Retailers predict return to pre-2003 results

Buoyant winter sales suggest industry has turned corner

By Matthew Appleby The garden market was at least 10 per cent up over the winter, and growers and retailers are predicting a return to pre-2003 fortunes if the weather stays good. The Garden Centre Association (GCA) said the country’s 2,000 garden centres were already £30m up on this time last year as the industry finally turned the corner after three years of depression. And the HTA said October to January’s retail market stood at £566m, up 11 per cent on 2005/06. Bransford Webbs managing director Geoff Caesar said his company was 23 per cent ahead of last year: “It’s great at the moment. Wet over the winter and mild weather in the spring is firing up the people who were always there but were put off by the weather in the past couple of years. This year feels like a spring used to feel.” West country-based Fonthill and Lakeside garden centres managing director Nick Morgan said sales were 20 per cent up on 2006: “We’re very positive about the year to come. Everyone’s upbeat about this year on the back of two poor years. There seems to be an uplift in general consumer spend. It’s a lot to do with the weather but we’re really chuffed.” GCA committee members including Poplars, Garsons, Trelawney, Warbreck and Coolings all reported buoyant trade. GCA representative Gillie Westwood said: “Everyone’s thrilled. They’re all getting embarrassed by the way the tills are rattling. It started towards the end of January, and March has been very good so far because the weather has been so lovely. Although we’ve had a few days’ bad weather, the good weather we had beforehand got people started.” She said centres were up seven per cent on the year to date and 11.26 per cent on last year. A 65-centre sample were turning over £1m more than last year, meaning all Britain’s estimated 2,000 garden centres may have taken an extra £30m already this year. “It’s the first time in three years that it’s been this good. There are smiles on people’s faces again.” Nursery Business Improvement Scheme (NBIS) chairman Will George said he expects the next quarterly NBIS figures to be up after a slight improvement during the autumn: “We’ve got good weather early so people are buying plants. The weather has turned the corner for us. We’re two weeks ahead with sales and two weeks ahead with plants.” HTA director general David Gwyther said: “The garden industry has turned the corner. Figures suggest after a flat year in 2006 and two bad years we’re on an uplift. “Business was certainly good in March and if the weather holds there is no reason why it shouldn’t have a very much improved performance. It’s a great comfort that when the sun comes out the gardening public want to spend money on gardening products and haven’t gone away in the direction of cheap holidays and electrical toys.” He added that the only concern was the potential shortage of plant stock as growers cut stock in the past two years and the Netherlands is looking east for sales. Mother’s Day has also helped sales, although poor weather in the past few days was a setback. Edinburgh-based Riccarton Garden Centre manager Chris Norwich said storms had held back progress. “We’d do better if we weren’t repairing buildings because of wind damage, but we’ve started well. We’re up a couple of per cent on last year.”

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