Edwards on ... pricing

It's not difficult to find people in the trade who will give you examples of plant prices that have not increased for over 15 years. As a trade we seem to have somehow matched increases in raw material prices with improvements in efficiency - or falls in profitability - in a way that allowed prices to remain almost static for years on end. Sometimes things are in short supply and a meaningful increase shows through, but such cases have been remarkably uncommon.

Every nurseryman will regret this and bemoan his lot but it's fair to say we brought it on ourselves - fear of being left with stock made us all too eager to cut prices and win work. It's a great shame it had to be like this, but a number of nurseries have survived in this fashion over the years, so does it really matter?

Sterling collapsed against the euro at the beginning of the year and we're now in a changed world. What worries me is that years of immobile prices might have left nurserymen - or their customers - unable to believe prices can go up and stay up permanently.

Prices did go up when sterling fell - though not by enough. The real danger is that people might think that they'll soon come down again. They won't. Any nurseryman or landscape contractor out there expecting the coming season to see a return to "traditional" selling prices will be caught with his pants down. The health of the German, French and Russian economies has stimulated European plant sales so much that many plants now cost 40 per cent more than they did a year ago.

Nurserymen are well aware of the situation - even if some find it difficult to believe. But I wonder how well we've got the message across to contractors. Nurserymen simply won't be able to sell plants at last year's prices. Contractors need to know this and price up accordingly. If they do they'll get their mark-up on a bigger number and could be happy with that. If they don't, they'll be left with a problem no one else can help them with.

- Tim Edwards, is managing director of Boningale.

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