Summer optimism raises hopes of garden centre retailers

Hot weather, a focus on local sourcing and the World Cup all provide opportunities, says Matthew Appleby.

National events always give opportunities for retail promotions. The World Cup in South Africa (11 June to 11 July) is the first big football event featuring England since 2006. The British BBQ Association forecasts a huge upsurge in outdoor get togethers around the tournament.

With a barbecue summer forecast (see weather box) and with a new Government bringing some retail optimism and reassertion of Englishness (remember Tony Blair's "cool Britannia" in 1997?) the summer looks good for outdoor goods sales. But how can the garden industry exploit this?

It seems that the industry is already doing so. Furniture and barbecue sales were 18.5 per cent up in April compared to April 2009 and nine per cent up year-on-year. Sales in the sector rose 15 per cent in 2009, according to the Garden Centre Association.

Leisure & Outdoor Furniture Association secretary Richard Plowman says his members are talking about a record month across the board despite shipping difficulties related to lack of manpower in the right areas in China and garden centre buyers being cautious to make orders because of the recession and election. "That's why things happened this month," he adds.

While furniture and barbecues inevitably come from China, UK plant producers can still make linked sales for those who want to make their gardens look attractive for the barbecue.

At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week, new show sponsor M&G's garden by Roger Platts emphasised that most of the plants are British-grown.

M&G chief executive Michael McLintock says: "Our garden is quintessentially British. Many plants have been expertly grown and selected by Roger himself and are complemented by use of English oak and Sussex sandstone."

Also showing at Chelsea, NFU's UK Horticulture exhibitor Penny Riley is looking for a 14th consecutive gold medal with a display of a range of British-grown fruit, vegetables and flowers. She says: "The volcanic ash cloud preventing flights made a lot of retailers realise that, when they found they couldn't bring in produce, they had to ask UK growers.

"We don't have the number of growers we used to. Now buyers from supermarkets are coming out of the woodwork wanting things and they are not there. Lots of pot plant growers, for instance, have gone in the years since we started doing Chelsea with UK Horticulture, people like Ruxley and Moermans.

"Supermarkets have squashed prices for lots of UK growers. Also, people coming into the industry see their parents' hard work and turn to other things. We have to reassure the public and make sure people know, when they're buying British, that there is quality control we can verify. It's rather muddled at the moment with Red Tractor and other schemes such as the Horticultural Exhibitors Association. But if people see the Union Flag it guides them. We'll keep flying the flag."

UK garden centres are pushing the "buy local" message by mapping local sourcing with plant miles charts and Union Jack bunting. Planters Garden Centre Tamworth manager Stuart Gooden says: "We are buying more plants locally. In the past 12 months we've been working on environmental policies including FSC, peat and locally-sourced food in the restaurant and shop and local plants in the planteria.

"We're up to 97 per cent of outdoor stock from UK nurseries. They have the same weather conditions as gardeners and should perform better in their own climate."

Planters buys houseplants from Europe for costs reasons, despite the strength of the euro. But Monkton Elm Garden & Pet Centre in Somerset is buying in all of its houseplants from the South West as part of its ongoing "buy local" campaign.

General manager Norma Moore says: "We pride ourselves on supporting local growers and businesses wherever possible. Locally-grown plants tend to suit the area better, arrive fresher and faster and have travelled fewer miles, which is better for the environment.

"One hundred per cent of our houseplants, at least 50 per cent of our seasonal bedding, vegetables and herbs and around 30 per cent of our outside plants come from West Country sources." A third of the garden centre's houseplants come from JB Plants based in Mere, Wiltshire.

An HTA representative added: "Garden centres are now telling the story behind their plants, which is good for sales."


After two miserable summers, meteorologists at the Met Office say summer 2010 temperatures will be above average and rainfall will be low with a number of small heatwaves.

Meteorologists predict that average temperatures across June, July and August are likely to be much higher than the seasonal average of 57.4 degsF (14.1 degsC) and regularly peak above 86 degsF (30 degsC).

There is a 50 per cent chance of the temperatures in June, July and August being above average, a 30 per cent chance that they will be average and a 20 per cent chance that they will be below average.

HTA: Power of Local Consumer Insight report

Future Foundation research shows that in 2009 74 per cent of the population agreed that every effort should be made to prevent the disappearance of regional and local differences, compared to 70 per cent in 2001.

Half of Britons say they bought locally-produced food in 2009. The foundation has also found that 58 per cent of people have used their garden for socialising in the past year.

The HTA recommends:

- Collect post codes of customers to build a map of where they are from.

- Survey customers to find out why they favour particular businesses.

- Use events to generate interest in the local community.

- Work with local nurseries to provide seasonal interest.

- Use national events and give them local flavour. to comment on this analysis.

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