GCA Column by Peter Burks

This year’s spring season has not been kind to our industry with very little in the way of favourable weather to get our gardening punters going. In fact, in all my years in the trade, I cannot remember a year that our friend and foe, the weather, has given us so little help. While the HTA industry figures show gardening sales figures are flat year-to-date, non-gardening are actually up by 12%.

These figures are similar in the Garden Centre Association’s (GCA) Barometer of Trade data with the non-gardening categories of giftware, clothing, catering and food halls/farm shops showing increases of between 2% and 13%.

This actually demonstrates that all the work the industry has been doing over the last 20 plus years to try to minimize the impact of the weather really does work.

You only have to visit any garden centre these days that boasts a restaurant and the car park will be well filled at lunch time, even on the most dismal of days. Hopefully on the sunnier days the gardening departments can take over again.

I was recently involved in a debate on what good customer service should look like. The discussion brought up modern examples, such as the shops that have no staff at all. Technology ensures you pay for all you have selected as you leave the shop.

The opposite end of this scale is what you will find in many good garden centres, starting with a very friendly, human greeting as you enter, helpful, knowledgeable interactions wherever they are required around the site ,with a final positive interaction at the till as they help you pack your goods, arrange delivery, and fill you in on all the good things they are doing for the environment and local community.

Each individual would have their preferred ideal but of course it’s cost that is driving what our various retail outlets are now giving us. The huge increase in wage costs over the last fifteen months mean that all garden centres need to be reviewing their labour usage and looking at ways of giving customers the service they desire but at a viable cost to the business. I’m sure AI is going to give us a number of solutions in the years ahead.

I recently had to renew two items in my kitchen and was recommended to purchase products that you could get both spare parts for and could be repaired. To me this was a great new change in the supply of these sort of goods where the throw away fashion has caused huge amounts of unnecessary waste.

I’m hoping this is now changing to how it used to be when your first port of call with most of your household items that went wrong was to the repair person. But are there any of these people left. It made me think that this could be a new income stream for our centres. To be actively able to get customers to bring back their fork with a broken handle, blunt secateurs, broken cable on outside lights, BBQs, jewellery and so on to the centre and get it repaired.

Make do and mend used to be the way of life until the purchase price of so many items dropped to an affordable to all level. I think it would be true to say most consumers no longer have the skills, time and maybe the patience to do any sort of repairs, which is where a repairs service would come in. Apparently, this trend is already gaining ground with 55% of adults saying they repaired an item last year according to Deloittes Sustainable Consumer 2023 report, and with 76% saying they would consider using a repair service.

The cost-of-living crisis is surely encouraging people to get their purchases to last as long as possible, added to which is the growing desire in the whole population to be more sustainable and not to keep discarding items unnecessarily; creating waste that we struggle to deal with. If ever there was a good time to open a repair café, this is it!

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, please visit www.gca.org.uk.

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