Younger shoppers with higher basket spends on products such as GYO and crafts are causing optimism among retailers who have cut operating costs this winter. Cambridge-based Scotsdales Garden Centre owner Caroline Owen said: "March is proving successful, with GYO and younger people driving sales.
"Demand is outstripping supply in seed potatoes and manufactured products such as propagation equipment. Manufacturers have brought out new products but many are already out of stock."
HTA director general David Gwyther said: "Retailers have reduced operating costs, made business more efficient with better margins and are all focusing on core gardening and hospitality. They're ready for the fight.
"We've all been encouraged to see consumers flooding into garden centres over the past two or three weeks despite the recessionary climate. There are also reports of new, younger people coming in - perhaps disenchanted with a more hostile high-street environment - who are acutely sensitive to both current economic and environmental pressures, and want to do their own thing to combat them."
Wiltshire-based Whitehall Garden Centre director Mark Self said: "This year is GYO year. People in the 30-something age group are buying more vegetable seeds and seed potatoes.
"We lost 10 days' trade in February because of the weather but since half term, when we did a lot of kids' activities, things have picked up. A bit of sunshine makes all the difference."
London-based Greenhouse Garden Centre owner Malcolm Scott said: "The first half of February was disappointing but in the past week or two people have been buying and are desperate to get into their gardens. The focus has shifted from the retired generation because savings have been hit by interest-rate cuts, whereas in previous recessions people over 55 were OK."
Wyevale has launched £9.99 GYO kits from Taylors Bulbs. Cleeve Nurseries has reported good GYO and wildlife sales. Pets, bird food and coffee shop sales are up across the board. Average basket sales were up two per cent at £18.70.
Garden writer Peter Seabrook said March sales would give a more accurate picture of the state of the retail trade.
- GCA Barometer of Trade figures show garden centre sales were down in February.
Year-on-year sales compared with February 2008 were:
- 17 per cent down in centres with under £2m turnover;
- 13 per cent down in centres with £2m to £4m turnover;
- 8.5 per cent down in centres with over £4m turnover.