Garden centres are reopening to big increases in average spend from pent up demand. Stock shortages are already showing. But customers are praising safety measures.
Sales up by as much as 100%
Garden centres have reported sales increases of up to 100% following their first few days trading. Although customer numbers are down, the amount each visitor spends has doubled.
Hillier reported, “All 17 centres opened from Thursday morning where sales for the four days were +96% like for like.”
Klondyke reported a 73% like for like increase, saying “Trade has been good especially plants and gardening and we also had a good few days of furniture sales. Customers shopping habits have changed and they are visiting throughout the day with a slight lull over lunch.”
For Blue Diamond the average spend has doubled to over £50 with sales increases of between 60% and 120%.
Tim Armstrong of Highfield Garden World said, “Customers are keeping their visits short but a very high average spend, if you can make sure that they feel safe shopping in these uncertain times they will return.”
Consumers approve of social distancing measures.
Chris Francis from Hillier said, “Our customers have shown great control and patience being very happy to comply with all social distancing measures. We have been inundated with positive messages from customers following visits including several NHS workers who have commended our measures saying they have felt very comfortable throughout their shopping journey.”
Notcutts received a letter from one customer saying, “I thought you’d like to know that my shopping experience at Notcutts Solihull today was excellent. I felt very safe not like the supermarkets and it was a pleasure to shop for plants rather than food. It was all conducted in a professional way from start to finish.”
Worried about staff
“But it’s hard work”, said Tammy Woodhouse, MD of the Millbrook Garden Company, “We need to run a replen shift out of hours as you can’t get stock out while open.”
Highfield Garden World was worried how the staff would react coming back to work in unknown circumstances. But “They have been exceptional in rising to the challenge. We have made sure the staff feel safe in providing them and customers with all the recommended PPE, signage and cleaning products which has helped.”
Nearly every garden centre reported a shortage of compost, some without their own nurseries are reporting bedding plant shortages.
Nick Crabbe of Berwick Garden Centres reported bedding plant shortages: “Have suppliers sold elsewhere?”
Millbrook said, “We need plants and compost desperately.” Blue Diamond was also short of compost, it was well stocked with plants but feared shortages in a few weeks.
Hillier explained the massive increase in demand for growers, “Our nursery has gone from managing and holding back stock with nothing leaving the ground for 7 weeks to despatching 12 hours a day this week to keep up with demand. In 3 days last week our centres sold 22,000 pots of shrubs and herbaceous from our nursery.”
Dobbies reported, “Trade has been strong, with record days across the estate. Our online channel also continues to trade well.”
Notcutts gave a similar message, “E commerce has also sustained good levels of trade in line with those we achieved during lockdown.”
Currently sales are made up predominantly of plants, seasonal gardening lines and garden furniture. Gifts and clothing have remained relatively weak. This begs the question of how business will hold up once the pent up seasonal demand has been met.
Hiller said, “I am hoping for a few good weeks of trade, ahead of our pessimistic forecasts to bolster our funds which will allow for a slightly easier winter than expected. I expect there still to be a difficult period from the summer right through until Christmas where I expect to see trade as much as 50% down on the same period last year.”
Blue Diamond said autumn could be challenging without restaurants driving footfall.
Klondyke gave a similar message, “As the year goes on trading without the restaurants will be more difficult and we are looking at ways to operate the restaurants once we are allowed.”
What if there is a second lockdown
Garden centres appear to have earned more during the lockdown than their hastily re-worked budgets estimated. Together with the current post lockdown sales they should have enough in reserve to face what many expect to be a difficult autumn/winter once garden sales die back.
Blue Diamond earned £10.5m extra cash from home deliveries. MD, Alan Roper says the company had planned for a longer lock down and has more than enough cover to get it through a second lockdown in the autumn, although he doesn’t expect one as the government is more in control and will react quickly to localised flare ups.