The garden industry came together on 4 October for HTA Garden Futures Conference, sponsored by Hozelock, which took place at Heythrop Park in Oxfordshire. This year’s strategic event, with the theme of ‘Garden Retail – the great escape’, was hosted by Cathy Newman, journalist and presenter of Channel 4 News. Cathy shared her own passion for gardening and spoke about how she uses her garden as an escape from stresses of everyday life.
Rachel Lund from the British Retail Consortium started the day off by looking at how the current political environment and exchange rates are impacting conditions in retail. Whilst the future is looking good for garden retail she warned that we need to be prepared for a tough few months ahead and that retailers can’t afford to do nothing when it comes to using technology, which is a real growing driver for consumer spending.
Josh McBain from Foresight Factory spoke about how we are approaching an ageless society with older age groups now spending the most over the week and spending significantly on recreation and culture. Leisure upgrade is one of the most important retail experiences you can use to engage with younger and older consumer audiences alike. Garden centres are perfectly suited to engage with the ageing generations importance on health and well-being.
Jack Stratten from Insider Trends took a look at the way in which technology is being used in retail. He got the audience on their feet to display that 32% of people would rather do the dishes than go shopping! Virtual reality and self-checkouts give retailers the chance to focus more on customer service and letting consumers take control. The future of retail looks more and more sci-fi, with robot delivery becoming a reality. If you have loyal customers, innovations are easy.
Professor Alistair Griffiths from the Royal Horticultural Society presented some shocking statistics on the way the younger generations see and use nature with ¾ of UK children spending less time outdoors than prison inmates. Mental health problems are experienced by 1 in 4 adults with engagement in horticulture a proven way of helping to relieve symptoms. Gardening can foster social interactions and promote a sense of community and garden centres can help nurture and encourage this. As an industry we need to work hard to tackle philosophical challenges of Nature Deficit Disorder and Plant Blindness.
This was followed by ethno-botanist and presenter James Wong whose session ‘Gardening – Why bother?’ made the audience think about giving people additional reasons to garden beyond work related tasks like mowing and raking. Human eyes can distinguish green more than any other colour in the light spectrum – showing how we have evolved around plants for health reasons. ‘Generation Rent’ want something authentic and real, and this is why the trend for houseplants is here to stay. Also, with many ‘hipster’ shops on the high street selling terrariums, why can’t you buy the ingredients to make one in a garden centre?
Kate Ebbens from Cadix, which is part of CAPI Europe, demonstrated how sustainability is key to their future business which has relocated to Holland with a state of the art production facility. They are using a mix and match pot and plant app which enables consumers to select their favourite combinations and even visualise in their own home. As a member of EFSA they also use future trend information to shape their range.
The Retail Lab @ Garden Futures panel session looked at the learnings from the feature at Glee. Merchandising staff from Hillview Garden Centre learnt a huge amount from taking part and recreated displays on their return to store resulting in increased September sales. Adrian Davey from Hozelock felt it was important to be able to see how their products look when surrounded by plants as they would be in a garden setting. Helen MacDonald from Merryhatton Garden Centre found that getting children more involved in garden centres is really worthwhile and by creating displays aimed at them they feel more engaged. There was agreement that the initiative helped businesses to work together to help achieve a shared end goal.
With Xylella fastidiosa being such an important topic across the whole industry with potentially devastating consequences, the panel session covered many of the key aspects related to this bacterial disease. Dan Munro from APHA provided an overview of the evolution of the situation. Whilst lobbying continues to ensure the Government does more, there was a consensus that individual businesses should not wait for this and should take responsibility for their own actions.
In the final session of the day, conference host Cathy Newman interviewed Dobbies CEO Nicholas Marshall about his views on many topics including Brexit, the economy and the use of technology. He felt that Brexit presents a huge opportunity for the garden industry in terms of promoting UK grown plants – an area that Dobbies are focussing on. He has great respect for the family run businesses within the industry and tries to emulate their approach where possible. His parting message was that you shouldn’t be a retailer if you are not an optimist!
In rounding up the day, HTA President Adam Taylor announced plans for a new joint conference in 2018 to be hosted in partnership with GIMA. Further details will be available in due course.