GCA Column: Peter Burks

GCA Chief Executive, Peter Burks writes: Our Barometer of Trade (BoT) figures for March were our most recently released and it was very heartening to see them showing a very healthy +9% compared to the same month last year. While we must be mindful that March last year was not a particularly good sales month, Easter definitely helped by being in March this year, plus the effects of inflation – both mitigating factors against this rather nice increase.

The figures demonstrate, once again, that as soon as people can get into the garden, this year over that Easter weekend, they start doing projects and that means spending money. The hard work the industry has been doing, over many years, to try and take the weather out of the equation is also showing up well this year with the non-gardening categories doing very well.

Clothing showed a significant +22% compared to March 2023, Food Halls and Farm Shops +20%, Catering +16% and Giftware +9%; with all these four categories also up for the year to date. It shows that with a good product mix our members’ customers still think of them as a good place to come to and they spend their money when it is raining too.

The food results are continuing their strong performance and I very much enjoyed recently visiting the Farm Shop and Deli show at the NEC for the first time. At the time of writing, we have just concluded our latest HR webinar, this one titled ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing’. Once again it was an excellent 90 minutes, full of great ideas, wonderful best practice and details of the support that is readily available to all employees in the garden centre sector.

We had two main presentations, one from Perennial and another from The Retail Trust, both of which offer comprehensive support programmes. This was backed up by enlightening talks from Taylors Bulbs, Millbrook Garden Centres, Pugh’s Garden Centres and Hillier Garden Centres, informing everyone on what they are currently doing, and plan to do. All in all, a great experience. Please email me peter@gca.org.uk if you would like further information on this.

The Retail Trust organise a great event called ‘The Together Fest’ held at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane London too. This is listed as having content to energise, empower, inspire and unwind, with speakers lined up to cover all four areas, which all attendees can visit. It looks like a great event for HR and Mental Health First Aiders to go and somewhere to get advice on more things we can all do within our workplaces to help our colleagues.

Our next free to members webinar will be on June 26 at 3pm and will be on a sustainability topic. We are currently working on a big project that might also be ready to be launched by then too!

Within the GCA, we have relaunched our five workstreams this year, which are all driven by members of the Executive Committee. They are GROW, our Inspections, our Areas, Communication and, last, but not least, Environment and Sustainability.

GROW, our e-learning platform, has just followed up its shortlisted finalist place at the Association Excellence Awards for Best Learning/Professional Development Programme with a second place, Highly Commended award at the Totara Awards. Six new courses are due for release shortly with a further three already in development. The Inspections, which are currently underway, and this year’s changes to those will be discussed in July. Our Areas were changed from eight down to four at our AGM.

Communication – we’re looking at updating the website and our internal communications; Environment and Sustainability – we’re having many discussions on many fronts.

So, it’s been a busy start to the year so far and we’ve much more to come too, watch this space!


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