Garden Centre Group's Nicholas Marshall hits out at DIY and supermarket store standards at HTA's Garden Futures conference

Big box DIY retailers took a mauling at the HTA's Garden Futures event as Garden Centre Group chief executive Nicholas Marshall hit out at supermarkets and the former B&Q bosses who he took over from at the former Wyevale in 2008.

The Secrets of Success event featured garden retail and grower leaders Marshall, James Barnes, Martin Breddy, Nick Davies, John Lord, Caroline Owen, Carol Paris, Philip Evason, Nick Davies and Geoff Caesar.

Marshall implied general retail speakers at the event were irrelevant to garden centres because "we are completely different type of retailer to everyone else. I don't like the ‘we're all retailers together'. We're not — we're garden centres. There are great names in this room — Frosts, Notcutts, Hillier, Tesco — sorry I mean Dobbies. We should look after our industry."

Marshall said garden centres should look at how to make themselves different and not "more and more like DIY stores and supermarkets".

He added: "People come to garden centres to buy plants. Cynical food retailers bring you into fruit and veg to give the impression of freshness — we don't need to do that because this is our product. The biggest criticism about garden centres is you fight through giftware to get to plants."

He said: "We are looking for quality and value for money while the sheds are doing bigger boxes of bedding with weenie plants — we don't do that."

Marshall also attacked reporting of an HTA rose growers meeting where grower/retailers slammed standards in planterias. He said a GCG garden club rose promotion in June/July of David Austin roses sold 24,000 compared to 7,000 in 2008 and that business with David Austin had grown this season by 41%.

Marshall admitted: "For a number of years I was guilty of chasing price on everything." He said, like Bonnie Prince Charlie, he "fought on the plain" when he should have stayed in the hills: "Our ground is garden centres and the best bit is the planteria where DIYs can't attack us because they don't have the space or anything else."

Tesco-owned Dobbies chief executive James Barnes said supermarkets were pulling back from garden products. "Sales per square foot is the problem — if anything, garden products are retracting. You saw no marquees this summer."

But Klondyke Garden Centres chief executive Bob Hewitt said garden centres could not afford to be complacent about their planterias. "I visit garden centres and am often disappointed by plant quality, the way stock is looked after and over/understocking. There are variable standards, particularly as we say we're experts."

Grower Bransford Webbs chief executive Geoff Caesar said: "We do see that happening and it ends up being a concern. But it is up to us as growers to do something — it's our product." Caesar said his Campaign Plants competition where retailers won Champagne for the best displays helped, as did the HTA plant of month.

Hewitt added: "I feel passionate about the plant side and I am shocked by poor standards in planterias. A Miracle Gro box is not going to get damaged but a plant deteriorates unless you look after it. As an industry, we need to work harder to make our standards the best."


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