As the GTN Bestsellers All Trading Index reports December garden centre trading up by 10% on last year, GTN Xtra has been asking garden centres across the country for their feedback on Christmas trading and their early views on overall trading for 2018.
Here are reports from Bents, Ruxley Manor, Planters, Klondyke Strikes, Fresh @ Burcot and Alton Garden Centres. Please add your Christmas feedback by using the comments link below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Bent, Bents Garden & Home told GTN Xtra: “2018 was a busy yet challenging year for Bents, with a lot to celebrate along the way, from the best ever sales year on our nursery to a record breaking week in December. The weather has done its best to challenge us with a very cold start to what turned out to be a great summer, then a warm autumn which definitely had an impact on early Christmas sales. However, the snow free Christmas period and what was an extra retail week in the run up to Christmas Day definitely helped to turn things round, making it one of our best ever Christmases. Although despite ending 2018 on a high we were down on our targets for the year as a whole.
“Our Christmas events were as popular as ever with all our workshops fully booked, and our best selling product line by value and volume proved to be our own design Bents Bear and Penguin toys. Pink was very popular, proving to be our best selling colour baubles and unicorns were definitely a favourite for 2018. We also saw a growth in any type of personalised products from cards, tree decorations to pet baubles and we think this is a trend which will continue for 2019.”
James Evans sums up Christmas at Ruxley Manor: "Unfortunately, due to development and building works, we opened Christmas 2 weeks later than normal this year and therefore we started slightly on the back foot in October. November was a little disappointing with Christmas being slightly down on last year but this was purely down to Christmas Lights as Decs and Artificial Trees were both up. However, December was a much better month for us with record days which meant that Christmas and the centre overall, finished up on last year, which after the early part of the year (and the impact/intrusion of a restaurant refurbishment in the early part of the year and the summer rebuild of part of the centre) was better than expected.
"With regard to Outdoor Plants, sales are mainly driven by cut trees, due to our ice rink taking up the majority of our Outdoor Plant Department but cut Xmas Trees were also up on last year. Certainly for us, as probably for all centres, snow prior to Christmas can have huge consequences in loss of sales and so thankfully that wasn't the case this year!
"Our Christmas Events also finished up on last year, with the Grotto this was driven by our new/additional 'My First Grotto' for under 2's and although our Ice Rink doesn't close until tomorrow, that is also significantly up, again, driven by improvements that we have made to the rink and the introduction of a winter market style catering offering next to it.
"Therefore, considering the spring season and the rebuild and refurbishment projects that we have done, which always impact sales, we are very pleased to have finished the year up on 2017. With regard to 2019, we don't have any large building projects planned for the garden centre and so look forward to a year of consolidation and driving sales and the customer experience as much as possible."
Gerald Ingram, Planters and Garden King Garden Centres tells us: "Christmas was our strongest trading period of the year. All three centres had record Decembers. Helped by no snow but still strong anyway.
"Best sellers were water spinners from Premier, plastic willow tree skirts from Kaemingk, light up cushions, personalised decorations and books from H and H, Icicle lights, pink tree decorations.
"Plants were ok, wreath sales were strong, Christmas trees were up at two centres down at Planters but Planters sell three 20ft containers of artificial trees.
"Christmas exceeded expectation. Bretby which does not have a reputation for Christmas finally seems to have made in roads into it!
"All events went better than 2017 and had record years. Bretbys ice rink saw strong growth, Planters and GK Grottos both sold out for the December weekends and Santa Paws sold out in the week days. All events benefitted
the restaurants that will have record Decembers.
David Yardley, CEO at Klondyke Strikes sums up their Christmas and year end: "Christmas trading was ok for us, slightly down on last year for Christmas decorations and accessories but we did well with all gardening products in the first quarter as well as clothing, pets, gift ware, real trees and houseplants. Restaurants also did well on the run up to Christmas and overall we are 3% up on last year at this period. We maintained our trading margin throughout the Christmas period and did no price reductions or sales until after Christmas which is what we normally do and I am pleased with what we have achieved in this difficult trading environment. We bought a lot less Christmas product than last year and will therefore have less left than previously so will be looking to buy new products and ranges at the various shows coming up.
"Our financial year ended at the end of September and we had a good trading year again last year despite all the weather and economic issues.
"I think this coming year will continue to be difficult trading and all the uncertainty of Brexit wont help but we have to focus on what we do and can only deal with those issues under our control. If we continue to invest in our facilities, stock good products and give good customer service then we should still be successful in 2019."
Neil Gow, Fresh@Burcot Garden Centre told GTN Xtra: "2018 has been our best year ever since we began our business. It was our strongest December ever, over 26% up on last year – but you will remember how poor last year was – skating across our car park was the norm! Many will have forgotten, or chosen to forget!
"Our strongest December ever, just over 8% up on our 5 year average which is the more important measure to us.
"The year has shaken out well too: 9.5% growth year on year (with zero cap. ex.) and still 7.7% growth over our 5 year average.
"None of this appeared possible at the end of April 2018, but that is what we mean about being fit and agile! Something the groups and chains will always struggle with and even we are seeing it now in the big independents that do not have agile management whether they are suppliers or retailers, in the horticultural sector or probably any other."
So far the only negative comment we've received about Christmas trading has come from Derek Bunker at Alton Garden Centre in Essex "Where have you been, Trevor?" Asked Derek after being asked how well Christmas trading had gone for them. "Here in our part of Essex we had a very poor November for Christmas and although December was fine we never made it up. Lighting and artificial trees have been very tough with so much competition from other retailers taking a share of business at lower prices.
"As a core gardening centre we really suffered from the Beast from the East and then drought for two months. As for 2019, we will be really pleased when the uncertainty of Brexit is out of the way."
What were your experiences of Christmas trading and the year end? Add your centres comments by using the comment link below or e-mail email@example.com
Keep checking back to this story to see further Christmas updates as they are added during next week.