Dobbies garden centres sell 936 chickens but HTA retailers remain cautious because of weather and election

Garden retailers who attended this week's HTA Retail Management Committee meeting remain optimistic about the season ahead but are also cautious about how the weather and impending election may influence garden sales over the course of the year.

Garden centre managers say the first few months of 2010 has been "tough" because of cold weather.

They reported core gardening products, gifts, house plants (for Mother's Day), National Garden Gift Vouchers, garden furniture, bird care, pets, aquatics and catering as stronger sectors.

Chickens and poultry house sales have prospered - Dobbies reported selling 936 chickens across its stores.

In March, grow-your-own sales have begun well. Demand for some varieties of seed potatoes are becoming difficult to get hold of. Propagation equipment is also doing well.

HTA Retail Management Committee chairman Philip Evason said: "The season is running three weeks late this year and there is much anticipation about pent up demand from customers. With Easter nearly upon us a lot will depend on the weather, which if good, will help encourage people to venture into their gardens and along to their local garden centres. The next three weeks are key for garden retailers."

Committee Members heard from Pippa Goodman from the Future Foundation who presented the latest updates on consumer trends. She showed that while consumer confidence is increasing slowly it is fragile and consumers will continue to keep a tight rein on their finances, particularly in an election year with the prospect of increasing interest rates and public spending cuts. They are wealthier as a result of low interest rates but are saving rather than spending. More people of all ages, including high wage earners, are shopping around to get the best deal and using the internet and mobile phone technology to do so.

She said there continues to be an increasing concern for the environment and a sense of resourcefulness and creativity to help save money and to contribute to the future of the planet through individual actions. In this ‘Living Lite' atmosphere, consumers hate waste of any sort. Goodman said trading on eBay and recycling are results of these attitudes.
She added that the increase in home leisure, which we have seen over the last few years is here to stay with more of us continuing to use our homes and gardens for socialising. Research shows that 14% of the population do not plan on taking a holiday this year - demonstrating again the potential impact of in-home leisure on the garden industry as people invest in improvements to their garden.

The committee also heard from Andrew Wilson of The Catalogue Consultancy about the importance of having a good, up-to-date website. He said companies and brands are instantly judged on their website. A bad one is an instant reflection on your company. Even if you do not trade on the internet a professional functional site with basic customer information about location, events and opening times is a crucial shop window that will help drive customers to store. Research has shown that prior to purchasing a product a person makes an average of seven visits to the web and it enables them to compare prices without leaving their desk. In the future the most successful companies are those that serve their customers through a multi-channel approach - making use of not only their website but mobile phone communication, email and social networking.

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