Christmas sales surge bolsters centres' spirits and ushers in cautious optimism

Anecdotal evidence and compiled sales figures reveal festive trading period was a welcome boon at the end of harsh year.

Haskins: December sales up 24 per cent on 2011
Haskins: December sales up 24 per cent on 2011

Garden retailers were "more than satisfied" with their Christmas sales, according to GCA interim chief executive Iain Wylie.

"Everyone I've spoken to is showing increases", he added. He said retailers were meeting or exceeding budgets, with real trees selling out, artificial trees doing well and gifts being top sellers.

Wylie said in the "context of the year", retailers were "happy" with performance.

HTA marketing director Andrew Maxted said the late surge had helped pull back overall average 2012 garden centres sales to seven to eight per cent down on 2011 and even with 2010.

He added: "There was a good late flurry, but that comes against a challenging background." He said the industry was "pretty optimistic for 2013 and, given better weather, a lot of that trade will come back".

Hillview Group chief executive Boyd Douglas-Davies said products at both his Studley and Hilltop sites had been "trading very strongly" since July. He said he sold 1,000 Christmas trees at the sites, up from 540 in 2011.

For the week ended 30 December 2012, sales figures compiled by Horticulture Week showed numbers were two per cent up on the same week in 2011. Christmas product sales were 10 per cent up, but outdoor plants were down 15 per cent. Restaurant sales were 10 per cent up and sundries down 15 per cent.

For the week ended 23 December, sales were up 10 per cent, with Christmas sales up five per cent, food up 20 per cent, children's goods up 12 per cent, outdoor plants up 30 per cent, sundries up five per cent and restaurant sales up 10 per cent.

Haskins reported a 24 per cent sales rise in December on the same month in 2011.

Ice rinks - Pulling in the punters

Garden centres say ice rinks are a success after more than 20 skating attractions opened at retailers this winter.

Almost double the number were put in compared with last year on hard landscaping and underused planterias.

Centres hosting ice rinks this year include Whitehall Garden Centre, Lacock; Ruxley Manor, Kent; Webbs of Wychbold; Hilltop Garden Centre, Oxfordshire; Van Hage at Great Amwell, Hertfordshire; and Huntingdon Garden & Leisure, all supplied by Arena Group.

Boyd Douglas-Davies, managing director of Hilltop owner Hillview Group, said skater numbers would reach 9,000-10,000 and the rink may return next Christmas. He added that the rink had helped "put Hilltop on the map".

HTA marketing director Andrew Maxted said rinks had been "working very effectively at bringing customers into their businesses".

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