Caution epitomised garden retail trade show Glee this week with pricing concerns and budget entrants to the market delaying buying decisions.
Prices were an issue for many suppliers and some garden retailers suggested they would order later for 2012. Discount retailer B&M Stores, which has 230 outlets including 50 Home stores, is entering the garden centre market and was looking for product at the Birmingham show.
B&M, which has taken over 12 Focus stores, is set to launch a budget garden offer in each of them. Senior garden centre buyer Nigel Press, who is ex-Focus, is seeking plants to stock up next spring. "It's a new venture for us. We want an external garden centre like Focus, B&Q and Homebase but at prices customers want to pay," he said.
Compost is from Sinclair, fencing from Grange, Tarmac is supplying gravels, Lafarge cement and Press is working on a plant supply base to launch planterias in mid February 2012.
International consultant John Stanley, who launched a "white paper" on the future of garden retailing at the show, said garden centres needed to benchmark six items at "best value" to show "price-motivated" customers that they were not expensive.
"Consumers are buying on price because economies are in crisis," he said. "Food prices are up and people are more price aware. The independent garden centre can't be price-led but it can be value and service-led." He added that salespeople were "dead" and customers wanted "daymakers" instead.
Bosmere and Kelkay promoted price-marked goods at Glee, while several companies had discount stands. Kelkay managing director Antony Harker said: "Value doesn't necessarily mean cheap. It means an item is well priced." He said a £9.99 RRP shovel and bag of salt deal was likely to be a top seller this winter.
Sinclair retail managing director Danny Adamson added: "Everyone is chasing business. These are challenging times. A lot of retailers are in a quandary about what to do. They want little and often because they're paranoid about stock."
Garden Centre Association chief executive Gillie Westwood said: "I think retailers will be very cautious."
Devon-based St John's Garden centre director Nick Oliver said he would not buy plants until February after throwing away thousands of weather-hit plants in the past two cold winters.
But he added: "I believe that there is plenty of money out there. It's the media that are telling people they are poor. People don't want cheap. They want quality. Confidence is the key rather than cheap."
Many retailers had their fingers burnt after a strong start to 2011 and had products such as garden furniture left over at the end of the summer. But Easter is earlier in 2012 on 6-9 April and the Queen's jubilee is not until 2-5 June, so the season is not as compressed as in 2011.
Glee Highlights - Pick of the products
Water features: Gardman, Bermuda (Solus), Kelkay.
Birdcare: Peckish television adverts featuring Lttle Britain's Matt Lucas.
Other TV campaigns: Roundup Weedkiller Gel (Easter 2011), Bayer (soluble sachet weedkillers spring 2012), Dog Rocks.
Peat-frees: Scotts Expand n Gro, Westland Light & Easy, Vital Earth RSPB.