With the horticulture industry still far from stable, but ever-growing signs of hope on the horizon, commercial growers, plant nurseries and garden centres are contemplating how best to plan for the future. While many have held back on development as they struggle to cope with demand, others have taken the opportunity to expand or refurbish their operations, streamline processes and capitalise on the opportunity to secure additional revenue in the future.
Here, industry construction contractors and commercial horticulture suppliers Fordingbridge provide a run-down on industry trends, and reveal how retailers and growers alike have adapted over the turbulent past year.
The polytunnel boom
“There has been significant movement in the polytunnel side of our business, as a direct result of shortages of ornamentals,” says Louise Harris, horticulture sales coordinator at Fordingbridge. “We deal with commercial growers both directly and through a network of installers, and all have reported significant surges in requests for stock, with many forced to extend lead times or even ration sales to their retail garden-centre customers.
“As a business we reacted as swiftly as possible to support growers, allowing them to either increase their growing capacity with new, higher-volume polytunnels, as well as improving their stockholding ability with refurbishment of previously disused tunnels,” she continues. “We were able to do this thanks to manufacturing in-house in the UK and delivering with our own fleet, as well as our solid relationships with suppliers.”
The number of nurseries that have sprung into action to repurpose, reclad or repair their tunnels, or undertake the construction of new polytunnels to meet demand, is exceptional, notes Harris. “Taking action now has meant they are in a stronger position for next year; ready to hit the ground running to serve the UK’s reinvigorated love of gardening following lockdown,” she says. “The last 12 months or so have provided vast possibilities and fulfilled innovative ideas across many agricultural and horticultural industries – and I’m delighted that so many of our clients have involved Fordingbridge on their journey.”
Garden centres are getting spruced up
“The retail garden-centre industry saw a well-publicised boom through the pandemic,” explains Fraser Dixon, Fordingbridge’s business development manager. “A number of centres took opportunity to refurbish, especially their outside areas. We helped a number of businesses increase sales from their plant areas by installing canopies for all-weather browsing. Similarly, a great number of stores took the opportunity to add covered seating areas to their cafes.”
Unsurprisingly, the feedback from garden-centre customers is very positive: “The ability to shop or dine outside in the fresh air, albeit under a weatherproof canopy, is incredibly welcome,” says Dixon. “Especially when considering the restrictions and concerns surrounding the pandemic; a mindset that is forecast to stay in the public consciousness for some time.”
Retaining new gardeners
For Dixon and team, it has been particularly refreshing to see smaller nurseries enjoying a boost to trade. “Various family-owned, single-site businesses have taken advantage of increased trade, higher average spend and the ‘new wave’ of customers coming through their doors,” he says. “I’d like to think that with careful investment, they will be able to retain the interest of those customers throughout this year and beyond – while not losing sight of the unique quality and service that attracted this new audience through their doors initially.”
He points to the covered outside seating areas as a fine example of the memorable shopping experiences that even small businesses can offer. “After all, who doesn’t enjoy a slice of cake in the lushness of a well-stocked plant area?”