GCA Colomn: August 2023

Garden Centre Association Chief Executive, Peter Burks, writes:

While the general population moves into summer holiday mode with a general feel of rest and relaxation in the air, it’s fair to say that within the Garden Centre Association things are as busy as ever.

The spring inspection process, where every single member gets an unannounced visit from one of our four independent inspectors, is one of the most important, and eagerly anticipated, aspects of being a GCA garden centre member. These inspections cover 218 points, literally from ‘roadside impact’, to the toilets and to the very back of your retail area, which unfortunately is often garden construction!

Once these are all concluded each inspector then hosts an awards evening in each of the regions that our member garden centres are divided into.

This is an evening where many hundreds of pictures of best practice from these spring inspections are shown to the audience so that these ideas can be celebrated and of course shared. I used to come away with pages of great ideas from these events to put into practice at my own centre. Then, the exciting bit is for the winners to be announced, which we do for every category.

Some of the retail categories are divided into either Garden Centre or Destination Garden Centre winners, which is a classification based on turnover, with almost exactly half of the members falling into each category. Lots of certificates are given out and photos taken, it’s a great PR opportunity for the winning centres too.

The top 10 highest scoring planterias in the Garden Centre and Destination Garden Centre categories are moved forward into the Ruxley Rose competition whereby they get a second inspection of the said planteria, their two scores are added together and an overall best planteria is awarded at our conference in January. The top three centres overall in both categories also have a full, unannounced, second inspection and again both scores are added together to get our overall Garden Centres of the Year, also announced at our Conference in January. It’s a very prestigious award, competitively competed for.

After the inspections and awards nights are concluded the inspectors and members of the Executive Committee meet to discuss changes that may be desired or needed to the inspection form, including criteria and weightings of each category, and this is going on currently. We are particularly looking at changing how we score the customer service element of the process, as well as giving greater clarification to the Environment and Sustainability section.

Our annual Conference is the highlight of the year for all members and the final details for next year’s Conference at the DeVere Hotel, Cotswold Water Parks are currently being worked on and full details will be released shortly with some very new and innovative ideas.

There are several other work streams currently being actioned. With perhaps the one generating the most email traffic being suggested changes to both the make-up of the areas, and the turnover bands already alluded to. The area changes are being driven by the South Thames region, currently 57 members, being almost as big as it can get, as we feel 60 is the maximum number of centres that one inspector can visit within the time limit for the inspection window.

With the turnover bands, the general feeling is that the range of turnovers within the Destination Garden Centres category is too large. Meaning that garden centres with an increasing turnover, that move up from the smaller category, are a very different animal to the largest centres that they would be effectively competing with. We are looking at adding a third category but, as yet, are not sure what the parameters of the new groups would be.

Other workstreams currently being worked on include Communication, our Barometer of Trade, our e-learning platform GROW, which has seen seven new courses added this year already, with a further 10 due to be released shortly, as well as diversity, membership and inspiration. All in all, it’s been a very busy summer so far!

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