Garden centres are taking a hard line on plant-supply contracts, with better relations between retailers and nurseries still a big issue.
In a debate on supply-chain issues at the HTA Garden Futures conference last week (16-17 October), Hillview Garden Centres chief executive officer Boyd Douglas-Davies said he has stopped using Baginton Nurseries because the bedding grower said it wanted a 100 per cent guarantee following rejected orders this season.
He added: "If we had contracted out what we believed we needed in the last two years we probably wouldn't be here for a third. If British growers force contracts they will force garden centres to buy from Europe. We're tripping over excess plants."
HTA chief executive Carol Paris questioned the current form of the British Protected Ornamentals Association (BPOA) growers' code of practice, designed to help them if retailers reject stock in bad-weather seasons such as 2012 and 2013 (see p9 and p14).
She said discussions with the BPOA are ongoing about the HTA "overlaying" the code with retail perspectives. "It has to work for both sides," Paris added.
Meanwhile, the Garden Centre Group (TGCG) is believed to have appointed a third-party haulier, Norbert Dentressangle, changing how often some growers, who used to deliver direct, may be able to deliver full loads to garden centres.
Bransford Webbs managing director Geoff Caesar said: "TGCG is looking to run its own transport. Waitrose and B&Q do it already. This will result in there being a change, but we deliver to 600 sites and TGCG only has a proportion of that. It doesn't annihilate the system, it just makes it a little bit different."
He said Dentressangle will pick up orders from nurseries at ex-nursery prices and deliver to regional hubs before taking to TGCG's 139 centres nationwide.
TGCG's move accelerates the need for growers to form transport networks and for more transport companies to work together, Caesar added.
He said the big message is to communicate better with garden centres about how much they order and when they want it.
Klondyke chief executive Bob Hewitt said experienced planteria managers are more crucial for stock control because they know "when to stop ordering". Nurseries will close "because multiples are getting bigger".
Hewitt added that electronic point of sale has failed to solve wastage problems in bad years. But Stewart Plastics chief executive officer Richard Butler, who was also on the HTA panel, said garden centre supply-chain information systems are "poor", which is leading to stocking issues.
Delamore managing director Wayne Eady said: "Retailers have been squeezing margins, resulting in plants being sold for too little money." Guaranteed contracts "would be great but no way is it ever going to happen or work", he added.
Garden Industry Manufacturers Association director Neil Gow said "greedy" retailers are trying to sell bedding in March when they should be selling in May.
Key changes Transport and contracts
On changes in transport and contracts for growers, discussed at the conference, HTA president Stan Green said: "This will impact on your fleet and you will need to re-examine your fleet but it is an opportunity for growers to work closer together.
"We've always been under siege and we're reasonably resilient. We're feeling our way because it's a terrific time of change. This means that there is more need for growers to be more proactive. Our hands are being forced."