Hillier and Garden Centre Group to open on Easter Sunday

Hillier will open six of its garden centre plantareas on Easter Sunday in a move that keeps the 13-centre group inside the law while customers remain happy.

The Hillier opening follows news that Garden Centre Group will open more than 90 centres on Easter Sunday to its 892,000 garden club members. Retailers over 280sqm are not allowed to sell goods on Easter Sunday but restaurants can open.

MD Andy McIndoe said: "Easter is an unknown. Because half the centres are closed for one day doesn't half cut it down. The forecast is terrible and the run into the Bank Holiday is almost more important than the weather on the Bank holiday itself because people plan. It does make a difference.

"In some centres we write to the local authority and open the plantareas on a council by council basis. We open half the plantareas -six- but no shops open. We make it clear there is no access to shop space and with no use of tills and toilets.

"It is worth it for people to come and find you're closed but at least can look at the plants and perhaps buy a few things. But we only do it if the council says ok.

"If you open the plantarea it is on skeleton staff so there is no debate who is working or not. I have mixed feelings though the argument behind Easter Sunday I don't agree with. If you're closing for religious reasons it should be on Good Friday.

"This has been going on since 1994 so we should have got used to it by now."

One Hillier centre has a separate coffee shop, which may open freely on Easter Sunday.

The wording of Schedule 1, section 2 (4) of the Sunday Trading Act 1994 means that large shops (those over 280sqm) may not open for the sale of goods to retail customers on Easter Sunday.  The Act does not list Garden Centres as being exempt from that regulation.  However, in this context ‘sale of goods' does not include sale of meals or refreshments for consumption on the premises on which they are sold, or the sale of meals or refreshments prepared to order for immediate consumption of those premises.

Westland marketing head Keith Nicholson said: "If I was a retailer I would want to open every day I could."

Garden Centre Group will open more than 90 of its restaurants on Easter Sunday and will allow its 892,000 garden club members to view goods and be given advice by staff.

Chief executive Nicholas Marshall said the move was a first for the industry: "With this poor spring we must try every way we can to regain sales. But we are opening to garden club members only, which is an important point. We won't be able to sell anything- you can sell porn but not plants on Easter Sunday-but you are allowed to run a restaurant and man the garden centre so people can get advice and look at our ranges.

"We have taken advice and as long as we don't have any retail sales you're not breaking the law. You are allowed to provide a service, otherwise we would have to close hotels and restaurants and we would be a puritan country with shades of Cromwell if that happened. It is a particularly silly law but that's not why we're doing this. It is an opportunity for garden club members to have a day with us."

HTA marketing director Andrew Maxted added: "The Sunday trading laws are a mess and cause confusion and frustration for gardeners and garden centre staff alike. We believe the time is ripe for change and are working to influence government and amend this outdated and unnecessary legislation.

"This latest research reveals that public opinion is increasingly on the side of greater flexibility for garden centre opening. There are a number of factors driving this including growing interest in the act of gardening itself. More time pressures mean that for many people the weekend is the only time available both to garden and to shop for the garden and the long Easter weekend, coming right at the start of the season, is clearly a premium time for this.

"Garden centres also play important roles both as leisure destinations and as a focus for   families and others within their local communities" continues Maxted. "At a time when the government is actively promoting green issues it is a particular nonsense to encourage environmentally friendly activities on the one hand and then restrict the times when the public can do this on the other".

See the latest issue of HW for more info.


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