GIMA Director, Vicky Nuttall writes: We are looking at what could be the strongest ever season for garden centres, but supply chain problems persist. 2021 has so far been incredibly busy for garden centres in England and the main trading season got off to a flying start in late February and throughout March.
As we head towards Easter and the May Bank Holiday we do so with bated breath as we wait to see just how the phased ending of lockdown will pan out. We know there is very high demand for product, and this is only going to grow as we head towards the big spring holidays; in particular we are expecting a huge peak around Easter, just ahead of the reopening of non-essential retail. Easter is probably going to be bigger than it’s ever been before and on May 17th things will open up even more. All in all, we are looking at a bumper season, particularly with so many new gardeners out there.
It’s been good to hear confirmation that a lot of stock did come in ahead of January 1st with suppliers budgeting well above 2020 levels, but sales at the start of this year have exceeded even these high expectations by as much as 20 – 30%. Now that garden centres in Wales have also been allowed to open, demand will continue to rise, and this will happen again when opening extends through Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It is somewhat ironic that the record-breaking interest in garden-related products is being attended by unusual supply chain problems. As I wrote in my last column, suppliers are doing a brilliant job of managing the situation but those which are reliant upon container deliveries are still faced with significant challenges. It’s taking quite a long time for that situation to resolve with such a large global backlog to work through.
Further problems still exist with staffing due to COVID isolation and extended packaging lead times, so it’s very much a balancing act at the moment. Everyone is having to be that bit more sensible and forward thinking but we can see that retailers understand these pressures and as such are cooperating with suppliers to make things work.
Now more than ever, it is vital for retailers and suppliers to work closely together as we try to ensure that those budding new gardeners are kept supplied with whatever they need to keep their interest high. We’re even hearing that some suppliers have even stopped taking on new accounts so they can carefully manage the supply for their existing customer base – a brave move but one that highlights the importance of loyalty.
Elsewhere, exporting to Northern Ireland remains a problem and the situation there is fluid. The British Government has taken a unliteral decision to extend the grace period factored into the Northern Ireland Protocol, which the EU is challenging, setting a deadline of the end of March for Britain to ‘rectify’ what it sees as an alleged breach of said protocol. If the two sides don’t come to an agreement by this time the case may be taken to the European Court of Justice.
On the other hand, imported products and components appear to be flowing freely from the EU to the UK, eliminating one potential problem in the supply chain.
Finally, the recent Garden Press Event did much to encourage green shoots in the industry, with lots of new suppliers coming into the sector, especially those pushing the sustainability agenda. The event saw many suppliers bringing to market even more peat-free growing media solutions, plus eco-friendly pest control and natural plant foods, all of which helping to bolster our sectors commitment to a greener future.