GCA column by Peter Burks, GCA CEO

Everybody who has worked in our industry for any length of time knows that it is very resilient to external economic factors and that the biggest influence is always the weather. Getting the right weather, at the right time of year, guarantees success. Obviously, the contra to this is that getting the wrong weather can make a big difference to sales, and indeed profits.

The industry has been very good in working at ways to reduce the impact of the weather with the addition of new ranges that appeal to both, whatever the weather, and at all times of the year. Recent Garden Centre Association sales figures show that this is definitely helping as we cope with one of the wettest past 12 months ever and a spring where some areas of the country had 15 times the average rainfall in February.

Garden centre car parks that I have visited have looked busy, but upon entering the building it is the restaurants that everybody is congregating in. It is good news that the desire for food, or a coffee, is getting people into a centre and what great food and coffee offerings our members do have these days. Our figures show that so far this year, giftware sales are +9%, when compared to last year, clothing sales +21% and houseplants +5% are propping up the lack of plant and gardening sales, which is exactly what we want them to do.

I am always amazed to see the quality of visual merchandising that can be found in our indoor departments. It is great to see this being supported by initiatives such as the GLEE sponsored Talent Store programme. This encourages aspiring visual merchandisers from our Garden Centre Association members to put themselves forward to have expert coaching on this topic. The finalists are then invited to the GLEE show to build their designs for all to see. Last year’s results were very good and had ideas in them that every garden centre could have taken away and replicated in their own business.

Our Westland Horticulture sponsored Rising Stars programme is another fantastic project that takes new entrants to the industry, regardless of their age, on a journey involving eight training days at a range of inspirational venues. They also have to come up with a project, this year with a sustainable theme, and organise displays, point of sale, leaflets, marketing, social media campaigns etc. to try to increase the sales of their chosen products. This takes them way out of their comfort zones and on both a personal and professional level, and their self-confidence and abilities soar. The finalists end up at our annual conference and present to the audience of 250 industry ‘experts’ who then vote a winner. If you have anyone who you think would like to join in next year, please contact us.

We continue with our monthly webinars on various topics. Our most recent one was also focused on sustainability, looking in particular at the carbon footprint of our members’ centres and product ranges and how they get to the retailer. Clearly anything that is transported any distance carries a large footprint, so it was heartening to hear from the floor the efforts that our members are going to in order to find locally made products, as well as those made from recycled materials and/or are recyclable once no longer required. Excess packaging was also mentioned as a factor that centres are looking out for. It was also interesting to hear of the Bosilunlife ceramic range made from fully recycled ceramic waste. It is so good to see so many great innovations being introduced all the time.


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