Presented by Christie & Co Christie & Co

How garden centres are responding to the pandemic

Christie & Co's managing director of retail, Steve Rodell, reflects on the state of the garden centre market throughout summer, against a backdrop of COVID-19.

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) reports the UK garden centre market to be worth about £5bn a year, with two-thirds of British adults visiting a garden centre at least once annually. In recent years garden centres have become much more than places just to buy plants, evolving to become wider leisure and retail destinations with children's play centres, hi-spec cafés or restaurants and other activities designed to improve the shopping experience.

When it comes to consumer spending habits, garden centres are not unfamiliar with fluctuating sales, with retailers well accustomed to a pattern of seasonal spending. Sales during the spring and summer often surge, capturing 70% of overall annual sales volumes, which compensates for quieter periods, and footfall can, to some extent, be maintained by offering shoppers different incentives to visit.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout this year’s annual peak-sales season therefore brought with it many concerns for both businesses and employees within the sector. The national lockdown, which ordered garden centres to close from 23 March to 13 May, placed a strain on horticultural businesses across the UK and we have seen some casualties across the sector as a result.

Encouragingly however, the market is showing resilience throughout the lockdown period. Data gathered by the HTA indicates there is a surge in landscaping product sales, driven by the popularity of DIY garden projects. Many gardeners have also turned to buying products from online plant nurseries and garden centres, to support retailers.

Since national lockdown was lifted, retailers have been focused on reopening and providing a safe environment for customers to shop in line with Government social distancing guidelines and new tier regulations, with support from the HTA.

The sector remains attractive due to the opportunity for retailers to develop a strong, multi-income offering, a key fundamental to success in any retail business. In the current consumer climate, however, it is essential, with garden centres being a strong example of a sector with many opportunities to recover from this year’s difficult circumstances.

Christie & Co is still servicing the ongoing acquisition ambitions of buyers who were disappointed they were unable to buy a Wyevale garden centre. Despite the aforementioned challenges, credit remains cheap and buyers are keen to invest in a sector seen as resilient against headwinds of the internet and high street. The simple fact of the matter is that there are more buyers than sellers of the c. 2,500 garden centres that exist.

Christie & Co managing director of retail Steve Rodell says: “It is always a pleasure to provide guidance and advice to first-time sellers, perhaps where the business has been in the family for a long time, on how to maximise the value of a business such as a garden centre. We frequently work alongside accountants and solicitors and this blend of professional advice will ensure proceeds are maximised from any sale, or maximum value is leveraged for secured lending purposes.”

“The market is showing resilience throughout the lockdown period. Data gathered by the HTA indicates there is a surge in landscaping product sales, driven by the popularity of DIY garden projects” - Steve Rodell managing director of retail, Christie & Co


In 2019, Christie & Co successfully completed on the transformative sale of 145 Wyevale garden centres (Project Douglas), the biggest sale of garden centre assets the UK has ever seen, and has been focused on diversifying its retail offering since. Project Douglas was a landmark deal in the garden centre and horticulture sector. More than 40 agents throughout Christie & Co’s regional network were involved in brokering 57 individual transactions, which maximised net proceeds. The carefully designed marketing campaign reached more than 60,000 people and promoted an aggregate guide price of c. £444m.

Christie & Co continues to speak with garden centre operators and prospective investors in the garden centre market as a result of the project, giving them an opportunity to leverage their experience for the benefit of clients in 2020 and onwards.

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