High winter stock losses spark calls for garden centre guarantee revision

Consensus sought over plant replacement strategies to clarify customer expectations.

Last winter's freeze has led garden centres to rethink their strategy on plant guarantees for the forthcoming autumn.

Buckingham Nursery and Garden Centre plant publicity officer Chris Day has called for the rule books to be rewritten on what plants it is sensible to cover.

"We are looking to extend our one-year hardy plant guarantee to perhaps five years, which is the consensus in the trade," he said. "However, given this past winter's horrendous weather, we are unsure what, in plain terms, and which, in specific terms, plants should be covered.

"For the second year camellias have failed and this winter bay trees, pittosporums, cordylines, yuccas, camellias and ceanothus have been the headline losses.

"I am sure it would be beneficial if the entire UK garden centre would be 'singing from the same hymn sheet' on this matter. We could get clear messages out to the consumer, as well as protecting our profit margins at the garden centre."

Plant wholesaler Growforth managing director Stan Green said most suppliers would cover for lost stock: "There is no conflict there."


- Dennis Espley, chairman, Garden Centre Association

"There has been debate about this on the GCA Google groups forum. It would be wrong to disclose specific comments and points, however the general view was that the length of guarantee had little effect on the level of returns, and it's shortsighted and not customer friendly. In fact it's part of the annual audit. Often in extreme cases a compromise can be found to keep the customer happy.

- Andy Bunker, partner, Alton Garden Centre

"We have only ever given a one-year guarantee as far as signage is concerned, but obviously replace plants outside this. I have seen various comments from centres regarding this subject and I think it is in some cases another A TO Z versus grouping type debate. I personally find it hard replacing every single item returned as sometimes it is pure neglect but the saying 'win an argument but lose a customer' rings in my ears. I find that saying "you have not watered or looked after it properly but here is another one free of charge" in most cases is satisfactory. We keep a record and I must be honest after the initial returns the level of replacements are acceptable. I think the real pain is that quite a few retailers did not move prices when VAT went up because of concern over sales downturn and if you add in a large increase in returns it is going to hit the bottom line hard."

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