Garden centres in Northern Ireland re-open today and Hillmount Garden Centre received a visit from local MP Edwin Poots last week to see how preparations were going.
Last night, Alan Mercer told GTN Xtra: "The reopening day went well. We were nervous that we would be inundated with customers. But we were pleasantly surprised that our customers numbers were just steady all day. We have reduced our opening times by 1 hour to allow us to pick orders for our new online side of the business. We will pick orders ready for delivery the next day.
"Monday was our biggest day across all stores.
"It’s feels very different without the cafe. Customers simply buy stuff and leave. Whereas the cafe makes a garden centre more of a day out.
"We provided PPE in the form of face masks and Face Screens but we found most staff chose not to wear them as they felt they could sociably distance themselves from the customers.
The Perspex screens at the tills worked well. And the increase in contactless payments to £45 really helped."
The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) Chairman, James Barnes, commented last week after the news was announced: “We welcome the Northern Ireland Executive’s announcement that garden centres will be able to reopen from Monday. We are in peak season, so this news will be welcomed both by gardeners and the garden industry – providing an economic boost and enable access to the mental and physical well-being benefits that gardening brings.
“We will work as an industry to safely re-open garden centres from next week, as we have done in England and Wales. The HTA has produced Safe Trading Guidance, which covers all aspects of how garden centres can re-open while ensuring staff and customer safety at all times.
“Although opening gardening centres is hugely welcomed, this isn’t the single answer for Northern Ireland nurseries. They are in the middle of a perfect financial storm of perishability and seasonality and have already disposed of tonnes of plants. These family-owned businesses need a Dutch-style grant aid scheme to help them to survive and prosper.
“This now leaves Scotland as the last remaining country in the UK yet to announce garden centre reopening. The Scottish horticultural industry have been left at a competitive disadvantage relative to all other parts of the UK. Consumers in Scotland will be confused why garden centres cannot open in their local area. We have outlined to the Government that the industry has social distancing measures in place in order to reopen safely. They should now announce a reopening date as soon as possible.
Safe Trading Guidance
The HTA has produced a Safe Trading Guidance which includes a series of recommendations to protect customers.
The guidance document has been based on insight from leading HTA retailers, the British Retail Consortium, and from government advice as a recommendation of best practice regarding social distancing. Cafes, restaurants and children’s play areas will not be allowed to reopen under the guidelines.
Recommendations include advice on customer numbers in stores, entrance and exit protocols, and queueing and checkout procedures. It also contains practical advice on how to protect the health and wellbeing of staff.
What customers can expect
controlled access to car parks
limits on customer numbers in store – the recommendation is 1 per 1000 square foot
customers will be asked to shop with a maximum of one other person if possible and will be required to keep 2m distancing throughout the store and whilst queueing.
cafes, restaurants and children’s play areas will not be allowed to reopen under the guidelines.
The HTA recently launched a website - plantsnearme.hta.org.uk - to help customers find local garden centres that are offering home delivery or click and collect services. Members of the public will now be able to use the website to see which businesses have reopened and are following the Safe Trading Guidance.