Easter sales are facing four challenges this year, according to the two leading UK garden centre operators.
Dobbies chief executive James Barnes said macro factors affecting potential Easter sales this year include the weather, fears of petrol strikes and the hosepipe ban.
He added that the Government ban on Easter Sunday trading also meant garden centres could not maximise sales over the holiday, a view also held by Garden Centre Group (GCG) chief executive Nicholas Marshall (see p15).
Easter weather is set to be much poorer than in recent weeks, said the Met Office. From Good Friday, weather was expected to be cloudy, with outbreaks of rain at first, worse in the north and east. Saturday is forecast to be clearer with the risk of a frost, with rain later in the north. Weather will be "generally unsettled thereafter".
Meanwhile, a petrol tanker drivers strike has been averted, but panic-buying brought about long queues at filling stations last week.
The hosepipe ban in seven southern and eastern areas was due to begin on 5 April (see p4), the day before Good Friday. A similar ban in 2006 hit some garden centre sales by 10-15 per cent (see p11).
Barnes, who is allowed to open half of Dobbies' 32 centres because they are in Scotland, said Easter could be better if the Government applied the same Sunday trading exemption as for the eight weeks around the London Olympics.
"I've always felt that garden centres are part of a family day out and garden centres always used to be open on Easter Sunday. It was one of the biggest days of the year (before the Sunday Trading Act 1994). I would be in favour of legislation to change that."
Barnes added: "I think that there is a special case for garden centres because gardening is the nation's biggest hobby and with the family outing particularly around Easter we almost demand special status."
GCG's Marshall said: "Some local authorities are more draconian than others. In our multicultural society, to have a law that says you can't go to a garden centre and buy plants but you can buy pornography is bizarre."
He added: "Our restaurants will be open to our garden club members - that always goes down very well indeed and is a special day for them."
March Sales revival
Early indications from the Garden Centre Association saw March sales rise by 10.7 per cent with year-to-date sales up by 0.7 per cent.
HTA Market Update, published this week, reported that garden centre sales to the end of February were up two per cent. January was up 10 per cent and February down three per cent compared to 2011.