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Retailers seek to profit as UK consumers choose Gardening over DIY

While the nation has fallen out of love with DIY, gardening is blossoming. Retailers are cashing in and garden centres expect a bumper fortnight.

Nicholas Marshall, chief executive of the Garden Centre Group – previously Wyevale – says sales over a bank holiday can be 10 times that of a normal weekend in February. What they actually achieve will depend on that notoriously unpredictable element, the weather.

Retail research company Verdict says the UK gardening market is worth £4bn, and expects it to grow by almost 6pc between 2010 and 2014. An ageing population and resurgence in the grow-your-own movement have fuelled the trend.

Consumers have continued to buy gardening products, even as they cut back in other areas. Mr Marshall says: "The thing about the recession [is] people are spending less time away from their home, on holiday or what have you, and more time in their own gardens."

Predictably, the big-name brands are now jostling for a slice of this lucrative market. B&Q has garden centres attached to 330 of its UK stores. As the DIY market stumbles, the retailer is pushing gardening products hard and has hired Alan Titchmarsh to lend weight to its campaign.

Titchmarsh insists that he is not advertising for the chain, despite the life-size cardboard cut-outs of him appearing in B&Q stores. "I apologise to folk for those," he says with a laugh. "They shock me every time I go round." Instead, he says he is there to advise the chain on how to look after its plants before they are sold and how to train B&Q staff to give customers better advice.

"My initial reaction was that I did not want to nail my colours to any commercial mast. But I can't knock 'the sheds' and say they are no good and then, when they ask me how to improve, say I'm not going to help them." He says B&Q is getting better but "you can't do it overnight".

Even fashion retailer Next is opening a trial Home & Garden store in Shoreham, West Sussex.

A spokesman for Next said: "It would be remiss of them not to investigate these avenues after the success of the home store."
The notoriously cautious retailer stresses it is just one store to test the market. Still, the chain's impressive track record means retail-watchers will be observing closely.

Tesco made its foray into the market in 2007, buying Dobbies, one of the larger garden centre chains. Dobbies said last year that it would quadruple its number of shops over the next 10 years. It appears to be driving this expansion by developing new sites rather than buying smaller players.

The market does, however, seem ripe for consolidation. There are scores of independent, often family-run garden centres of varying quality and size. But attempts to start such a process have never quite worked.

One M&A banker says: "The trouble is they're all very small. Apart from [Dobbies and the Garden Centre Group], everything else is a tiddler."

Source : The Telegraph

22 April 2011
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