Garden centre suppliers must perform this spring if they want to retain customers in a market that is set to become much more competitive in 2014, according to industry professionals.
Nick Davies has left wholesaler Solus after 29 years to set up Crest Garden, which is backed by Westland. Former Gardman owner Paris Natar is backing Smart Solar, which has started to increase its product range. Meanwhile, Decco is working harder on the independent garden centre market.
Davies said: "We will only gain business on the back of something which is great to sell. We must bring something to the market that is different and adds value - customers won't give me an order just because they feel sorry for me."
He said he will wholesale 80-90 core gardening sundry products in three brands to independent garden centres for sale in 2015. Quality and the right price are important, he added. "We're going up, though not greedily." Crest will have its own sales operation but is majority funded by Westland.
Davies said the market is "incestuous", with former Gardman chief executive Mark Pearson at Solus and Natar at Smart Solar. He said Smart Solar will be "formidable" and will launch a raft of gardening products at Glee.
Garden Industry Manufacturers Association director Neil Gow said: "Healthy competition is always good. We don't need repetition and prices driven down because then we will need to sell a lot more volume. In a static marketplace there's not going to be that growth so we need to get prices and margins up."
He explained that a light he was retailing for £10 will now go for £4.99 after suppliers produced copies undercutting each other so the wholesale price is now £2.45 when it was £3.50.
Gardman marketing manager Sarah Downing said the company is concentrating on its core strengths of bird care and lighting, and trying to bring more breadth to them.
Garden centre view: knock-on effects of supplier competition
Iain Wylie, chief executive, Garden Centre Association
"Competition probably causes existing established players to look at what they're doing more closely and share their business because they will see that newcomers will see opportunity in many respects and that's got to be a good thing. Retailers want a vibrant and viable supply base that is good value to us as retailers and that's not just about price. It's not necessarily make-or-break for the established players but competition will make everyone consider what they're doing and endeavour to be sharper."
Caroline Owen, managing director, Scotsdales Garden Centre
"The change in the supplier market is bound to have an impact. We've always worked very well with the wholesaler Solus, with two deliveries a week and a representative calling once a week. Nick Davies leaving won't change that but Westland is a company we've worked with well, as we have with Solus, and if Crest came out with a sundries/garden care range we would have to look at that seriously. The bigger supply base will be good for retailers because they will have a choice."