Weather helps unlock pent-up retail demand

Garden retailers report that March sales are back up to 2011 levels after weather conditions improve 'in the nick of time'.

Garden centres: rushing to stock up after initially showing caution - image: © Holmes Garden Photos/Alamy
Garden centres: rushing to stock up after initially showing caution - image: © Holmes Garden Photos/Alamy

Garden retailers say March sales have "gone bananas" and are back up to 2011 levels as the weather has turned and consumers confidence has made a comeback.

Growers are selling out of primroses, with one having cut production after having to throw away thousands of plants in early 2013. Blue Ribbon owner Walter Back grew 300,000 primroses this year - 100,000 fewer than in 2013 - but had sold out by mid March.

"In the last two weeks it has really picked up," he said. "The week before last we put an offer on but until then we were about to throw them away again. The weather changed in the nick of time. Everyone is ringing up now but, of course, we've sold out."

WD Smith director Michael Smith, who grew the same number of primroses as in 2013, said: "The last two weeks have been really good and sets us up nicely. We sold out of primroses on 17 March. Customers want loads right now but we've not got anything, but it's time to move on to something else." Burston and Bryant have also sold out of primroses.

Garden centres are rushing to stock up after showing caution early on. Some have missed out on early sales after running down what they carry.

Pent-up demand, warm weather and winter losses caused by heavy rain were all factors driving sales, with Mothers Day (30 March 2014 rather than 9 March 2013) and Easter (18-21 April 2014 rather than 29 March- 1 April 2013) still to come.

Homebase category director Matt Compton said: "An average season would be good but the first couple of weeks of March have been brilliant. It's a good start and Easter falls perfectly this year". Total sales at Homebase grew by 6.9 per cent to £203m in the eight weeks to 1 March.

North One owner Beryl Henderson said sales last week are 200 per cent up on the same week in 2013.

Taylors Bulbs director Adam Taylor said sales have "gone bananas" and are the best since 2011. "Confidence has returned, car parks are full and there are queues at the till," he added. "But my worry is people are understocked and won't restock."

Mr Fothergill's Seeds joint managing director David Carey said sales are "back on track in the last four weeks" after "playing catch-up" because of the rainiest winter since records began in 1910.

Farplants sales director Nick Richards said: "We're up on last year without a doubt. This time last year was snowy but there's definitely a different flavour this year. The wet weather didn't help in January and February but we're unlikely to have cold weather now."

He added that there are "opportunities for more replanting" after waterlogging saw off herbaceous perennials over winter.

Pre-orders have been good but garden centres are calling in stock on a just-in-time basis, said Richards. "A few people really held back on stocking up and they have missed out. They were waiting to see if there was a winter - there's been so much caution after the last two years and the wet winter."

Coolings managing director Gary Carvosso said comparisons with 2013 are "incredible", adding: "In 2011 it was a fabulous year for the trade and many people said they didn't expect to get back to that."

Andrew Richardson, a director at supplier Johnsons of Whixley, said: "Sales were slow to start because a lot of garden centres are not pre-ordering. But sales took off seven days ago. Centres that had a reasonable offer were making sales but the ones that de-stock were complaining about not making them."

Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker said "pent-up demand" has lead to sales being 30 per cent up on last March.

Top sellers - Retailers report boost in sales

- Homebase: garden furniture.

- Mr Fothergill's: Chelsea pensioner poppy promotion.

- Farplants: scabious.

- WD Smith and Blue Ribbon Plants: primroses.

- Hillier: 9cm herbaceous.

- Coolings: potted bulbs, evergreen shrubs and alpines.

RHS Wisley plant centre head Nigel Eaton said herbaceous, hellebores and euphorbias were top sellers and sales in 1-11 March were up 22 per cent on February.

Squire's managing director Dennis Espley said: "We're 25 per cent up if we strip out Mother's Day last week. Our new centre, Secretts Milford, is over 50 per cent up. People want to get out. It's good to see people buying plants and garden furniture."

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