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Pent-up demand bolsters garden centre owners' expectations

Pent-up demand after poor Easters in 2012 and 2013 raises garden centre owners' expectations but weather remains key.

Garden centres are anticipating that Easter sales could be the best for years - despite worries about product supply and Easter Sunday closures.

Easter falls three weeks later than in 2013, when some retailers had "worst ever" sales. Now two years of pent-up demand after poorer Easters in 2012 and 2013 mean garden centre owners' expectations are high.

Wholesaler Solus has failed to secure its sale to Scotts Miracle-Gro, fuelling supply concerns, and most garden centres will not be able to trade on Easter Sunday. But a later Easter with good weather forecast is set to be the most successful for at least six years.

Golden Acres Nurseries (GAN) operations director Simon Edwards said: "We expect Easter to be very good - potentially the best since 2008. Everything is starting to line up. Mid April is a better time for Easter and the forecast is good - a little overcast but warmer.

"We've just had a fantastic weekend and we're up 40 per cent this April. But supply issues are becoming a problem, furniture particularly, because no one holds stock anymore after the last few poor years. That could start applying to nursery stock as well. Solus is having a knock-on effect to all suppliers."

The smaller two of GAN's five outlets are due to be open on Easter Sunday. Edwards said it is "daft" that Sunday trading is not the same as any other day of the year.

A new HTA campaign has found that the retail trade loses £12m because stores cannot open on Easter Sunday and £73m because of the year-round Sunday trading restrictions.

Garden centre supplier Gardman's chief executive Stewart Hainsworth said: "We've been as busy as people tell me it was in 2008. Last Monday (7 April) we had record orders."

Some products such as growhouses are in short supply, having sold five times as many as expected this spring following winter storms. Solus's issues brought uncertainty and more administrative costs to the wider industry but could have contributed to Gardman's success, Hainsworth suggested.

Cleeve Nurseries co-owner Felicity Down said: "Potentially it could be great, but it's all about the weather. If not too hot, people will garden, otherwise they go to the seaside. We're one of few that can open on Easter Sunday because of our size. There's pent-up demand and people think they're late starting in the garden, but they're not."

Stewarts Gardenlands managing director Martin Stewart said: "Spring has been nicely balanced with the weather. It could be a great season." On Solus's issues, which have seen suppliers including Scotts, Bayer and Hozelock cut ties with the wholesaler because of its credit insurance issues, he added: "I hope this doesn't screw up what could be a great spring. We're well stocked but there are eight weeks of peak season to go."

Cook's Garden Centre owner Paul Cook added: "Hopefully Easter will be a lot better than last year, which was the worst ever by miles. We've had a decent start in March." But he said Easter is not as crucial as it used to be because more people go on holiday now.

The HTA has launched a fresh campaign to exempt garden retail outlets with more than 280sq m of covered space from closure on Easter Sunday - a law that came into force during 1994 - allowing the potential gain of £12.1m for Britain's 2,200 garden centres on the day alone.

The association is also campaigning to extend Sunday trading beyond the current six hours, which it said loses centres £73m a year.

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin said: "For members it's an archaic law. It's a daft law given technology today, where you can sit outside a garden centre and buy whatever you want online but you can't go inside. Easter is one of the busiest times of the year and you can't really get that back."

Source : Matthew Appleby - Horticulture Week

18 April 2014
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