Christmas effect gives retail sales a boost

Latest Garden Centre Association figures reveal an overall increase of 2.5 per cent in garden retail industry sales for 2011.

Last year's Christmas sales 12.5% up on 2010 - image: GCG
Last year's Christmas sales 12.5% up on 2010 - image: GCG

Christmas sales boosted the garden retail industry to an overall gain of 2.5 per cent for 2011.

Top performers at the end of the year were outdoor plants (up 35.8 per cent) and catering (up 30 per cent). Poinsettia houseplant sales helped end-of-year sales to grow in December by 12.5 per cent against 2010, but retailers reported mixed results with Christmas trees.

For the year overall, Christmas products were eight per cent up on 2010, when snow damaged sales for the last 10 days of trade in much of the country.

Garden Centre Association chief executive Gillie Westwood said: "The year has been a curate's egg. We had a good start with Easter and bank holidays, but the summer was indifferent and trade was underwhelming for much of the year because of the doom and gloom of the economy, though December redeemed the year because the weather was on our side."

Poplars garden centre managing director David Little said sales in December were its best yet, at more than £500,000. But Christmas tree sales had declined from 1,000 a decade ago to 350 because of competition from "better-value" artificial trees and roadside vendors.

He added that 2011 consolidated sales growth over the past five years and was flat against 2010.

Sanders Garden World manager and Garden Centre Group (GCG) regional manager Peter Burks said: "Trade was good on Christmas and the mild weather kept plant sales going well. Christmas trees were pretty good - quite a few of our stores were completely sold out."

British Christmas Tree Growers Association secretary Roger Hay added that UK-grown Christmas tree sales were likely to be above 2010's 8.2 million when figures were fully collated.

Catering and Christmas products such as holly wreaths were stand-outs for Poplars. Promotions helped it sell more wild-bird food, despite the mild weather, bucking a nationwide trend that also saw cold weather products down on 2010.

Downtown Garden Centre managing director Chris Coward said: "Seasonal sales did very well, but compared with last year we lost sales on winter fuels, snow shovels and sledges."

GCG chief executive Nicholas Marshall said sales were up 17 per cent on the 2010 Christmas season and six per cent on 2009. Full-year sales were up eight per cent on 2010. He added: "By any measure, the full-year results have bucked the garden and broader retail trend."

GCG's own sale, for £300m, could be completed this month, with four private-equity firms, including Terra Firma and CCMP Capital, doing due diligence on GCG's accounts.

See Reader Panel, p16.

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