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An update on the garden centre market in the UK

As the weather begins to brighten, Steve Rodell, Managing Director – Retail at Christie & Co reflects on the current state of the garden centre market and highlights how much the sector is diversifying.

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Sales and consumer spending in the UK has been somewhat of a rollercoaster in the past few months. While figures from Barclaycard showed that consumer spending increased 3.8% last month, four in ten Brits still report that they have less money to spend than this time last year so their purchasing decisions are more important than ever.

One segment of the retail industry which has faced the nervous spending habits of British shoppers, and the effect of external factors on sales, is garden centres. The Garden Centre Association announced that underlying sales in the sector were down 15% up to April this year following unrelenting wet and cold weather at the start of 2018. However, sales over the first May Bank Holiday weekend were up, aided by the good weather and pent up demand and this will certainly help garden centres claw back any lost sales. 

The Horticultural Trades Association reports the UK garden centre market to be worth around £5bn a year and two-thirds of British adults visit a garden centre at least once a year. Nevertheless, poor weather conditions can prevent even the greenest of fingers from shopping, meaning this is a highly seasonal business. 

Garden centre retailers are not unfamiliar with fluctuating sales, and during the spring and summer they will often see a surge in sales which compensates for quieter periods. This pattern of seasonal spending is something that the sector is well-accustomed to. However, footfall can, to some extent, be maintained by offering shoppers different incentives to visit.

Many garden centre owners enhance their core garden retail sales by offering homeware, garden furniture, and increasingly food & beverage or leisure facilities. Forward thinking retailers have developed their sites to become a destination venue, encompassing social and leisure aspects to encourage more visitors.

Particularly in rural areas where there are fewer places for people to meet, shop, and socialise, garden centres can provide a multi-faceted offering. For example, Tong Garden Centre in Bradford is looking to add indoor play for children, and Hillview has introduced soft play areas in several of its sites, as have the largest operator, Wyevale. Barton Grange Garden Centre in Preston is building additional leisure facilities to include a curling rink, crazy golf, golf simulators, cinema, and bowling facilities and they, along with many garden centres across the UK, now also offer events and workshops to teach visitors relevant new skills and draw them to the site. 

Trying to smooth the peaks and troughs through developing a strong multi-income offering is key in any retail business. In the current consumer climate, however, it is essential, with garden centres being a strong example of a sector which will enjoy plenty of opportunities to capitalise on emerging spending habits as it further develops.

At Christie & Co, our Leisure and Retail brokerage and valuation teams are experienced in the valuation processes, on behalf of the banks, for some of the leading garden centres across the UK and have a thorough understanding of the sector. 

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