Garden centres struggle over Easter weekend with sales up to 40% down - update

Garden centres are still struggling despite some faring better than expected over the Easter weekend. The weekend also saw some garden centres challenging Sunday trading laws.

Planterea Image: HW
Planterea Image: HW

Garden centre sales overall were down 5% in March and Easter was hit even harder by the weather in many areas.

Scotsdales MD and HTA president Caroline Owen said Easter Monday sales were 4% down and Easter Saturday was level, although Good Friday was 20% down because of poor weather.

She added: "We did better than we expected."

Garden Centre Association chief executive Gillie Westwood said: "I think it was ok. But Sunday was the best weather in many places and centres couldn't open."

But Northumberland-based Cowell's owner Alan Cowell said sales were 40% down on Easter 2009, adding: "If it's not the weather to blame we're in it."

Westwood added that early indications from GCA members were that March was 5% down and year-to-date sales are 4.5% down.

Garden Centre Group opened on Easter Sunday to its 892,000 garden club members but could not sell any goods because of Sunday trading laws.

HTA retail commitee chairman and Haskins buying director Philip Evason said: "The fall of Easter makes like-for-like comparisons difficult, and although there were plenty of customers about but they were not purchasing core garden products in volume."

He added that sales growth over the "critical" Easter weekend included birdcare 10%, food 5%, Easter gifts 14%, books 6% and restaurant 5%.  

Evason said: "There were some signs of customers responding to the longer daylight hours with interest in the bulb range, seed potatoes, and selectively in bedding plants all of which showed some improvements in sales.

"Some areas of the furniture range moved well however the traditional Easter start to the season for barbeques was disappointing."    

Cheshire-based Bents representative Helen Bent said: "Footfall to the centre on Friday and Saturday  was significantly down subject to the weather with Easter Saturday 2009 at 5,391 and 2010 at 4,260 people.  Sunday 2009 was 5,510 and 2010 was 4,229 people.  The weather here on Friday and Saturday was wet with temperatures of 9 and 11 degrees. We were closed Sunday due to trading laws, which was the best day of the three weather wise. It was dry and sunny here.  Monday was dry but windy and overcast.  On Monday our car park was full by about 3pm and we had to open the field over the road as overflow and our footfall was actually up on last year, 2010 at 7,424 compared to 2009 at 7,035     

"Centre sales were well down on Friday and Saturday when compared to last year and target, Saturdays decline was worse than Fridays.  Monday sales were not as bad; although they were still down on last year and target despite the increase in footfall. This is due to a reduction in average sale and a slight reduction in transaction numbers - not many furniture sales.   

"2010's conversion rates (the percentage of footfall that transacted through the tills) were quite significantly higher than 2009 on Friday and Saturday showing that people were spending just not on the higher ticket value items such as furniture, shown by the average sale being down.

"The restaurant sales on Friday and Saturday also saw a decline (due to reduced footfall) but this was not as significant as the centres decline.  Friday was better than Saturday for the restaurant. Monday was a good day for restaurant with sales of nearly 18k which was well up on last year and target.     

"Generally outside products did not sell well over the Easter weekend with some outside plants categories being nearly 50% down going into Monday.  Even edibles were down going into Monday. Mon Monday afternoon it did seem like there were quite a few plant sales going through the till but it would be unlikely that we got back the deficit.   

"Inside sales were fairly strong  but not the higher ticket items such as furniture.

"The weather last Easter was very good for us.  We experienced one of our best ever days last Easter Monday at nearly £120,000 throughout.

Generally up until now in the season we have found that the more traditional gardener has been in buying replacements plants for the ones that were lost during the harsh snowy winter but that the marginal gardener is still waiting for the better weather.  We feel that this is partially a confidence issue for the marginal gardener (the fear of losing more plants) but also due to the weather not having been good enough for the marginal gardeners to get out there and enjoy gardening in the fine weather.  We are covering any plants lost during the harsh winter by our five-year no hassle guarantee to grow but so far have not seem many replacement.  This is possibly due to it being mainly the marginal gardeners that will look for exchanges with the more traditional gardeners taking loses more as an expected winter norm."

Updated information:

Phil Douty, sales and marketing director at Dobbies, said: "We obviously had a disappointing Easter weekend due to the extremely adverse weather affecting the majority of our stores. As a consequence we had a positive Easter weekend for all our indoor categories with highlights such as home decorating products and indoor toys. However it was less strong for categories focussed on outdoors, with the obvious exception of waterproofs and wellies, which were in double-digit growth this year! We're confident that with the later arrival of Spring, we'll have a strong April and May as customers start to think about their gardens again."

Sally Cornelissen, Burleydam director, added: "Well, not the best Easter we've ever had! A combination of weather and weather-forecasters did for us this weekend. I really wish they would be a little more optimistic - Saturday was actually quite nice but by the time people realised it, it was mid-afternoon. Friday was disappointing, but the weather was a definite turn-off and consumers are busy supermarket shopping anyway. Saturday was the better day for hardy, sundries and compost sales and unit sales were better. As expected, Sunday was the best day weather-wise and our remote surveillance company reported streams of customers with their pockets bulging with cash trying to get into the sites - well not quite but I can't help being bitter. It still amazes me how many intelligent consumers are not aware of the Sunday trading restrictions as they apply to Easter Sunday. Those who want to go to church go, and the rest write angry emails to the retail establishment they were denied access to. Good luck to those who opened just for browsing - I hope they wore their flak jackets.

"Surprisingly, Monday was OK at Burleydam - not as good as 2009 obviously, but plenty of people about looking for something to do on a cold bank holiday. Foot fall was good but unit sales were down. Gateacre suffered on Monday with low sales as they felt the pinch from lack of on-site facilities."

Caroline Palmer, Palmers Garden Centre MD, said: "Easter Weekend has been poor compared to last year, which was poor compared to the previous year, (all due to the early/late Easter weekends). We have had cold and windy weather overall with very little breakthrough sunshine, and very heavy rain on Friday and Saturday night.  The best weather was on Sunday afternoon when we were closed."

She said takings were down 18% on the garden centre but up in the cafe by 11%. Customer numbers were down by 18% in the garden centre, and up 6% cent in the cafe. Average transaction value was 38p down in the garden centre and 34p up in the cafe.

Palmer added: "Overall a very good weekend for our cafe, which has also just had its best month ever. But we are very disappointed that the weather was not kinder to us. We have worked extremely hard to be ready for the season and believe our customers are 'itching' to get on to their gardens and to spend money but the low temperatures are holding them back."

Iain Wylie, MD Grosvenor Garden Centre said: "It was a disappointing weekend compared to last year but far better than when we had feared the worst earlier in the week. The cold bleak weather on Friday put plant sales on hold but other areas of the centre held up well. Saturday was actually better than last year and Monday was slightly down but at least customers had wrapped up well and were prepared to venture out to buy some plants. It was a shame that the best day's weather was on Sunday, when we were closed."


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