Garden Centre retailer, Tony Joyner, who runs Exeter store, Plants Galore, has torn up a council prohibition order to shut up shop because his local Aldi is still open and selling near-identical products.
Many retailers will sympathise entirely with his predicament, despairing at the fact that supermarkets and DIY stores – long-time competitors with garden centre retailers in certain product categories – are being allowed to clean up the market while specialist chains and independents face financial ruin.
Mr Joyner insists that he, too, sells essential products and that the Government guidelines are “completely unfair. We are a hardware store, that’s the definition of our business,”, he told press. “We sell home and garden tools and accessories in our store, just like B&Q and the supermarkets who are allowed to stay open.
“The Government have said if you are able to open – which we are – you can sell anything you usually stock. We are absolutely open and ready for business. We have a completely safe shopping experience with all the necessary safety protocols in place. It is safer shopping here where everything is open than it is in some small off licence.”
DIY stores have been given permission to stay open as hardware has been deemed essential, whilst horticultural businesses – an industry facing immediate wholesale destruction, despite fears of a looming food shortages – have been forced to cease trading. DIY giants can therefore remain open with free rein to sell as many plants, flowers, compost, seeds and gardening tools as they can whilst their independent competitors go to the wall.
Pet food is another essential category which Mr Joyner stocks, although Government guidelines indicate that pet sections must be in separate buildings or units of a garden centre and kept open separately. Exeter City Council has, however, deemed that pet food is only a sideline for Plants Galore and that his main business of selling plants is not essential.
Mr Joyner says he has little choice but to stay open as otherwise he will lose his house as well as his business. Plants Galore, which grows its own plants at nurseries in Exeter, Plymouth, Newton Abbot and Yeovil, is facing the prospect of discarding £1 million worth of its current stock at a time of year when it would usually expect to make around £200,000 a week. With only a small fleet of vehicles, the most he could deliver to customers with his premises closed are plants up to a value of £10,000 a week.
The Council says Mr Joyner has committed an offence under the Health Protection Regulations 2020 by selling flowers and seeds. He says that he is “desperately trying to avoid the business going bankrupt and having to lay off 70 employees. It seems to be one rule for supermarkets and other large national chain stores and one rule for [independents like] Plants Galore – no consistency or fairness being applied.’
Supermarkets across the board have reported huge year-on-year sales increase which have made March even better than Christmas while other businesses go bankrupt.