Glee in conversation with….UK garden centres

The garden retail sector is delighted to have live exhibitions and networking events back in the calendar, including a brand-new date in the 2022 line-up, with Glee set to take place June 28th – 30th at the NEC Birmingham. Here, Glee catches up with a handful of forward-thinking garden retailers to find out more about how they shop the show, what they’d like to see more of from exhibitors this year and what impact the new dateline will have on their buying cycles.

How do you shop Glee?
British Garden Centre’s Boyd Douglas-Davies (pictured left) certainly gets his steps in and covers some serious ground around the halls. He explains: “Personally, I cover the whole show many times. Last time I checked my pedometer, I was walking over 10 miles a day at the show! For me, the New Product Zone is essential viewing at the start of the show, as it creates the ‘must learn more’ list. As nice as it is to see the tried-and-tested suppliers, it is really important to look at the new exhibitors, as they may hold the key to the future.”

Ian Richardson, Managing Director of Garsons, with centres in Esher and Titchfield, also makes the most of every minute he and his team spend at the show: “I tend to walk the hall, line by line, so I don’t miss anything. We always look at innovation in the New Product area and, if we see anything we like, we make a note to seek them out when we are walking around.”

Simon Bourne, Garden Centre Manager at Perrywood Garden Centre (pictured top) shares his tried-and-tested technique: “We normally visit all of our existing suppliers and spend a differing amount of time with them, depending on what new products they have to show, how they have performed as a supplier and what we are looking to change. We make sure we see as many other suppliers – new and old – as well and will often place orders with companies we haven’t worked with before.”

Keen to be efficient with her time at the show, Tammy Woodhouse, Managing Director at Millbrook Garden Centres says that her team, “goes to Glee with a plan”. She explains: “There are always people we must see, and we do make some appointments. We try to walk every aisle and see everything. It means we don’t miss anything.”

Do you take a large team with you?
“We take as many people as we see necessary, which is quite a large number, but that’s because they’re all needed and there’s so much to learn,” explains Boyd. “We have buyers and a support team for all categories represented at Glee. Gardening will be there for the duration and even our gift buyer will go for a day.”

Tammy tells us her team will be out in force. “Our buying team is quite small – there’s only three in the team – but, this year, I think there will be seven of us going to the show. We will take the category managers for each department, so they can have an input into the range.

Ian (pictured left) says: “I like to take as many people as possible, so they can see how it’s done. They work with the reps all the time, so it’s nice to get face time with them at the show.” One thing that retailers are particularly enthused about is the unrivalled opportunity that Glee presents for their buyers to compare offers from a wide range of leading suppliers, with so many key exhibitors together under one roof.

Boyd says: “The way the show is laid out means there is a real comparison opportunity, so you can assess Westland versus Evergreen, for example, then go and take a look at what Vitax is up to. It doesn’t matter how many reps you see regularly; it doesn’t beat being able to hoof it up and down at the show and look at six suppliers, comparing their offer and considering what will sell better in your business. It allows me to really look into the product.”

What do you look out for from exhibitors and is there anything you wish you they would do differently or more of?
Simon Bourne from Perrywood is very clear on this: “Inspiration!” he says. “Packets on a shelf are boring but bring something new to the show and it creates an atmosphere. I love to see plants on a stand too.”

Meanwhile, Boyd believes exhibitors are missing a trick when they have something new and exciting to talk about. “It surprises me when people don’t push ‘new’ as a message. I wish they would all highlight new products on their stand. Also, I’m looking for suppliers to present new ways to increase our sales, which, of course, increases their sales.”

Ian says: “We look out for new or different products, innovation and any new suppliers we don’t already deal with. We’re glad they’re not pushy and don’t grab you in the aisles.”

As well as looking for products to create differentiation, Tammy (pictured right) and the Millbrook team are also seeking products and companies with strong green credentials. She explains: “Increasingly, we are looking for newness and innovation. I know all garden centres go to the show, but it is nice to find something a bit different. For us particularly, we are also looking for the sustainability of products. That might be a reduction in packaging, if it is made in the UK, and so on, because these are the questions that we’re getting asked. I think exhibitors could shout about sustainability a bit more. A lot of suppliers are on board with the issue already, but I think there’s loads more we could do, as an industry.”

How important is Glee to your buying cycle each year?
“Very!” says Perrywood’s Simon Bourne, in Tiptree, Essex. “It gives us an opportunity to compare suppliers against each other, check we have the right products and ensure that we have the best mix for our customers.”

Another retailer that places great value on Glee is Boyd Douglas-Davies who enthuses: “For us, it’s the most important show in the year, as it covers so many categories. Over half of our business is garden. We offer other categories, but gardening is still core to our business, and Glee is the number-one show for gardening.”

Ian from Garsons, explains how his team utilises the show. “We use Glee to source new suppliers and also take the time to talk to existing suppliers. Glee is where we do our ranging; we do the research and plan our ranges, then follow up with purchases.”

Tammy Woodhouse echoes the sentiment: “It’s really important. We have always previously waited until Glee to start the ranging process… We try to see everything when we are there, determine what’s new and we then use that as a basis to move forward.”

What do you think of the new June timing of Glee?
“For us, the timing is great because it’s at the end of the season, so you know what sold well and you can make more informed decisions at the show, when all that information is fresh in your mind,” says Ian Richardson.

Like Ian, Tammy from Millbrook believes having the show hot on the heels of the season will be beneficial. She says: “In a way, waiting until September was starting to become too late. The good thing is that spring will still be fresh in our mind when we attend in June. It’s how we shop other categories, like Christmas, so could work well.” She adds: “Also, there are increasing supply chain issues, which mean we are now under growing pressure to order earlier and earlier.

Boyd Douglas-Davies is very positive about the June timing, stating: “I think the move is great. The manufacturing world has changed, and we need to guarantee stock is in front of our customer when they want it. With the increased interest in gardening, the season has extended in both directions, so placing orders earlier is essential. The old Glee was too late for this new world order. June is therefore logical.”

For more information and to register, visit the Glee website

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