Horticultural Trades Association says entering industry awards is part of members' development and can improve their businesses.

Martin Simmons never knew leisure could be so hard. The HTA director of operations has been in the industry for more than three decades, but the emergence of social media and online shopping in recent years has had one of the biggest impacts on members in the 120-year history of his organisation. That HTA membership totals 1,500 garden retailers, growers, manufacturers and landscapers.

"Excellence in everything our members do has become paramount, but the bar is rising," explains Simmons, spelling out the HTA mission statement "to represent, promote and develop" the garden industry. The association does this through lobbying Government, hosting conferences and shows, and running training, from visual merchandising and customer service to sales skills and voucher schemes.

"Retailers and suppliers operate in the leisure sector. They need to provide a great overall experience to attract the leisure pound and make sure gardening remains an important consumer hobby. It’s hard. But our members must explore all avenues and entering industry awards is part of that development. It rewards excellence and shows others how they can better their businesses."

It is not all about winning, he adds. Just entering is an excellent first step. "The application process often forces you to look at your business from a new perspective and compare yourself to competitors. You’ll need to make sure you stand out from the crowd, whether that’s through innovation, diversity, growth, customer service, investment in people or strategic thinking."

This, he explains, will help you think about ways you could do things better and then identify areas for improvement. Many of the qualities identified will no doubt echo the core values of the HTA, such as "collaboration, innovation and integrity", he says. In some ways, reckons Simmons, a well-considered, well-crafted awards entry could be more valuable to your business than the prize itself.

Business awards can also raise your garden or landscape company’s profile among college leavers and potential career changers. By pitching yourself as the best, you boost staff morale and give yourself a better chance of attracting the talent you need to push your business forward, says Simmons, who practices what the HTA preaches.

He has raised his own game through internal training programmes, appraisals and annual reviews. If the future for the HTA is good thanks to highly skilled professionals such as Simmons, the future for its membership is "great", he insists of a garden industry that offers a personalised, calm, relaxing alternative to the high-pressured high street or the faceless online environment.

"Having been in this industry for several years, I enjoy it as much as I did when I started. But like all of our members and their businesses, I’ve had to learn and adapt, refresh old skills and learn new ones."

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