This month’s question: Is an early Spring a benefit or hindrance for garden retailers and what measures could be carried out to accommodate unpredictable weather?
Spring and warmer weather seem to be arriving earlier and earlier each year. With record temperatures last Summer and a milder and wetter than usual winter this year, how does this affect garden centres for the year ahead? The unpredictable nature of the weather nowadays, which can result in events like the devastating floods that took place up and down the UK in January and February, is also a catalyst for change in sales and footfall. Is there anyway garden centres and DIY stores can prepare for such events and drastically changing seasons to save themselves from losing out on sales?
Diana Gass – Director Creative Garden Centres
In my opinion any good weather, at any time of year is good news for garden centres! Most operators agree that even the financial crisis had less effect on sales than bad weather. An early spring is good, it gets people out there early and starts them thinking about plants and decorating their outdoor spaces. As we had a good summer last year most people made good use of their garden to grow things, barbecue, or simply sit out there soaking up the sun. I think the memory of that will help greatly as they start to plan for the summer ahead.
To take advantage of an early spring we try to be stocked up and ready for gardeners. With hopefully no sign at all of the Christmas sale, by the end of January at the latest, and instead plenty of good value promotions on early products like fertilisers, seeds, lawn care and tools. In our area, many of the sheds and supermarkets are later in setting up their gardening offer so we try to take advantage of that.
Good cafes offering delicious homemade coffee and food will tempt garden centre customers to visit and it is our job to tempt them to shop with plenty of relevant, early offers and eye catching products. We like to run Free Coffee promotions to our regular customers to make sure they visit early and when this coincides with good weather then it is very successful in encouraging customers to purchase gardening products while they visit.
I think the unpredictable and more extreme weather of recent years makes the destination centre even more relevant. Gifts, clothing, food, pets and Kiddies activities all protect us from the total weather dependence of gardening and so it is not surprising that the centres that offer the best all round “day out” experience are growing the fastest.
Dennis Espley – Managing Director of Squire’s Garden Centres
An early start is great for garden centre trade. A warm bright start to the spring is a superb opportunity. Customers are in their gardens earlier in the season and they buy spring flowering bedding plants. Then later on they buy summer flowering ones.
When we have a cooler, wetter start to the season we can miss sales of spring bedding and hardy nursery stock as customers may only buy summer bedding later on in the season.
Also a warm start encourages people to plan ahead as they have plenty of time to complete projects and even dream of 6-7 months of gardening in good weather.
All types of gardeners are enthused by an early spring. Vegetable growers plan crops and start some earlier, giving a chance for second crops and more sales of seeds, plants, compost etc.
DIY enthusiasts who enjoy projects can see they have time to tackle a new patio or border, summerhouse, fences, hedges or replanting an area. Aquatic sales really benefit from time to build that new pond or water feature early on and see the results the same year. Keen plantsmen particularly look to overhaul their collections.
In the leisure areas customers start to think of purchasing new garden furniture and barbecues because they believe that they will be able to enjoy them for a longer period in the first year. Often early season shoppers are interested in big ticket items £2000 plus.
All this means that where we have an early spring customers tend to visit the garden centre more often in that year, possibly 4 times instead of 3 in a shorter season, bringing incremental sales in gifts and the restaurant.
An early season also helps us to give better service because the customers are spread over a longer period and don’t just visit in one mad rush on a weekend in April when we can hardly cope.
Will Armitage – Chairman of the Garden Centre Association
There isn’t a year that goes by without some unexplained weather related incident. Our industry has always had to deal with such events whether they are on a local, regional or national scale.
As retailers wholly dependent on the weather, it is important for us to remain flexible so we can take advantage of, or adapt to, the ever changing norms.
Garden centres offer a wide and varied product range and set of customer services, which are all aimed at mitigating against the weather. I remember there was a time when most UK garden centres would open in the spring and close in the autumn, a practice which is still common in Canada, parts of North America and northern Europe.
By diversifying into other product categories garden centres will always appeal to their customer base whatever the weather