Restaurants alone will not be enough to secure the long-term viability of garden centres hit by bad weather, Malcolm Scott Consultants owner Malcolm Scott has warned.
Following a fall in sales of up to a half at many centres in the year to Easter, he said: "We now have to look at the impact of such weather patterns on cash flow and long-term viability. After last year's hosepipe ban in spring followed by a long wet summer, most garden centre owners thought we would be in for a reasonable spring season this year. We haven't been."
Scott said not just plant sales have been lost, but sales of garden sundries, seeds and bulbs. Restaurants, though they have got bigger and contribute more to a garden centre's sales, "do not make up" for this loss, he added.
Smaller garden centres and retail plant centres have been hit the hardest, but even medium-sized garden centres may rely on 40 per cent of their turnover coming from plants and sundries.
He said it is "asking a lot" to recoup sales lost in March and much of April in the remaining two months of the spring gardening season.
Scott, who owns Greenhouse Garden Centre in London, said owners could "sit tight" and hope the weather improves or devote more space, money and staff to catering, lifestyle and concessions, which will need better buildings. "It will also still require plants, but less of them, if centres are to keep their unique selling point vis-a-vis the high street."
A third option is to reorganise the centre and accept that core gardening "can no longer demand premium-quality sales space. These products would be sold out of much lower-cost structures - polytunnels or simple glasshouses and canopies."
Scott added:"If these two bad-weather events are a one-off, the industry can carry on with a few unfortunate casualties. But if it is a question of a change in the climate, then the industry will need to change, otherwise declining sales will impact on staffing and stocking, and standards of presentation will eventually fall."
Ian Boardman, inspector, Garden Centre Association
"Is it a one-off or the start of a trend? If it is the latter, people need to plan for it. The pattern of weather looks as though it won't be the same anymore."