Mail order garden retail booms as garden centres close because of coronavirus threat

"We've never seen mail order volumes like it," say seed and plant suppliers after coronavirus forced the closure of garden centres.

Image: Chrysanthemums Direct
Image: Chrysanthemums Direct

As workers nationwide have to stay at home turn their attentions to the garden, mail order companies have found interest has risen by 4,000% in some cases.

Mail order suppliers are filling the gap after the Government reclassified garden centres as 'non-essential retail.'

Chrysanthemums Direct, has reported a 20% increase in sales within the last week "as people gear up for a spot of gardening during time in self-isolation". 

The company has cancelled a visitor day and is unable to exhibit with all RHS and other garden shows cancelled up until 30 June 2020.

Seed and plants supplier Suttons' Hilary Cutler said: "With so many people having to stay at home there has been a significant uplift in orders, particularly for fruit and vegetable plants and seeds. We are working extra shifts to ensure that these are sent out as quickly as possible but please do try to be patient if it takes a little longer than usual.

"Many of us already take time out in our gardens as the most effective way of relaxing and switching off from the everyday troubles of the world, and there’s plenty of evidence to show gardening can provide measurable improvements in wellbeing.

"It’s possible that over the next couple of months, many of us will be spending more time at home and in our gardens than we might have expected and we have recently started to see indications that customers are thinking ahead in this way and sales, particularly of some vegetable plants and seeds have been higher than we had anticipated.

"Demand on all of our three 'Horti' brands is up and yes the major part of that is in relation to anything edible. The nation is taking self sufficiency to a new level.

"Seed sales in general according to industry stats were running at a decrease of -4% year on year and we were definitely seeing a rise in larger format plants. The majority of this we had credited to our busy lifestyles and  being time poor – of course the tables have changed somewhat now and certainly the fact that people will have more time at home and in the garden has created this unprecedented spike in sales for all gardening products at, and,

"We also sell seed through our garden centres, through a team of sales reps and merchandisers who were inundated with keeping the seed stands full (particularly on edible lines). 

"On a positive note for the industry its fantastic that so many people want to 'give it a go'.  

"At Suttons we are seeing during the month of March to date YOY an increase in traffic overall of 42% (on Organic this is 40%). An increase in new users of over 50%, page views are up by 120%, and people are spending 68% more time on the site as they shop around.

"On our site we have a 4,000% increase from this year to last year for the month of March to date.

"Website visitors landing on our lettuce pages are up by just over 1,700%, courgettes almost 3,000%, potatoes and onion garlic shallot up by 2000% whereas flowers are up by 545%.

"We have seen sales of salad leaves as a category increase by over 700%. Most popular varieties: 

Fast Growing Salad Leaves:

  • Lettuce Seed Mix
  • Lettuce Seed Little Gem

Popular Tomato Seeds: (sales up 421%)

  • Sweet Million – This is the overall best seller.
  • Gardener’s Delight
  • Moneymaker
  • Beetroot Boltardy ( sales up 461%)

Overall the biggest spiking group has to be bean seeds. There are 4 products in the top 20:

  • Dwarf French Bean Seeds – Compass
  • Runner Bean Seeds – Firestorm
  • Climbing French Bean Seeds – Cobra
  • Broad Bean – The Sutton

Tomato plants have seen by far the biggest spike among veg plants both in plug plants and potted plants - an even spread

  • Crimson Collection (blight resistant)
  • Gardener’s Favourite Collection
  • Grow Bag Collection

Strawberries: Cambridge favourite and the new Marshmallo variety is third best seller.

Courgettes and mushrooms (white buttons and chestnut kits) are also selling well.

The kids Fun to Grow brand is 300% up on traffic and sales.

"With such unprecedented demand we are asking people to be patient as fulfilling their orders is taking longer than normal.  Veg plants will begin to despatch in the two weeks. Whilst we are seeing such unprecedented demands and have our own challenges in fulfilling everyones orders as quickly as possible we are acutely aware of those companies who have seen the opposite effect. 

"Gardening has historically and is now a very resilient sector we are under no illusions how well placed we are currently as a business to be both online (as a majority) and in the gardening sector and our thoughts are with our colleagues in other sectors."

Mr Fothergill's Seeds, which has cancelled its annual August Mr Fothergill’s Press Day, said seed sales are "very strong and we are flat out on a 24 hour operation keeping up with demand while trying to keep our employees safe. Same situation in our Australian business." Bunnings in Australia has introduced rationing of one veg seed packet per customer.

Mr Fothergill's David Turner added: "Mail order has seen a big surge in orders. Mostly veg seeds and plants. We are currently still despatching with a skeleton staff to maximise social distancing and, due to our large stockpile of bulk seed, we still have enough to pack to keep supplies available. As with many companies, we are constantly reviewing the official advice and making day to day decisions on what is best for us to do for the safety of the staff."

Normal sales would be mail order 50%, garden centres 40% and multiples 10%: "Now though, all bets are off. It is unprecedented and we have never seen mail order volumes like it."  

Gardening Express said after a "monster weekend," Monday "was our busiest day on record" with "the plants side experiencing pent-up demand from winter storms and great weather at last, plus the stay at home factor, so we are going to make the most of it before the crisis starts to hit people in the pocket". Garden centres closing has "forced the trade online".

Gardening Express' Chris Bonnett said sales had gone "mental" across the board and he was buying stock from growers who were seeing garden centre orders cancelled:

"It feels like if I put a plant online, it sells."

Edibles such as rhubarb and strawberry plants, partly as people worry about who will pick crops come the summer, are going well, as well as ornamentals, Bonnett said. 

"People are stuck at home and want to enjoy the garden. They're not going on holiday now and they have time to do the garden up."

He said supermarkets are cancelling plant orders because they were concentrating on restocking food and using available logistics for that. "Online retail is being encouraged by the Government. They've got to keep the economy going one way or another."

Hayloft Plants' Derek Jarman said:

"Sales for the week ending Friday 20 March 2020 were up 23% compared to last year. This week last year (week ending 27 March) was a big week for Hayloft Plants which we will exceed by a considerable margin making it our best week ever. I’m cautiously optimistic, although it’s a rapidly changing market place. A high number of staff are working from home and essential staff in the offices have been isolated with temporary plastic sheet dividers.

"We completed a 6,000sqm plant packing glasshouse in late 2019 with a €200,000 EU grant which gives us a facility well in excess of current requirements. This means that plant packing staff are split into teams which are kept completely separate from each other. Most plant packing staff live on the nurseries. 

"We are seeing good sales across all categories particularly fruit, vegetables and compost. If this continues, we will be short of stock to sell after Easter."

Joy of Plants said: “We’ve heard that some business owners have experienced a surge in orders online over the last 10 days. Some are seeing 25% week-on-week increase in internet sales. Gardening will be a lifesaver for so many people during these next few months. Some retailers have realised that home delivery and online sales will have to substitute for plant area visits and purchases.

The company offers a searchable guide on websites to the plants retailers sell.

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