UK garden centres have experienced a challenging Christmas trading period, according to a survey carried out by GTN Xtra, with the wintry weather making life difficult in some areas of the country.
We’ve been asking centres up and down the country for their verdict on sales of Christmas products. Here’s a selection of comments we received:
Matthew Bent, Bents Garden and Home
"I think the industry and retail as a whole found Christmas 2017 quite challenging and we were no exception, finishing the period slightly down on target."
"Our very own Bents Bear was top of our bestsellers this year, making this year's addition to the collection one of the most popular ever.
"We didn't really see any great benefit of the 'extra' week in the run up to Christmas.
"As usual our Christmas events proved very popular. Customers enjoyed our new format masterclass evenings and our new Winter Food Market generated some very positive feedback. The only event which was slightly down on previous years was our Festive Family Fun Weekend, which was directly affected by snowy and icy weather conditions.
"There was no increase on Christmas trees on previous years but plant sales were 5% up."
Andy Bunker, Alton Garden Centre
“It’s not a year that will go down in history. Anyone who has done very well has either only recently jumped on the Christmas bandwagon, invested in the category or changed their offer.
“Christmas was down around just shy of 10% with us, mainly due to November being -15% in the end – this would be mainly real trees, lighting and artificial trees.
“There were no real bestselling lines, although outside fresh locally made door rings went well – up about 25% on 2016 but nothing to write home about.
“The extra week had no effect apart from probably increasing the grotto footfall.
The grotto was up around 10% and our preview night was a big success. Our BBQs night in December was also very well received.
“There was no real buzz about real trees this year with sales overall disappointing for us. Looking around at other tree retailers, there was a lot of stock sitting around even on December 21-22.
“Plants followed the poor weather and sales were nothing special although the Farplants added-value was very good. The team at Farplants put together a nice range and some fairly good price points.”
Jane Parsons, Chessington Garden Centre
“It felt like a difficult year, with a good start and then a slow November, which meant all the focus fell into December.
“We have had some changes occur through this period which put added pressure onto the shop-floor team who pulled together and worked well as a team.
“Our Christmas events were slightly down, but we still had in excess of 22,000 through the grotto.
“We’re already starting on this year's Christmas and looking forward to Harrogate.”
Sarah Squire, Squire’s Garden Centres
“My personal view on Christmas is that it is now a mature part of our mix and, as such, we cannot expect the levels of growth we have seen in previous years. “There is also, I think, much greater competition from on-line retailers and supermarkets. So whereas garden centres had the market place reasonably unchallenged, it is now a far more crowded space.
“We need to explain to the customer the advantages of good (free) parking, our diverse product range and our catering which add up to solve many of their Christmas shopping dilemmas under one roof and can make the shopping experience a pleasurable one rather than a chore.
“It is also increasingly important to keep an eye out for new and different product to differentiate us from the online and supermarket offer and each other.
“Christmas as a category was broadly flat year on year, taking into account the temporary closure of Woking and some shifts in and out of the category definition. As a trading period (month of December), we were up marginally without Woking so would have been about 2% up with Woking. This was driven by ATV rather than footfall.
“The full week and weekend before Christmas seems to have worked OK for us but we can't see a dramatic sales/footfall effect.
“Events were well up on last year, with four circuses rather than two and 33k tickets against 13k tickets.
“In December, real trees were up about 2% – without Woking – and 5% like for like. House plants were flat year on year, like for like.”
Simon Bourne, Perrywood Garden Centre
“Christmas was down slightly (maybe 6%) but we've had far less to discount so higher margin overall.
“Indoor plants were really strong (who gives a cactus as a Christmas present?), Outdoor plants strong up until colder weather in last week. Real tree sales good but not exceptional.”
Neil Gow, Fresh @ Burcot
"We were running very nicely – up approx 8% – in October and slightly more (10%) in November. December got off to a flying start, then it snowed - you saw it! The last of the snow finally went from our site on the 30th December - we had a white Christmas
"Fresh trees were our bestsellers -especially in the 5ft-7ft range in Noble, Nordmann and Fraser, plus Poinsettias.
"Christmas is getting more compressed. It kicks in later but also finishes that bit earlier other than the last minute stuff like fresh foods, foliage and plants. We were busier
than we expected in those last four or 5 days, but it's difficult to say how much of that was: people coming out again after the worst of the weather; the additional effort we had put into 'fresh'; or the 'extra' week.
"All our Christmas events were very successful, and up on last year in terms of numbers of events and those attending.
"Sales of Christmas tree were fantastic! We sold every tree we could get our hands on and now they are coming back for recycling we are getting the best feedback on quality we have ever had. One customer commented today: 'First fresh tree for 15 years and this one has shed less needles than our artificial one last year!'.
"Plant sales again good, both indoor and out. Struggled to keep up with planting containers, especially outdoor ones and pretty well sold out of everything. Missed some sales on some sizes and colours of Points in the last couple of days as we had sold through. As near to zero waste as we have ever managed.
"We lost a few key week's worth of sales because of the snow, but will probably have had our most profitable Christmas season ever when we do the final figures!"
Yvonne Ritchie, Brechin Castle Centre
"Our Christmas was slightly up on last year – fresh trees slightly down, artificial slightly up.
"The 3D glasses with reindeer and snowmen on them were very popular – £2.99 retail – also named gifts, and anything with dog breeds, slippers, hats and gloves were popular. Clothing is my best overall category.
"The more unusual Christmas items, no matter what the price tag was, have proved exceptionally popular. Sourcing these has proved difficult but I am heading to Frankfurt this year as I have found a particular company we do well with. Both this year and last year the stock has sold out with customers not minding the hefty price tag – £600-£1000 in some cases for the larger very unusual products.
"Interestingly our plant sales were well up, and we missed opportunities as normally we don't focus on plants. The sales sneaked up on us almost unnoticed but that was a lesson learned. I have no idea what made them have such an appeal this year in comparison to others. The Poinsettias from Pentland Plants were stunning and exceptional. This year we will focus on more gift packaged (in house) plants, and bring outside plants in so we can make more of them.
"Our Diamond Gardner (club) event was slightly up overall.
"But retail bricks and mortar is concerning me, particularly as I am such a huge online shopper now. I can see some of our categories affected by this. I think artificial trees will be a big thing for people buying online. The public don't care the same way that the retailer does about the quality of the tree, as long as the size and colour is right, and they don't have to carry it home."
Andrew Wood, Silverbirch Garden Centre
"Our Christmas sales this year were up. Our bestselling line would be difficult to say, however lighting in general sold really well for us this year.
"The candle jewellery from Culinarily Concepts was a great seller.
"Because footfall was up massively our plant and real Christmas tree sales were up too. On a whole it's been a great season for us."
James Ducker, Langlands Garden Centre
"Shiptonthorpe was slightly up about 1%, Leeds and Sheffield both 1% down.
"We did really well with artificial trees and garlands and lights. Suki Personalised Angels and Santas were top selling lines.
"Santa's arrival in Shiptonthorpe was very poorly attended this year and we are not sure why. However, breakfasts and suppers with Santas were the busiest ever.
"Real Christmas tree sales were up in Shiptonthorpe but static in Leeds and Sheffield."
Jack Gates, Gates Garden Centre
"Christmas was up for us in all three months but overall up by 15% so a very good Christmas trade.
"The best selling line was Premier Oblong water spinners.
"The extra full week did help trading as we managed to recover from loss of sales from the snow and we managed to finish the month up despite going into that week down.
"We built a new purpose built grotto this year so we were a weekend later opening due to being behind on schedule but overall numbers were up by 20% even in the shorter time period – 7,500 children. We are going to open at the start of November next year.
"Our real tree and plant sales were pretty much static compared to a year before which surprises me due to the number of artificials we are selling. We don't sell as many cut trees as we used to years ago.
Adam Wigglesworth, Aylett Nurseries
"November in all departments was strong – houseplants were up 20%.
"For the period October, November and December, Christmas departments were up by 14% – houseplants +8%, Christmas trees -6%.
"Trade for the week before Christmas was better than the same days last year but it is historically a low trading week for us because customers are out food shopping."
Justin Williams, Fron Goch
"Christmas ended up 12% up on last year. The full week before Christmas was about 10% up and last week (December 31-January 6) was well up on last year as all the schools were off which helped restaurant, clothing and general winter sale items.
"The Premier water spinners (glitter lantern) were a new winner this year. House plants were 5% up and real trees 2% down.
"We don't do a grotto but Breakfast with Santa was down as kids were at school right up until Christmas, so fewer slots available this year."
Alistair Jackson, Poplars
"Our Christmas sales were up on last year even though we lost one of the busiest Sundays due to making the decision not to open due to snow. This also affected the customer numbers for the Monday and Tuesday.
"There is a certain breed of customer that wants to be in the department and buying as soon as it opens and this year’s early sales showed this. Unfortunately there is the other breed of customer that will make you fully aware of their disgust due to seeing signs of Christmas before they’re ready. But like I point out to those customers we’re a business and if it gets the tills ringing then so be it.
"It was our first year selling the Suki named snowman, I think if we’re talking sales per sq ft then this product would be a clear winner. We also had an excellent second season selling the Konstsmide water filled lit lantern selling approximately 400 at £19.99 each. We sold out in the first week of December.
"We experienced excellent sales in the final week before Christmas in all departments but especially in our restaurant. Our Christmas Eve ‘'Pimp Up Your Pancake'’ breakfast event was a great success.
"Grotto numbers were up even though we couldn’t operate on Snow Sunday with approximate numbers of 2,000 children over a 13 day operating period.
"Real tree sales and plant sales were on a par with last year. I feel there is no growth to be had in the real tree market – we just make sure we maintain excellent margins on this product."
Conna Powles, Haskins Garden Centres
"Taking Christmas from October 1st, sales were +8%, having increased space in one of our centres and reviewed the weaker areas from last year. However, we felt that shoppers were buying earlier, having been influenced by Black Friday (or Black Fortnight as it has now become), as it tailed off in December.
"One of the bestselling lines was microlights, which did really well, unfortunately to the detriment of core lighting.
"We don't really do Christmas events as the restaurants drive enough footfall for us.
"With regard to Christmas tree sales, this is always a tricky one as we are usually up and down on either live or artificial but this year was more positive on both. Live trees were up 3.5%."
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