(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the garden products sector
There has been a steady long term increase in demand for garden products, for a number of reasons:
- there was a lengthy period during the mid 2000s when the housing market was buoyant, with many new properties being built
- gardening has become one of the most popular leisure activities and enjoys widespread coverage on TV and the radio, in magazines and newspapers
- container grown plants and pre-planted pots make 'instant gardening' possible - people do not have much time to spend growing plants from seed
- spending on garden items such as water features, garden furniture, barbecues, external lights, paving, decking, boundary fencing, ornaments, planters and so on has grown significantly
- demand for 'green' and 'eco-friendly' products like water butts and composters has grown
- a greater awareness of healthy food has boosted interest in home-grown vegetables
This has benefited the garden centre sector but has also seen other retailers, such as DIY 'sheds', targeting the market. Although the specialist garden centre sector still consists of many small independents, there has been an increase in the number of large outlets run by the big national garden centre chains.
In common with other retailing sectors, garden centres were affected by the economic downturn during the late 2000s and early 2010s - but demand for smaller, cheaper items such as plants and seeds held up reasonably well, particularly with older people. Sales of vegetable seeds, plants and gardening tools increased considerably as people decided to save money by growing their own veg. However, sales of 'big ticket' items such as outdoor furniture and mowers fell, and overall the market became very competitive. 2014 was a much better year for the industry as the economy picked up and most of the country enjoyed long periods of sunny weather. Sales of plants increased significantly as well as sales of things like barbecues and garden furniture. 2015 was another good year for garden centres, with sales of non-plant lines like clothing and catering increasing strongly.
The industry saw something of a slowdown after the UK's vote in June 2016 to leave the EU - but sales for the year as a whole held up reasonably well. Bad weather in the spring and autumn increased wastage and the fall in the value of sterling during the year increased the cost of imported stock. Margins suffered as a result. It is likely that rising inflation and uncertainty about the Brexit negotiations will make consumers cut back a bit on expenditure on the garden over the next year or so. Pressure on prices is likely to carry on.
In the long term the market for garden products is likely to remain strong, but smaller independent garden centres may find it difficult to compete in what is now a very competitive industry. You should also be aware that younger people who are currently living in flats and maisonettes may never acquire the same gardening skills and habits as their parents' generation. Remember too that gardens are generally getting smaller - and a lot of people pave over their gardens to cut down on maintenance work and to provide a parking area for their car. This all means less demand for plants.
One problem that the sector has faced in recent years is a shortage of good, well trained staff. Knowledgeable and friendly staff are particularly important to a successful garden centre, where many customers will have lots of questions about the plants on display and some will just want to chat.
Keeping up to date with developments
The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) represents the interests of all types of businesses in the garden products industry including growers, landscapers, wholesalers and manufacturers as well as retailers. The Association offers members a range of services and can be contacted at Horticulture House, Manor Court, Chilton, Didcot, Oxfordshire OX11 0RN.
The Garden Centre Association (GCA) also offers members a range of services including an annual Yearbook, regular newsletters and trading trends reports for members. Members are listed in the GCA online directory, with links to their own websites. More information is available on the GCA website.
Haymarket Media Group publishes trade journals for the horticultural sector, including Horticulture Week. Visit their website for more information.
The Garden Centre Retail website has up-to-date news about the garden centre sector, details of new product launches and advertisements for garden centre businesses for sale.
You can get a lot of useful information at trade shows and exhibitions for the gardening sector. One of the main exhibitions is GLEE, held at the NEC every September. You can find out more about this event on the GLEE website.