GCA Column: Chairman, Tammy Woodhouse, looks forward to Glee

GCA Chairman, Tammy Woodhouse writes

GLEE is the largest horticultural industry exhibition we have in this country and many of our members will be attending. For the first time in its history, when it has been running as normal, Covid permitting, the show has moved from its usual September slot to June and we’re all keen to see how this will impact positively on what we can expect to see and hear about this year.

Not only is it a great opportunity for garden centre staff to find out about the latest horticultural news and see the newest products on offer, but it’s also a chance to catch up with other GCA members, which we all love to do. I will be attending, and I look forward to meeting up with as many members as possible during the event, so we can chat about the retail market and how we’re all feeling.

At the moment, we, like everyone else, are facing issues in relation to rises in inflation and the general cost of living. Garden centres, like all retailers, are facing the challenge of having to adapt to this and to consumer spending habits. Customers aren’t buying big ticket items like they were in the lockdowns, instead they’re purchasing smaller items and/or are focusing on product longevity and lasting value, as well as sustainability and things that can be reused or recycled.

During the 2020 lockdown, and continuing into the spring/early summer of 2021, many garden projects were completed while people were staying at home and had money to spend because they weren’t going on holiday. They were also at home and using their gardens as a place of refuge and retreat. Now there is less to do as projects have been completed plus people are out and about more than they have been in the last two years, which has caused sales in categories such as hard landscaping to drop. In April 2022, hard landscaping sales were down -32.67%, compared to the same month in 2021.

However, on the upside, as everyone wishes to be together once again, we’re seeing more people using our centres as social hubs and catering still remains buoyant.

During the show, many of our members will be looking for ideas and inspiration to encourage customers to keep their love for gardening going, especially those new gardeners who took up the hobby during the lockdowns.

As the impact of Covid rumbles on, it’s expected that we will soon be facing a mental health pandemic, meaning health and wellbeing will be more important than ever. Recent NHS Digital data has revealed there were 3.3million referrals to specialist adult mental health services last year. This is significantly up from a pre-pandemic levels in 2019. The Department for Health said an extra £2billion a year is being put into mental health services by 2023/24 on top of £500million to deal with the impact of the pandemic.

We all know about the huge benefits gardening has on our physical and mental health, so it would be good to see stands at GLEE showcasing products that might be more affordable and help people continue to garden, as it’s so good for them. I’d also like to see sustainable and eco products, anything recycled and that helps people grow their own, as food security and the cost of living becomes even more important.

I think in general the move towards a June GLEE is a positive one, it will give us a chance to plan our ranges for next year in plenty of time and clear out areas we are de-listing before the summer is over and Christmas begins! I think we’re all just a bit swamped with stock at the moment to feel too excited about choosing more new products just yet!

Once GLEE is over, we’ll be looking forward to the remainder of the year, though I must admit, some of us are a bit nervous about Christmas this year. Thanks to the cost of living rising, we are wondering whether people will continue to spend during the festive period as they have done in previous years.

But there may not be too much to worry about, as time and time again, we have seen customers push the boat out to help lift their spirits and celebrate this special time of year. It will be the first Christmas in a while when things will hopefully be back to ‘normal’ and as a nation we will want to ensure we’re celebrating in style, as we’ve just seen with the Jubilee. Keeping spirits up and morale boosted is vital for our wellbeing and mental health, and having something like Christmas to look forward to is vital.

The GCA represents nearly 200 garden centres nationwide. Through sharing information and its inspection programme the GCA helps members to achieve high standards in customer service, plant quality and reliability. For further information, please call 01244 952170 or visit the website.

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