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Garden centres kick off Christmas… in September

Festive season off to a flying start for garden centres

By Barry Lane|Oct 30, 2023|4:47 pm GMT

It’s that time of the month again, the Barometer of Trade stats from the Garden Center Association have landed. I’m not ashamed to say I await these eagerly – they provide a great snapshot of what our customers are dealing with on the ground, as well as the changing shape of consumer demand (a key theme for this year across both retail and hospitality).

The good news is that we’ve finally managed to ditch the drag of BBQs and furniture, sales in this category are down just – 3.77% in September – a far cry from August’s nearly – 41%. “Fortunately, the hot week early in the month prompted some strong late furniture sales,” said GCA Chief Executive Peter Burks. “And then it was packed away by most centres, so the negative impact it has been having all year was much reduced this month.”

An inability to shift big ticket items is a story that’s played out on the high street as well. Last week’s Consumer Confidence Index from GfK highlighted a slump in spending on high cost goods as consumers continue to grapple with cost of living restrictions. Garden centres do seem to be faring far better than the wider retail sector though, the GCA figures show a positive year-to-date variance in sales of 2.22%.

Christmas comes early

The kick off of the festive season was partly responsible for this buoyancy, with Christmas the best performing of the 13 categories the GCA track, up 31.72% compared to last year. This is another trend likely to play out on the high street as well, as shoppers spread the cost of Christmas and make use of early sales to bag a bargain.

Food hall/farm shop was the second best performing category of September, with an increase of 14.65%. The continued strength of the sector’s food and beverage offerings highlights just how differentiated it is from the wider retail world. Garden centres are a destination as much as anything else and, in an economy where shoppers aren’t necessarily getting value from supermarkets, takeaways and tasty treats are still on the menu – something garden centres are very well placed to cater for.

Responding to the economic climate

The resilience of garden centres and the ability of this sector to routinely chart sales growth, even as retail more generally suffers, is largely the result of diversification. But garden centres are not immune to changing consumer habits, as surplus furniture stock can attest.

Garden centre operators have fewer choices than most retail venues when it comes to cutting costs. They have large venues, a specialised and diversified workforce, and customers that expected a high level of service across the site. While most operators are in a growth phase, they still need to maintain profitability in a highly changeable environment, and that means optimising throughout the business. As a major expenditure, the workforce is a key opportunity for operators seeking to maximise productivity while remaining reactive to customer demand. Scheduling, for example, takes an inordinate amount of manager’s time, often preventing them from focusing on more valuable activities, like managing their teams and upselling. In a garden centre environment, with highly seasonal concessions, restaurants and specialist staff, this job becomes even more complicated and time consuming. An ‘intelligent’ solution, that not only automates a lot of this manual work, but combines it with artificial intelligence, forecasts and analytics, both saves managers’ time and optimises scheduling to meet both customer demand and labour budgets.

One of the UK’s largest garden centre chains is achieving productivity gains by leveraging Fourth’s platform to optimise their workforce management across 50 sites and 2500+ retail and restaurant employees.

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