Garden Industry Manufacturers Association (GIMA) director, Vicky Nuttall, writes. The good news for 2021 is despite all the challenges we are currently faced with, there are clear signs that we are in for a buoyant season in the months ahead. An early Easter, coupled with a keen – and rapidly expanding – consumer base, will hopefully lead to strong sales that will continue throughout spring.
There is every indication that new gardening enthusiasts who discovered their green fingers for the first time in 2020 will keep up the good work this year. One of our key tasks as an industry, therefore, is to nurture and encourage these consumers in their new-found hobby and ensure they are well-educated and able to make the most of their new passion for gardening.
The Grow-your-own market soared last year and with garden centres in England allowed to stay open throughout this third lockdown, these businesses should not be missing out on sales of seeds, tools or other essentials.
Consumers young and old, from the countryside to the cities, have been turning to gardening, with all its essential benefits to body, mind and soul, as the Covid pandemic creates seismic shifts in all our lifestyles. Garden centres have a key role to play, not only as essential retailers of everything necessary for consumers who want to be greener and more self-sufficient but as an educational resource for fledgling growers who will need plenty of advice as they set up allotments, greenhouses and kitchen gardens.
Many people, especially from the younger generations, can be very short on space, so make sure can offer them high-functionality, green solutions designed for urban dwellers, alongside products more suited to your traditional customer base.
Whilst the influx of new consumers means this is an exciting time for our industry, 2021 is already posing significant hurdles. With heightened demand comes greater logistical challenges, on top of existing supply chain problems, meaning that suppliers are having to walk a difficult path to ensure stock is ready and that early delivery can be fulfilled to help garden centres prepare for the inevitable influx.
As Covid-related restrictions persist worldwide, the wider supply chain remains under enormous pressure and suppliers have been warning for months that retailers who fail to order early could easily face stock shortages.
The ongoing issues which have disrupted container shipments from the Far East show no sign of abating in the near to mid-term and the major price increases are being felt by everyone down the line. Some suppliers and retail customers have already agreed to share the bulk these costs, but some price increases for the end consumer are also looking inevitable.
Extended lead times – particularly for packaging – are an ongoing issue, with triggers, bottles and sprayers hardest hit because of the massive demand for sanitisers. Gaps in supply are highly likely and retailers are asked to be patient and flexible when it comes to accepting substitutions.
The extra level of complexity which stems from Brexit is a particular challenge for suppliers who deliver to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, especially in relation to new phytosanitary requirements. Our dedicated Transition Hub is open to anyone needing advice and support on new regulations.
Staffing is another issue being faced by suppliers and which garden centre retailers are being asked to take into consideration. Required social distancing measures will limit how many people can be on site at a given time, which together with other hidden factors could have a huge impact on what a supplier is physically capable of achieving.
Despite the exceptionally difficult trading conditions, I am incredibly impressed by the resilience shown by the garden centre sector and the strong united front we have built in the face of adversity. I am fully confident that together we will see this through and emerge stronger than ever.
As always, GIMA remains open to its members and we are here to help navigate current conditions and add value with our programme of business support tools. Please do reach out if you need assistance.