it fantastic."
Sales reach a peak in the second week of December. For 2011, three themed room displays - Nordic Forest, Fresh and Hunters Lodge forsook the traditional of red and gold colours for the cold, arctic themes favoured by their customer base.
At Barton Grange Garden Centre, plans for 2012 were already underway as its 2011 Lights, Camera, Christmas - Part Two display opened. The garden centre has invested on made-to-order props and animation.
History & Heraldry, leader in impulse buy gifts, also enjoyed success. Marketing manager Jacquie Russo says: "Our personalised snow globes were a bestseller, as were the stocking ranges released for 2011."
Meanwhile, Gisela Graham is cautiously confident about its prospects for 2012, according to marketing and sales director Piers Croke. It will do something new, although some continuity in ranges from 2011 can be expected. "There are genre such as the Scandinavian look and gingerbread images that people are very keen on. White and sparkly products are always going to be popular".
Competitive pricing will be the top priority for light set company Noma, which has launched its biggest ever catalogue for 2012. Marketing director Phil Swainston says the current economy means that people are making small purchases rather than higher value buys and he expects that trend to continue. A significant line for 2012 will be the classic range of filament lamps, "particularly the 40 and 80 shadeless lamps", despite an increase in cost from manufacturers.
Festive Productions has launched the brand New Floristry, a real feel and silk artificial flower range. It has also updated its Otters brook brand. Christmas 2011 saw good sell through and Festive anticipates a strong year.
Planning for the displays at the Gardens Group garden centres starts in January when director Louise Burks and her team travel to trade shows in search of inspiration.
For 2011 the displays at Castle Gardens in Sherborne included a Downton Abbey-inspired dining room, a woodland teddy bears' picnic, a winter wonderland train scene, a Bethlehem nativity room and decorations of every colour.
Burks says: "Every year I try to make our displays more imaginative than the year before, and I'm impressed by our team's dedication and sheer hard work to make Christmas a magical time at our three garden centres.
We start the build-up in October and work right up to deadline before we open the doors to the hundreds of people who come each year on our first night."
The Gardens Group won the Garden Centre Association Christmas awards for its displays at Brimsmore Gardens, Yeovil, in the Wales and the West region and for Castle Gardens in the South Thames region.