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Retail creatures no longer

Matthew Popplewell

Matthew Popplewell

August 19, 2012

One of my first blogs was to touch on the changing trends in retail horticulture and well, I’ve recovered the soap box from the dog that used it over winter to keep warm, and I’m back on it again. In seeking the common trends and current picture in the ever evolving and challenging market that is retail horticulture, it is clear that as in the words of the great Bob Dylan “The times they are a changing”.

As garden centres, are we sticking to our historically successful guns? Or are we meeting with the undoubted change in shopping culture and adapting to the unprecedented evolution of retail habit. We are after all and always will be, a creature of habit, only habits that have swung dramatically in recent times.

In using the words ‘Garden Centres’, the retail sector of selling plants is no longer solely that of course. The reason for the dramatic changes in shopping culture and one of the focal causes of the decline in garden centre sales is the surge of the supermarket and ‘the big box’ retailers selling plants. Not only these but the increase in the number of wholesale nurseries selling directly to the public. This swing in retail trends has been accompanied by the enormous growth in new technology. To which the question must be asked in retail horticulture; are keeping up with technology and do we want to?

The laptop has moved from the office to become a normal piece of equipment in the home, car and work place and with the mesmeric rise in the use of the smart phone, there is no longer a limit to the instant needs and demands from the consumer. Many garden centres are still to jump on the computer technology band wagon and a web site is still not a given for many retail businesses. Are opportunities slipping away for many today who still don’t even have computer? Is the whole world wired into a different world except for garden centres?

It’s a tough pill to swallow for many retailers. You get to master the art of growing and selling a product for those methods to be suddenly curtailed by a raise of the machine. Many garden centres up to the 1980s were in boom time. It was the place to go and be seen. To meet with friends and share a passion. Then steps in the Supermarket. Suddenly we have discounts and price perception and as a retail industry, we had a new challenge to face.

Supermarkets then get challenged by the big sheds and improvement outfits and all of a sudden garden centres are closing left, right and centre as they simply cannot compete with the competitive prices of the bigger retailers and the convenience factor they provide.

As cheaper plants became available and competition is mounting amongst the retailers, the world was then hit in 2009 by the Global Financial Crisis. Arguably, a sequence of events that has shaken the retail industry irreversibly.

But it’s all far from negative. Logic would have it that people should choose a someone cheaper bottle of Pinot Gris and a pleasant view of the flourishing flower bed and well-manicured garden over a trip to the Fijian islands when times are tough and head to the garden centre to find that seasonal colour rather than the travel agent. What it has also created is a wave of passion for the home grown produce and edibles. Such trends that have given many garden centres a new lease of life as Carolyn from Turners Garden Centre in Queensland explained “I have continued to position the garden centre as a destination for edibles. There has been a renewed interest in growing fruits and vegetables in the last 5 years due to an increase in cocooning behaviour as people get back to the basics and change their habits and hobbies accordingly. In conjunction, I have made the website better reflect what we can offer to this niche market and my staff are well-trained to cope with the barrage of questions that inevitably arise.” Carolyn adding to the change in technological use, “Yes, basics have changed and social media is feeding off this. We have a link from the website to our facebook page and we post product and events there as well as our webpage. It is crucial that small business keeps up, as well as it can, with changes in technology and social media”.

It’s not only the style of our living that has changed but where we want to live. Urbanisation is growing at a rapid rate with more people moving to cities than ever before. This will place extreme pressure on land that is available. Reduced potential land used for food production will greatly affect the cost of land and what people can afford. The loss of potential growing land will almost certainly lead to a hike in food prices and this will result in a belief that indeed it is cheaper to grow and produce your own food. With that is the knowledge that the products consumed are not pumped with chemicals or preservatives. The “Home food production factor” can only have a positive role for the industry and the retail sector. It will have a major impact on the garden centres retail merchandise choices for the future. With the decline in “growing space” on property is also bringing a change in garden styles. The new young consumer who prefers to live in apartments in cities rather than have a small block in the suburbs will result in the growth of the “balcony garden”. Is this to be one of the major categories for retail stores in the future?

With much hope and excitement we continue to fly through an evolution of industry change within retail. We must embrace these changes and whether we like it or not, must utilise technology. By identifying your own market, changing trends and land use, create a model for the future that bests suits your business. With change in shopping habits must come a change in attracting and caring for the customer. It is paramount to survival at a time when globalisation is quickly taking many retailers, horticultural or not. One Garden Centre retailer I spoke to emphasised this point adding; “My business is and has been for 33 years a labour of love, where I aid customers in all areas of recreational horticulture and strive to make my centre a destination that customers will come back to. Everything is geared toward customer service and offering knowledge, range and service. Niche marketing for me is the key as I can draw customers from 100 kilometres.”

Let’s not fear the future and the radical change to the industry. It is the time to view these changes as a great opportunity for the independent garden retail industry to latch on to its share of the leisure category dollar.

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Stu Burns
11 years ago

There is a lot to be said for having an actually useful website, people have been convinced they need a “web presence” but if it’s not driving sales, it’s a waste of money.

A website that doesn’t give people what they need immediately will drive them elsewhere.