GCA Column by Peter Burks

The first year in my new job is rapidly drawing to a close, and rapid is just the right word to describe how the year has passed. However, I do feel that this is a positive thing as it demonstrates how much there has been for me to engage with and for me to have helped carry the many Garden Centre Association (GCA) projects forward. I was very fortunate that there were a number of very positive new initiatives already underway and these have all developed to fruition during the year.

As we are now in what is the busiest season for many GCA garden centres it is worth noting that, according to our members’ Barometer of Trade, the Christmas category contributes just over 10%, on average, of a member garden centres total trade. This is not far off the total contribution of giftware sales for the entire 12 months, but together almost a quarter of a garden centres total sales come from these two categories.

One of the workstreams that the GCA Executive Committee has been working on has been the impact garden centres can have in improving our environment with good sustainable practices. This has significant relevance in the Christmas and Giftware sections. Whilst most consumers quite rightly view garden centres as being very green businesses and doing many good things to support and develop this, the importing of goods from China, that form the majority of what we offer at this time of year comes with a degree of criticism.

However, great strides are being made here with GCA members looking at sourcing as much product as possible from closer to home. They are actively looking to work with their suppliers to eradicate unnecessary packaging and waste, and to ensure products are made from recycled materials and that can also be recycled once no longer needed. They look for wooden products to come with the FSC logo on them telling customers that the wood used is from a sustainable source and in the Christmas departments, things like glitter, made from non-recyclable materials, is no longer on or in products.

These initiatives have been supported by the changes we have made to our inspection criteria, which our team of four independent inspectors look for whilst on their unannounced visits in spring. I am very excited by the speed of change in this critical area of our businesses. An unfortunate fact that also comes at this time of year is that garden centres face a significant increase in theft. This manifests itself both as out of hours break ins, but particularly as daytime shoplifting.

As part of the continual rollout of new courses on our eLearning platform GROW (Garden Retail Online Workshops) we have just released an In-Store Security course to help colleagues on the shop floor know what they should be doing to try and deter these criminals. With a focus on preventing theft, this course provides employees with an insight into why people steal, as well as invaluable knowledge on how to identify a suspect shoplifter, the common methods they use, and the various ways our members can reduce the risk of shoplifting.

As margins become tighter, with the ever-increasing costs, this will hopefully help reduce one area of profit loss. And so, to next year. We’re looking forward to our Annual Conference at the De Vere Cotswold Water Parks near Cirencester from January 28-31. We’ve a great line up of speakers, covering topics including wellbeing, the economy, the future of garden centre retailing, and the environment and sustainability. Caspar Craven returns after being so well received last year to talk about ‘Being more human’.

As well as the usual highlights, our Westland Horticulture-sponsored Rising Stars presentations, our inspectors’ round ups and our award. It looks like being another great event and we’re all looking forward to what 2024 has to bring. The GCA represents more than 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 or to book a conference place, please visit www.gca.org.uk.

There is also a dedicated email for any queries members, and those wishing to book for the event, may have: conference@gca.org.uk.


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