After publishing GTN Xtra last night we've now had feedback from other centres including a record-breaking day online on Easter Monday at Longacres, how a veg hub is working wonders in Cornwall, how 12 vans are delivering up to 200 orders a day at Coolings, feedback from Matthew at Bents and comment from deepest Kent's Grovewell Garden Centres.
Edward Boult, Grovewell Garden Centres: “Looking into and understanding the magnitude of the contagiousness levels of this terrible virus, we took the 'ethical' decision to totally lock down all 4 sites for the initial 3 weeks that Boris asked for.
“This was in order to protect Staff, Customers and the Community. Explaining to customers that as a family business we felt this was the right thing to do and that it was still early for 'Essential' Gardening! We have a vast amount of praise from sections of the general public for this action, (although some don't get it and just want their seeds & compost etc!)
“We are looking to re-start deliveries, depending on what is said in tonight's (Thursday's) Government review, although we are not sure how we will cope as the demand will be huge!
“We have been operating a skeleton staff, who have done a wonderful job maintain the sites and plant areas look amazing! In addition, we have been putting in place plans for re-opening, looking at how we will control customer numbers, till screening and till processes, click and collect systems which we feel many customers will want as opposed to traditional shopping.
“We have been in regular communication with our plant nurseries and other suppliers; generally getting ready to ramp things up, as I have a funny feeling that when we are allowed to re-open we will be rather busy?
“Many staff are itching to get back, but we need to provide a safe working environment and understand that we are going to have to operate in several new and different ways.
“In reality it has become harder, with so many people acting in different ways and so many people attacking our marketplace. Local hardware shops selling all gardening, compost and seeds etc, Local Farm shops selling plants, odd places operating Click and Collect schemes (which involves opening your premises which I thought you couldn’t) others delivering, some Supermarkets, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Aldi etc promoting spring plants & gardening, selling clothes, toys, electronics, housewares etc and now Tesco's has cleared their Easter Eggs and replaced the contents of the whole shopping aisle with gardening and Amazon selling everything! I do give B&Q credit as they have locked down to essential lines only, hardware, plumbing, electrical essentials (although I have heard they may now be selling some plants and gardening?)
"When is a non-essential product not non-essential? I just don't get how gardening is deemed non-essential then certain supermarkets put big banners with get ready for spring etc and roll it out also selling clothes, homewares etc. It just seems like everyone is finding ways to 'bend the rules'."
Matthew Bent, Bents Garden & Home has added this afternoon: “The team and I are well, adapting and changing everyday to the 'new normality' for the time being.
“We are currently doing well in our food hall, with the better days towards the end of the week. We have a good combination of dairy, meat from the butcher, bread, everyday essentials and more premium items, which seems to be working well at the moment.
“Online is going well due to the great weather and demand from customers, although it is difficult to get all the plant lines on and find a safe way to deliver them. We also have set up a local delivery service for gardening, plants and compost which is working well for the local community. It is helping us tick over, but a small percentage compared to previous years.
“Who knows what the future holds short term, we are planning for either end May or End June to end lockdown. I am sure the opening will be slowly and controlled to defined places or retailers, hopefully the HTA can get the garden centres at the top of the list. Similar to what other countries have been doing so far.”
Edward Boult, Grovewell Garden Centres
Paul Cooling, Coolings, writes: “At Coolings we were fortunate to have already had a web-shop that catered for keen gardeners across the UK searching for unusual plants. The IT and EPOS teams have worked really hard to adapt that successfully to offer a broad range of plants along with a core selection of composts and gardening sundries but just to our local area that we can deliver to using our own transport.
“As our gardening teams are not working, we have up to 12 vans that can deliver up to 200 orders per day. Unfortunately there is so much demand that we have had to turn off the web-shop as we cannot keep up (over 1000 orders placed in 36 hours). Even with the high volume, this activity is not profitable although we are turning stock back into cash and, as the majority of our stock is perishable, that will save on plant maintenance costs and reduce the compost mountain at the end of the season.
“At the end of the day we are a retail destination that relies on people visiting our sites, selecting their own choice of plants and supplies then loading it all into their cars and taking it home. We are not set up as a stock picking and despatch company. 200 orders a day may sound like a lot but it's a fraction of the number of visitors we would normally have at this time of year. Overall our plant & sundries takings last week through the web-shop were about 33% of the same week last year at the Rushmore Hill site.
“Coolings Potted Garden at Bearsted near Maidstone and Coolings Wych Cross in the Ashdown Forest remain closed with two horticulturalists each day keeping the stock watered. Some stock has been transferred to Knockholt to improve efficiency and help fulfil online orders.
“At Coolings Green & Pleasant, the six COOK freezers and limited food offering allowed the shop to remain open. When the local village shop closed, as it could not control social distancing, we enlarged the range of produce available which has been a very popular move among local residents.
“Again takings last week were running at about a third of where they were last year through the shop although we have lost all the traffic through the Café and the popular Nature Trail. At this site we have sold a few BBQs and sets of furniture as a result of online and telephone enquiries but it's a drop in the ocean compared to what we should be doing for the time of year. It's made all the more frustrating by having the perfect weather too.
“Overall, when running the numbers, we know that we are making no more money (or losing no less) than those who have closed their doors completely and furloughed all their staff. What we do have is a core of enthusiastic staff who are keeping busy and that has to be a good thing for mental wellbeing as well as keeping some wheels of trade in motion which is good for the local economy. Most of all we hope that, as restrictions are relaxed, customers will return to Coolings first as the contact has been maintained albeit limited.”
Micheal Ainley at Longacres reports: “As most of the store is closed (we’re open for food and pet supplies only) sales were roughly 10% of what we’d expect to take on an Easter weekend (and the irony of one with such lovely weather was not lost on us.) Normal year on year comparisons have become pointless anyway – there seems very little we can consider ‘normal’ at the moment.
“We had a record-breaking day online on Easter Monday when we opened up a new load of delivery slots. Demand is exceptional and we’ve had some great feedback from people who are immensely grateful for our delivery services. We’re delivering locally and nationwide and we can barely keep up at times. Customers are often confused about what they can and can’t shop for – if we had a pound for every ‘but can’t I just come and buy some plants’ query it’d go some way to offsetting the lost sales!
“We're doing local delivery from Bagshot, Bybrook Barn and Shepperton. Chobham and Chelmsford are closed at the moment, unless we get some movement on plant retail.
“The phones have been utterly relentless. Along with customer service queries we’ve been offering a food delivery package for elderly and vulnerable local customers which has been very popular.”
And down in deepest Cornwall, Sarah Daniel at Pengelly Garden Centre told us: “We're all good down here, my team are amazing and working like trojans on the fruit and veg community hub that I set up. We are helping local suppliers, fruit, veg, milk, eggs and bakery to get their products to the public. They've all been hit hard with the closure of restaurants, pubs and hotels so this is helping them a little and also getting food to people who cannot get out.
“It was a nightmare to start with, the phone never stopped, but we introduced an online ordering system, thanks Nat at Porters for the tip off, and have used shopify to ease the congestion. You don't need to be a computer whizz to set it up and it looks reasonably professional. We are now working with some local growers to get their plants listed too, we'll deliver them to the doorstep with the food orders.
“We have struggled from the start to keep up with orders, we have a team of volunteers who do some of the deliveries and are glad to help out. We are going to streamline our opening hours this week to Monday to Friday so that the whole team can have a break, it’s very intense work and there is no let up all day. We're still all smiling though, and it just hammers home to me what a great crew I have here at Pengelly.”
Please keep sending in your experiences or running delivery services and your thoughts on how you'll get back to business differently when restrictions are eased. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or use the comments button below. Stay Safe and well!