Garden Centre industry weathers the covid storm

GIMA Director, Vicky Nuttall writes: I’m writing this column as the UK takes another tentative step along the roadmap to Covid recovery, when wider social contact with family and friends has started to return and many hospitality businesses can once again welcome customers indoors.

This is a really important milestone and I can’t be alone in breathing a small sigh of relief and taking pleasure at the thought of hotels, restaurants, cafes being able to fill their rooms and tables once again. This latter of course includes many garden centres around the UK which have hospitality facilities that form a vital part of their business and it will be a joy to see them filling up once again with happy families and groups of friends.

It’s now well over a year since the pandemic and all its attendant lockdowns began and what a journey this has been – and still is, ongoing. I am incredibly proud of the way our industry has risen to the enormous challenges posed and weathered the storm, though also mindful that many other industries – including our fellow retailers on the high street and shopping centres – have been harder hit.

We cannot help but recognise what a great success garden retailing has been throughout the pandemic, at least in those parts of the UK where garden centres were classified as essential retail and permitted to stay open. Even where they had to close physical sites many centres were able to successfully pivot online, take orders by phone or make use of the loyalty card systems that many already had in place.

As I wrote in my last column, the demand for products sold through garden centres has been extraordinarily high – perhaps the highest it’s ever been – and this has contributed to intense pressure on the supply chain, which many diverse factors are continuing to impact. Supply pressures will remain high, and we are already seeing price inflation on raw materials, transport and packaging which will no doubt translate to price increases down the line, if they are not already.

The poor weather may also be hiding higher demand to come as we may be yet to see the ‘fair weather’ gardeners appear in the centres. So I predict that the pressure will continue to stretch us all to our limits for a while to come.

The time for a well-earned rest will come sooner or later, that’s for sure, but until it does we must keep holding the fort and sticking together to keep the lines of communication and transparency open. We also have another Bank Holiday weekend to get through at the end of May and I’m pretty sure demand will continue to exceed expectation throughout this month and probably beyond, possibly with even more beaten sales records.

Looking ahead to later this year and into 2022, I am extremely hopeful that the gains our industry made will prove to be long-lasting. The passion for gardening in this country is running at an all-time high and consumers in great numbers everywhere have discovered – some of them to their surprise and joy – just what great retail experiences are offered by garden centres. There is every indication that a good many of these customers are now in it for the long-haul and will remain happy converts to the great national pastime that is gardening.

Other news this month, I am hugely looking forward some up and coming events, including our sold-out GIMA Charity Golf Day (June 9th, Belton Woods Hotel & Golf Course) and then Glee in September, the first real, face-to-face industry exhibition in this year’s calendar. Glee is an essential industry fixture and GIMA will, as always, be supporting it through our GIMA Lounge and Buyer Connect event. We anticipate a huge amount of interest in Buyer Connect from retailers keen to expand their supplier base and access innovative new products.

The GIMA Awards at Celtic Manor (November 11th) will come up next on the calendar, where we really will kick our heels back and celebrate all things great about our sector. That’s a lot of greatness, it really will be a night to remember!

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