Industry Preview 2010: Retail -- Weather and grow-your-own sector held up as key to future success

Grow-your-own will continue to be the main area of interest for garden centre shoppers in 2010, say garden centre experts, but only if centre owners keep up to date with modern retailing.

The bottom line is that, even with a recession and an election, the weather holds the key to success in 2010. Industry hopes for an early start to the season and Easter are well placed, with Good Friday on 2 April.

Consultant Eve Tigwell said: "Grow your own will continue to be a main thrust, as will anything to do with self-sufficiency. My main prediction is that those who have got to grips with modern retail management will continue to thrive, with the converse also being true.

"However, I still believe that so much in our industry is down to the weather, so inevitably those centres that have been able to invest in large undercover areas and well-presented coffee shops will always have the edge."

Garden Centre Association chief executive Gillie Westwood said the election and possible change in government might make people more optimistic and willing to spend. "Last year defied predictions. This year we're cautiously optimistic," she said. "If the weather is in our favour this spring, that will determine the tone of the season's trading."

Peter Seabrook predicted that the selling season may kick off early: "If the weather stays cold the price of vegetables will go through the roof and that means grow-your-own sales from garden centres will be stronger this spring."

Cleeve Nursery co-owner Felicity Down said: "I'd like to think that 2010 will be as good as last year as far as grow your own goes, but also more so." She dismissed the VAT increase form 15 to 17.5 per cent as not making "a blind bit of difference to us". The issue was to bring in more customers, principally by hosting more gardening groups, Down added.

HTA garden industry monitor newsletter Consumer Insight examined what the future holds for gardens and gardening, commissioned from business and strategy think tank the Future Foundation. The report found that recession-led behaviour is here to stay.

It highlighted a new interest in "professional budgeting", with consumers spending more time researching products online, meaning that consumer loyalty is diminishing.

People are "cocooning" and seeking solace in the safety of the home and garden. The new phenomenon of "smart boredom" has emerged, describing the way in which we like to supplement our downtime with nourishment and accomplishment. The desire to grow your own falls neatly into this, to the benefit of the garden sector.

Our environmental concerns continue to grow, along with an increasing interest in companies' attitudes towards their own environmental responsibility.

There is increasing expectation for 360 degs shopping, where the consumer will be able to shop any time, any place, anywhere. Standard online shopping will not be enough because future shoppers will want a multi-sensory experience.

HTA marketing director Andrew Maxted said: "The garden industry is in good shape as we enter the new year. Last year saw a return to growth for garden retail sales and a renewed interest in planting and garden leisure.

"The trends reported in Consumer Insight highlight opportunities for retailers, growers and manufacturers to build on this interest in 2010. Environmental and leisure themes in particular continue to be important to consumers, which is good news for the garden industry."

Four out of five retailers who responded to the British Retail Consortium's 2010 Concerns Snapshot Survey said they expected retail sales in 2010 to be the same as 2009.


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