Garden centres can do better service than Portas's high street howlers, GCA hears

Garden Centres Association inspector Ian Boardman told GCA conference delegates they must deliver better service than examples retail consultant Mary Portas found on the high street in her latest uncover shopper TV programme.

Ian Boardman addresses the GCA conference - image: HW
Ian Boardman addresses the GCA conference - image: HW


Presenting at the GCA annual awards, Boardman said garden centres should be fun, have good service, be relaxing, be a meeting place particularly for ladies, have a "back to nature" feel and be a "release from reality".

He showed delegates "howlers" such as a tatty play area, rubbish in plantareas, chitted potatoes, blocked fire exits, unsafe piles of wood, spelling mistakes on signs, dead plants, cluttered cards, mildew and empty shelves. Boardman said giving staff ownership, responsibility and accountability helps solve these problems, as do GCA audits.

Boardman suggested good practice such as undercover trolleys outside and 'whole concept' demonstrations.

He said it was "short-sighted" when garden centres managers said that they give customers advice only for shoppers to go online to find better prices, adding that people come back if they get good service.

Displays with umbrellas and using height were a trend this year, as were efforts to be seen to be green by using British grown labels, showing peat policies and recycling batteries, wood, pots and selling recycled products such as pet bedding.

Using pictures of your own staff in displays was also popular.

Boardman praised Byrkley’s, Bent’s and Burleydam’s websites for their size and depth.

GCA inspections in 2011 will be between 21 March and 17 June.

Boardman's key messages:

  • staff ownership and accountability
  • a culture of service
  • go greener
  • use GCA services

The GCA is planning a possible three-day international study tour to Belgium and possibly France at the end of June 2011.

The GCA is making it a requirement that members with multiple centres make a minimum of 25 per cent or five centres members. GCA chairman Dennis Espley said: "We’re doing this in the interests of fairness and it comes from the grass roots. I’ve spoken to almost all the roots and got good feedback."

The conference attracted 183 representatives from 53 garden centres and 168 associates from 78 companies, up on 2010.

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