Column: GCA Chairman, Tammy Woodhouse

GCA Chairman and Managing Director of Millbrook Garden Centres, Tammy Woodhouse, writes in her August 2022 column:

We have been lucky as a nation recently to receive some warmer than usual weather, with temperatures hitting more than 30 degrees. However, while we do love the sunshine, it had a detrimental effect on sales at our member garden centres, as, understandably, many saw a drop in footfall, and some had to close due to the extreme heat.

As always with the great British weather, it’s unpredictable, but thankfully temperatures have settled back down again to become more manageable, and our customers have been able to get back out into their gardens. Currently, our member centres say they are sitting on a lot of stock, in particular, furniture, however it is still selling as people want to make the most of their outside spaces.

This is largely because there are some good deals and discounts to be had to help clear the backlog. Many are anticipating carrying some of this furniture through to next year and supplementing it with a few new lines and ranges to keep it looking fresh for customers.

There are always many challenges facing garden centres and one of the biggest now is catering and our member garden centres getting their cafés and restaurants back to pre-pandemic levels. To help them do this, we recently hosted a catering webinar, with expert guests Chris Brown from leading UK catering consultancy, Turpin Smale, and Penny Cook from Penny Cook Recruitment, to give members somewhere to discuss issues and hear from others about how they’re doing.

GCA Chairman Elect, Will Blake, and I, talked about our own restaurants at our respective garden centres. Will spoke about his Potting Shed Restaurant being refurbished, rebranded and converted to table service and the results of this. While I spoke about The Green Café at our Staplehurst site and the Mill at Gravesend and the two different operations we run and how these work for us.

One of the main issues discussed during the webinar was recruitment within the hospitality and Penny Cook believes the problem facing hospitality is bringing in new talent. There are 176,000 hospitality vacancies. Brexit might not have helped, and the pandemic gave people time to reassess and change careers.

She said centres should be flexible with working hours and recruit from all backgrounds, including out of sector. They should be clear on who they want to recruit as kitchens and front of house staff need different skillsets. She also said we should always include salaries on job adverts and always hold second interviews and provide feedback on interviews.

Finally, a few ideas were discussed on the challenges garden centres are facing. With social distancing, centres were places that were considered safe, now there is a change of mindset, it is a race to get people in and return to ‘normal’.

Overall, the webinar was extremely interesting, and it was great to hear everyone’s opinions. It was a great opportunity for our members to get together and discuss such an important issue in depth. It us all a lot of food for thought to take away.

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