Garden centres rely on gifts and catering to keep July sales steady

Gifts and catering continue to be the strongest performing sectors in garden centres as July failed to lift a disappointing season.

Garden & Leisure operation director and new HTA director general Carol Paris said July was level in her garden centre. "We did ok but have not pulled anything back. You have to be a lot up in July to cover for April and May."

She said the year was 10 per cent down in Garden & Leisure’s seven centres.

She added: "It’s not a season I want to repeat – it’s been very, very difficult. The economy hasn’t been good but it’s been much more about the weather. It’s a very unfavourable mix. We just have to batten down the hatches and keep down costs and trade through in the hope we’ll be heroes next year."

She said gifts, crafts and hobbies and restaurants were up but furniture and barbecues, plants and core gardening were down. Paris said Christmas was something customers were looking forward to after an "austere summer".

Raglan garden centre owner and former GCA chairman Martin Davies said: "The wheels came off in July for us. The first three weeks I started to doubt if garden centres were immune to this recession. I had thought we were faring better than most. We were less than flat but we’re only trading 2.5 per cent behind last year overall."

Davies is planning a revamp with a new glass walkway to the garden centre restaurant and restaurant glazed frontage and some building renovation. He is to ask Geo Hodges to be builder. Raglan’s restaurant was seven per cent up in July, with gifts level and "everything else down".

Scotsdale MD Caroline Owen said: "We were six per cent down in July but some of that was because we had a garden furniture sale last year but not this year. This year furniture was 33 per cent down and outdoor plants were 16 per cent down. We’ve cleared garden furniture for the last two or three years but we’ve bought less this year and bought better. So we’ve not had to clear it. Gifts and café are doing nicely and garden care is about the same as in 2011. Plants are up against a golden year in 2011 and were always going to be difficult to match. At the end of our financial at the end of July we were one per cent down and seven per cent down on the calendar year."

GIMA director Neil Gow said: "Trade is better than reasonable for the time of year but we’re not at the stage here we’re going to make up what we’ve lost. There is certainly the potential for autumn sales because a lot of gardening hasn’t happened and I’m behind the HTA Plan it Plant it autumn promotion because autumn is nature’s time for planting and plants planted in autumn always does better."

GCA chairman and Garden Centre Group regional manager Peter Burks said July will probably be "slightly" up on 2011.

Orchard Park garden centre MD Richard Cumming said July sales were "at least as good as 2011, perhaps a little better".

Squire’s MD Dennis Espley said: "I think we have to put this year behind us and start again."

Grower Johnsons of Whixley director Andrew Richardson said: "Our garden centre sales are 12 per cent down on budget this year with independent garden centres just about the worst hit."

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