Continent and US point way ahead for garden retail, says French boss

The garden industry is set to become increasingly influenced by European and US thinking, according to Jean-Philippe Darnault, head of French retail group Nortène.

Jean-Philippe Darnault of Nortène - photo: HW
Jean-Philippe Darnault of Nortène - photo: HW

Darnault spoke to Horticulture Week deputy editor and Garden Retail editor Matthew Appleby at the HTA Garden Leaders conference at London's Stock Exchange on Wednesday 22 October.

The interview covered diverse issues including pesticides, discounting, and what gardeners will be buying in the future.

Some of the observations by the Vice President of French trade body Promojardin were reassuring, while others are more worrying for UK suppliers and retailers.

1 – Credit crunch

Darnault said the current worldwide financial crisis had forced a restructure at Nortene. The firm will rename itself as Outside Living Industry. But Darnault added that French people were likely to weather the credit crunch better, because they have more savings.

Darnault said France had not bought into Grow Your Own in the same way as the UK. "I tried with Kindergarden plants 10 years ago and failed. In Britain there is much more knowledge in terms of plants."

2 - Pesticides

Reflecting on the EU directive 91/414 restrictive legislation going through next month, Darnault said some European centres are already moving away from selling weedkillers.

French garden group Botanic pulled out of selling domestic garden pesticides, many from Scotts, 18 months ago - but lost 20% of overall sales as a result.

Darnault - former MD of Truffaut, which owns the British chain Garden & Leisure - said he was campaigning against similar moves by others in the French garden industry.

3 – Going green

Darnault predicted big increases in sales of wind turbines, solar panels for sheds and water conservation aids at garden centres, adding that all centres should have their own turbine.

4 – Discounters

Discounters are another ‘next big thing’, said Darnault who expects a number of discount chains to open in the next five years which will succeed if they get their location and products right.

However Darnault added that plants are difficult to discount because consumers do not know how much they should cost, so that is an opportunity for non-discount centres, such as Truffaut, to differentiate.

5 – Diversification

Garden & Leisure's concept is one of the best leisure concepts in Europe, Darnault said. "It can be developed anywhere in the world. There will still always be a need for the destination. The restaurants in Garden & Leisure make them stay longer so they will come from further away. The Garden & Leisure concept is nearer Harrods than Wyevale."

Ideas such as selling fishing did not work at G&L but arts and crafts could, he said. "We can start a new period closer to the US. For instance, people will visit craft and hobby stress because it is cheaper and they will no longer have the money to buy them ready made.

"But in England and Europe people do crafts as leisure but in the next few years people are going to have less money and are going to be more important to do that. GYO and DIY are major issues."

At Truffaut had a 1m database of customers: "I could tell you when they were next coming in store and what they were going to buy," he said.

6 – Public perception and marketing

"In France people attack garden centres as places who sell to gardeners who use too much water, chemicals and are pollutants," he concluded.

"The garden is a wonderful place but every product that everyone makes today they should think about starting to sell as well-being health products. There will be new rules - business is still going to be very good but the way you're going to do it will change."

Darnault has 25 years of retail experience with Garden & Leisure, Rapid Grafic in Canada, Creative World in the USA, and France's Animalis and Truffaut.

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