Garden centres should be '21st century libraries'

Garden centres need to become more like community centres to help overturn a sharp decline in sales increases, according to a market expert.

Kevin Waters told visitors to Glee that garden centres should be more like 21st century libraries - thriving hubs for the community. "Libraries today are no longer deathly quiet but bristling with activity from IT and cafes," he said.

"The library has become a community centre. Isn't a garden centre an opportunity to do that - to bring people together and get them swapping ideas? Let's think of lifestyle and making a statement."

Waters, a director of training company the Garden Works, said fresh thinking was needed to re-energise sales in flagging areas such as grow your own. "This market took off in the past few years, but increases have gone from 25-30 per cent to two to three per cent this year.

"One of the problems with grow your own is it is not in keeping with the compulsive nature of shoppers. With grow your own you're taking them on a journey, translating a little pack of seeds into the end result. We need to do a little more to sell the product."

Waters said people were not motivated by cash savings but by a sense of achievement from picking their own produce. Recent initiatives included a "Five-a-Day Garden" promotion in one centre, advising how a family can cultivate a plot that was "one of the most successful promotions we have seen in this country this year".

Another centre sold raised beds and held coffee mornings for customers to swap ideas, which grew from a dozen to around 70 people.

Mail-order firm Dinner Party Allotments charged £9.99 a month and sent out a punnet of plug plants and instructions. A week before harvest a recipe came through the letter box - "a fantastic way to keep momentum", said Waters.

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