GCA Column: CEO Peter Burks

I have been very heartened from reading a range of articles, in several sections of the media recently, that have been commenting on how good the merchandising, and the general shopping experience, is in garden centres.

We have known for a long time that the catering side of garden centres has improved dramatically down the years – with garden centres now being one of the best places to visit for daytime drinks, snacks and lunches. These cafés and restaurants are often made even more pleasurable by featuring homemade items, using ingredients with known regional provenance, as well as having good selections of vegan, vegetarian and other offerings.

However, merchandising seems to have taken our industry longer to catch up with. Whether this is because many garden centre buildings can still be a bit like the old greenhouses they once were. But customers will not notice this when the merchandising is top notch.

At our recent Garden Centre Association (GCA) awards, the winning centres in the Indoor Lifestyle Award were the new RHS Bridgwater garden centre in the Garden Centre category, and the Blue Diamond centre at East Bridgford near Nottingham, in the Destination Garden Centre category.

Pictured top: Peter Burks with Manager Mark Thomas and Deputy Department Manager for Indoor Lifestyle Beth Mawby from Blue Diamon East Bridgford

Anyone who has visited these, or indeed the runners up in each category, Gates Garden Centre at Oakham and Fairways Garden Centre at Ashbourne cannot have been anything but blown away by the dynamics of visual merchandising. They really are places that are a joy to shop in.

It was great to be approached by the organisers of Glee recently to ask if the GCA would like to partner up with them to launch the Talent Store initiative. This was an idea to attract the up-and-coming visual merchandisers in our member garden centres to take part in a training exercise that would lead to two teams building their retail designs at Glee in the NEC at the end of June.

There was clearly a huge appetite for this from garden centres as more than 50 people put their names forward. The initial intake enjoyed a great day at Millbrook Garden Centre being lectured on Visual Merchandising, Retail Trends, and then all things plants, by some leading experts.

They will soon be building their displays for us all to view in The Atrium at Glee. I am very much looking forward to seeing what the next generation of talent has come up with and how our industry can move the quality of its displays another step higher.

Glee itself is a great place to see top quality displays, and this year, as well as all the gardening products, there is an area devoted to Gifts, Home and Clothing with more than 100 exhibitors in Hall 7. Alongside this area, just into Hall 8, you will find the GCA lounge so please do call in for a chat.

While we are currently in peak gardening season, and gardens are looking fabulous with all the red, white and blue flowers, the gift and home areas of centres have been boosted with sales of items celebrating the coronation of King Charles III.

However, I do feel planting a good hardy plant is the best way to celebrate this event in the garden, as plants always remind me of, for example, where you bought it; who gave it to you; or the event that you planted it to commemorate. I’m sure our gardener King would approve of this idea too. What would I choose to plant? I like the Joy of Plants recommendation, the beautiful blue Clematis ‘Royalty’.

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