January's VAT increase to 20 per cent and transport cost rises have now prompted a slow start to 2011, but the horticulture industry has proved resilient to the blows.
Haskins buying director Philip Evason said Christmas category sales were four per cent down. "Our figures were disappointing for December but by no means disastrous. But not generating sales creates wastage," he said.
"It is just part of the doom and gloom of January. It is always a difficult month and the news of added VAT and fuel rises brings a cloud of despondency hovering over consumers. But people will come out of this when it is spring."
Webbs chief executive Boyd Douglas Davies said sales were "great until it snowed on the Saturday before Christmas, then we had five dreadful days". He added that the figures had since picked up.
Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker said: "Christmas was good for us having made very good early sales. It helped that when the bad weather hit in December total sales were up by more than 20 per cent on Christmas goods. The only disappointing area was real trees - down by more than 10 per cent - but this was more than compensated for by artificial tree sales."
He added that the "VAT hype is unnecessary and while it is a pain consumers should be far more concerned about the hike in fuel or rail fares". He added: "And as usual we will look forward to another good season in 2011 - all we need is the weather."
Garden Centre Association (GCA) chairman and Squires managing director Dennis Espley said December was not as bad as expected, at one per cent down. He said some Christmas trees went unsold and houseplant sales were "difficult" because people were kept in because of the snow.
Frosts managing director Paul Wright said: "Christmas was strong and only disrupted by the weather." He added that sledges, grit, coal, logs, snow shovels and sale items were all strong sellers this winter.
Hillier managing director Andy McIndoe agreed that December was tough but added: "Luckily we invested heavily in sledges, rock salt and snow shovels and that really paid off." Garden Retail Award-winner Sidmouth Garden Centre owner Ian Barlow also found that business was good on rock salt and sledges this year. He said: "December was 2.7 per cent up on last year so no moaning from me."
British Christmas Tree Growers Association secretary Roger Hay said Christmas tree sales were below last year's record 8.2 million and many retailers had trees left. However, Trelawney director David Danning said the company sold out of Christmas trees, although overall sales were 10 per cent down in December.
Coolings managing director Gary Carvosso said Christmas was still worth investing in with September to December Christmas sales at 60 per cent up despite a poor December because of snow.
The BDO High Street Sales Tracker, which analyses like-for-like spending at non-grocery retailers with annual sales of between £5m and £500m, found sales fell by 0.5 per cent in December. The British Retail Consortium found UK retail sales were down 0.3 per cent, with non-food products suffering most.
GCA TRADING FIGURES
Section December 2010 2010 overall
Houseplants -20% -11%
Outdoor plants -27% -1.3%
Seeds and bulbs -24% No change
Sundries -2% No change
Furniture and barbecues -17% +6%
Pets and aquatics +7.5% +5.5%
Gifts -7% +4.5%
Christmas -5% +1%
Hard landscaping (including salt etc) +20% -6%
Foodhall +5% +11.5%
Clothing +20% +13%
Catering -4% +3.3%
Overall -5.5% +2%