Following the re-opening of garden centres in England and Wales last week the constant queues of customers were indicative of the pent-up demand everyone hoped there was.
To allow for safe social distancing many centres have altered their layout to create a one-way system. None more so than Baytree Garden Centre who have adopted a London Underground scheme with a Plant Line, a Gardening Line, a Landscape Line and used other underground terminology in their signage. See our photo gallery at the bottom of this article.
GTN Xtra asked garden centres how their first real Saturday of the season had been and how their teams had coped with the “new normal.”
Russell Winteridge at Barton Grange has told GTN Xtra about the success of their social distancing measures: "We are only allowing 100 cars at a time to park which means people don't have to stand in queues outside the centre. All customers are required to sanitise their hands before entering the store, even if they are wearing gloves and we are not allowing any under 16's or groups of more than 2. If we spot people gathering in groups while around the centre we are actively breaking that up.
"Thanks to our Revero covered planteria we were very well stocked with plants before lockdown, and with our own nursery, restocking of plants which are selling really well is not a problem just yet."
James Ducker's three Langlands Garden Centres have been trading well since re-opening. "So far so good," he said, "both staff and customers have adapted to the "new normal" well. Our Leeds centre has sold a lot of garden furniture in the four days since re-opening."
Jon Bottomley at Newbank reported: "Saturdays trading was very good, over 25% up on the equivalent day last year, Sunday tailed off slightly but it has been quite cold today.
"Social distancing is working very well and we have had no negative comments, it has led to basket spend doubling which indicates we won't see people as regularly as normal. You can't follow hta guidelines per square foot as it would be dangerous, everyone heads straight to the planteria and feels full very quickly.
"It's all about making as much profit as possible to cover the September - October lull, we are concerned about Xmas now as our centres are normally nose to nose and the grotto show takes 600 kids a day but that's worries for another time!
"All in all this week has been a massive success and we couldn't be happier."
James Debbage from Green Pastures in Norfolk sent us this feedback which he hoped would be useful: "Just when we thought we couldn't be any more shattered than we already were!
"It's never ceased to amaze me just how the last few weeks have evolved, from the food rush to the gardening rush, from the grow your own rush to the bedding plant rush and now from the delivery rush to the retail rush! We've certainly been in the thick of it all of this so far. Who knows what´s next around the corner?
"Green Pastures was in a relatively unique position, being allowed to trade (to a certain extent) ever since Easter with the blessing of the council due to us having a farm shop and post office. The difficulty was "policing" people making their journey for "essentials" before we could serve them with gardening. However, whilst we had the go ahead to trade, we didn't feel that it would have been wise to have advertised the fact. We felt, being the only centre open in the area, we would have been totally overwhelmed by visitors and it would also have been very unfair to our neighbouring garden centres too.
"Our transition last Wednesday was therefore from "quietly" trading from the site for the last few weeks to "publicly" trading, so it wasn't quite the same abrupt step up as everyone else had. To rub salt into the wounds the first two days of openly trading saw our stretch of the main road closed due to a burst water main! Our first two days were therefore a bit underwhelming but Friday onwards has been totally crazy!
"Friday was a clear record breaking day for us and now the battle is stocking back up and bedding plant stocks virtually wiped out already. Luckily we got some late batches of plugs through so our basket plant offering should still end on a
At Coolings, Paul Cooling said: “Even at Coolings Green & Pleasant, we’ve been inundated with requests for plants of all descriptions and compost is still selling like there’s no tomorrow. There is also a huge pent-up demand for BBQs and garden furniture. We’ve sold almost as much in the last 4 days as we did all through the shutdown online!”
Gary Carvasso added: “If we had been closed until mid-June as first suggested in early March we would have seen almost 100,000 plants wasted by then.”
Chris Francis at Hilliers told GTN Xtra: “We had an outstanding Saturday which followed 2 incredible days trade.
“Currently we are on track to match the full weeks like for like sales of last year in just 4 days. The 5 new centres are also performing well above expectation.
“We have sold over 22,000 plants from our nursery in just 3 days. Sales very much in core garden categories with majority of sales in veg plants, bedding, particularly zonal geraniums, nursery stock and Hillier multipurpose compost (10,000 bags).
“The team have coped exceptionally well and all customers have been very respectful of social distancing measures. A positive start. Let’s hope our suppliers can keep up with demand.”
Mike Burks, The Gardens Group told us: “The new systems worked really well with customers behaving well in just about every case. We have a had a few who have been difficult, but the vast majority are loving being able to shop with us again and to do it safely.
“Coping with the numbers has been straightforward, average spend is well up and its gardening stock that is selling. We haven't yet re-opened furniture.
“Sales have been between 50 and 60% up on the same days last year. Stocking up again hasn't been straightforward as suppliers are also having to catch up. But overall very positive.”
Carol Paris, new CEO at Rosebourne said: “It’s great to be back open. All centres have been very busy since we opened on Wednesday. Saturday was a fabulous day. The majority of customers were wanting plants and gardening, although we also did well on garden furniture. Very pleased with trade, clearly much pent up demand. Plants, compost & seeds all top sellers.
“Staff and customers coped very well with the new layout of the stores and the social distancing requirements. We have put entrances from the carpark into our plant areas so that the core gardening customer does not need to go indoors unless they want to. We have installed new tills in the plant departments so they can be totally self-sufficient.
“We also had a good number of NHS and front line staff utilising their priority shopping times.”
Alan Roper, Blue Diamond reported that Saturday was a huge day at £1.6m ex VAT all gardening with plants over 50%. “The team worked tirelessly for 7 weeks on Home delivery racking up £10.6m and now have seamlessly readied businesses to deal with the huge instore demand. Credit to them all.
“Our managers comments from yesterdays What's App chat sum up the atmosphere at Blue Diamond.”
Carl Chambers, InExcess was a little more sceptical: “If you observe the rules properly, I suggest that you can’t make enough money to cover costs. Yes we are very busy now but the cliff edge is a few weeks away!
“The “new normal“ is going to be tough!”
At British Garden Centres, Boyd Douglas-Davies reported: “Sales have been much bigger than we expected over the first few days. Saturday was the busiest day so far by a considerable margin with garden plants - both hardy and seasonal - being in huge demand along with compost, pots and gardening goods. Comparisons with last year are a little tricky as BGC only had 16 of the now 57 centres but safe to say yesterday was a record day whichever way you look at it.
“The team has been amazing and coped incredibly well with the new social distancing measures. At many centres, the restaurant teams have taken responsibility for queue control in the car park and till areas. So many regulars have been into the centres and they’ve really appreciated seeing familiar faces. Or at least the eyes and hair of familiar but masked faces!! Customers have no problems with the social distance policy and are patiently queuing then shopping at high-speed as soon as they get in.
“Suppliers have been excellent, getting stock to us as quickly as possible and working with us throughout the weekend ensuring we can restock at the earliest opportunity in the coming days.
“Charles Stubbs summed it up perfectly last night (as he drove his truck home from the south!) “The BGC family, all 2,500 of them, have done me proud!”
David Yardley, Klondyke, while still awaiting the decision to re-open in Scotland said: “Trade has been good and as you say especially plants and gardening. Customers shopping habits have changed and they are visiting throughout the day with a slight lull over lunch. Basket spends are much higher and overall visits are shorter with customers not browsing too much. We have had some queues but no traffic issues and customers are very accepting of the situation. We have had lots of comments from customers and staff that they are very happy with the measures we have put in place to keep them all safe.
“Overall since Wednesday like for like excluding restaurants and Scottish centres we are 84% up on last year until Saturday night. I don’t expect sales to continue at this level but hopefully we will still see some good figures for the next few weeks. Furniture has started to sell well in the past few days both in store and online.”
Also awaiting the decision for re-opening in Scotland, Graeme Jenkins at Dobbies told GTN Xtra: “Trade has been very strong, with record days across the estate.
“Customers have been particularly keen to buy plants and gardening, as they continue to enjoy the Spring.
“From both team members and customers we have received very positive feedback on the social distancing measures we have put in place.
"I would hope that news we can re-open in Scotland comes very soon from the Scottish Government and I know the HTA are working very hard to support this.”
Simon Bourne at Perrywood said: “Yesterday was really busy and lots of money in the till. Plants have been flying out as well as compost, garden furniture and barbecues. Social distancing measures are working well but it is hard work.
“Most of the team are pleased with the measures we have put in place especially at the Tiptree tills where we have created a lot of space to enable the till team to do their job. Sudbury has seen some incredible numbers through the till and a great reaction from the public to our new Plant House full of Perrywood Grown bedding and vegetables.
“It will be interesting to see what will happen over the next few weeks. Can we sustain the trade or is it a surge which will slow down? Will suppliers keep up if sales carry on strong?”
Sam Bosworth, Bosworths, didn’t open at Burton Latimer until Friday lunchtime, so Saturday was their first full day of trading: “Plant sales were exceptional, as was basket size and value. Peaks and troughs through the day were flattened out by restrictions to number of people on site (45), so tills steady all day. Weekend sales were on a par with a very good May weekend, so very pleased.
“In some ways it was a ‘normal’ weekend, with project stuff, plants, compost, pots etc selling really well on Saturday, and then the dressing stuff such as furniture selling better on Sunday. Except that it wasn’t normal at all!
“What a docile and well behaved nation we have become in six weeks. I can’t imagine anyone standing in a queue for twenty minutes, back in ‘normal’ times, without there being confrontation.
“Even though we grow our own bedding and herbaceous, we are now struggling for stock, especially pack bedding.
“The team coped well, few new ‘tweaks’ to implement early this week, but even those staff who were clearly very nervous before we opened, have settled down quite quickly.
“Online, and now click and collect, are still available and being used by those who are still self-isolating. Despite it being hard work, we are trying to keep this channel open to see where it goes.
Gerald Ingram at Planters reported on Sunday evening: “We are expecting 10 days of bank holidays!
“Pent up demand, money saved up, no holidays this year, time off work furloughed, new interest in the garden! We had a good first day, unbelievably smooth followed by three record breaking days and a very good Sunday.
“Our big issue is lack of plant stock especially bedding and we will soon be short of Garden Furniture.
“The big sellers are bedding, hardy plants, furniture, gravels and garden sundries.”
Matthew Bent, Bents Garden & Home says: “It seemed to be that the Thursday and Friday were busy, but then Saturday was extra busy. We did not have any expectations but we are up on last year (excluding restaurants) which is great and hope it continues.
“The team are on board and are happy with the new normal, the customers are also ok with the new normal, although there are a few of customers are struggling and want to go back to how it used to be.
“Plants, plants, compost and pots are selling like mad, I have never seen so many full trollies going through the tills. We have less customers their average sale is a lot higher and they are spending less time on site.”
After being served with a Prohibition Notice last week Will Blake at St Peters had a big smile on his face: “It went well thank you and I did my bit on national TV & radio.
“The team all seem to love being back at work, albeit a bit stretched because we are running with a limited team, and busier than we anticipated. I can't remember what our target would have been for yesterday, but we definitely beat it, and well on track to do the same again today. It would be nice if we can maintain this for a while and make up for some of the lost ground.
“The Garden Radio recordings are working perfectly, and the level of messaging is just right, to support the briefing customers receive when they arrive.”
Finally a comment from Nigel Wallis on the Gardening Line at Baytree Overground Garden Centre: “We have had a lovely but busy day on our opening. We opened at 10:00am and had a steady flow, from 11. It got really busy with a queue of up to 49 at the most, but with an average of 40 on site the wait was not long, shut the gates at 4.30.
“Great compliments from customers and great effort from all of our staff.”