An Horticultural Trades Association representative said: "Looking ahead, the group was cautious with many feeling that the period of uncertainty would continue throughout next year. This would make people reluctant to part with their money — especially in the period around the election."
The Retail Management Group said 2009 had been "much better" than expected, thanks to the weather. Plants, seeds, bulbs and garden sundries were up, as were gifts, furniture, pets, aquatics, catering, garden lighting, food and fruit trees. Wild bird care products had flattened because of good autumn weather. Christmas sales started strongly.
Events were bringing in customers, as were UK-grown plants that replaced European stock hit by exchange rate problems.
They said: "‘Garden centres are the antidote to all things negative — the economy and unemployment."
HTA president Caroline Owen said: "Everyone had a golden year but there was a note of caution for next year at the meeting because of the election and VAT — and because everyone had such a fantastic year this year they are always trying to beat the previous year's figures. We're cautiously optimistic. We're looking for the weather. The economy played into our hands this year, with people not spending on big-ticket items and the media promoting grow-your-own."
British Retail Council director general Stephen Robertson forecast to the group "a rather gloomy outlook for next year with rising unemployment, the VAT increase in January and rising utility costs all having an impact on the amount that people will have to spend".
Robertson said people were likely to continue to be prudent and save their money rather than spend it. He did recognise that garden centres were in a more favourable position than high-street retailers. He ran through a British Retail Council document outlining the contribution that the retail sector makes to the economy, which he is using to lobby politicians in the lead up to the election.
Members present at the HTA Retail Management Group meeting were James Barnes (Dobbies), Carol Paris (Garden & Leisure), Philip Evason (Haskins), Caroline Owen (Scotsdales), Martin Stewart (Stewarts Gardenlands), Adam Wigglesworth (Aylett Nurseries), Iain Wylie (Grosvenor), Gerald Ingram (Planters), Tony Blake (St Peters) and Roger Parker (Parkers).
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