As garden centres trade through the first weekend after the move to the Delay phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, GTN Xtra has been asking garden centre managers and owners how trading has been this weekend and about their thoughts for the coming weeks.
Martin Stewart told GTN Xtra that the two supermarkets close to their Christchurch centre had been busy all weekend with shelves cleared out as customers stocked up. "It's just like pre-Christmas food shopping here but we still had a fantastic day yesterday. With the rain today if the situation was normal we would be saying the weather is deterring people.
"At Abbey where there are no supermarkets nearby we were 30% up last week.
"I have one wish that is places like us are able to keep trading, we can cope with a spring that is 10% down but we don't want the panic of all shops being closed down. We can run our business leanly if need be and hopefully garden centres will continue to be seen as safe places to be."
Nigel Long at Longacres has tlod GTN Xtra on Wednesday morning: "We have seen some large increases in various departments ,but especially in household ,food and gardening. Customers look like that they are stock piling just in case that they have been told to self-isolate.
"We've also had a large increase on local deliveries across all departments. Catering yesterday dropped off the cliff and we will try and promote take away coffees and teas from now on.
"Let hope things get better soon.
At Bents Garden And Home, Matthew Bent says: ""Food sales are doing really well, especially meat and essentials. Plants, compost, seeds, edibles are really flying, customers are getting ready to spend time in their garden at home.
"We have put extra ranges of products in and more stock on the shop floor. In the restaurants there has been a big downturn and we've been widening between tables, reminding customers in the queues to leave space and the numbers have reduced massively."
Gerald Ingram at Planters sent us this update on Monday morning: "Trade has been very strong for the past week although the restaurants actually traded down slightly. We get the impression people are stocking up on essentials like compost, seeds and veg plants. This week last year saw a big upswing
because of the weather being dramatically better so we may not match the figures, but that’s a weather issue not COVID 19."
Sam Bosworth in the Midlands reports: "Trade is still down on 2019, but up on 2018. Trade year to date to the end of week 10 in 2020 is 22% up on 2018, but 5% down on 2019.
"The weather is still currently a bigger influence than COVID-19, it is raining as I look outside now at a quiet car park, but the virus is really big long term issue to us and the trade. We have spent this morning looking at scenarios and trying to make plans. These include for total closure to retail businesses, closure of restaurants, or just a significant reduction in trade.
"Trade is still OK, coffee shops ticking along, but a noticeable difference in demographics. Our Elton store has a significantly older demographic and has already seen catering trade drop off significantly in the week, whereas Burton Latimer has held up better with a younger demograhic."
James Ducker at Langlands said: "Trade has been pretty normal over the weekend. The Farm Shop has been really busy and people are spending as usual in the Garden Centre and Coffee Shops."
At GCA Garden Centre of the Year, Fron Goch, Justin Williams says: "The situation seems very fluid with public opinion changing quickly. We are seeing the supermarkets being very very busy with people stocking up at the moment.
"Last week we did manage to match last year. But yesterday the restaurant was approx 25% down on transaction numbers against last weekend and it looks like today could be between 40-50% down transaction numbers wise in the restaurant against last year."
It was a different picture at Poplars in Toddington where Alastair Jackson commented: "Our restaurant was busy this weekend and footfall in general was excellent but lots of those people were just browsing or whiling away time. I think its all this talk of a possible lockdown. People want to get out while they think they still can!"
Across the big groups, Blue Diamond's Alan Roper said: "I was concerned because it felt quiet in the centres especially on budget day. However I've had some numbers in for Monday to Friday for some of the sites and they are up."
British Garden Centres said they had a slow start yesterday morning but the day picked up well by lunchtime and at Dobbies, CEO Graeme Jenkins has reported: "Trade has been very good, with strong like-for-likes across plants, gardening, food hall and pet categories in particular."
In Scotland, Colin Barrie of Caulders told GTN Xtra: "We are concerned as the current situation develops. The last 3 days have seen a noticeable decline in our coffee shops, yesterday was around 30% down on expected revenue. That said, the weather has also been against us in Scotland.
"I think over the coming days we will see older people staying at home as the fear factor and self isolation set in. The garden centre side of the business never gets going in Scotland until the second half of March so it’s difficult to judge where the effect on this is at present.
"Without being too pessimistic, I think this will be our most difficult season ahead in our 21 years in business..... hopefully the government will support independent businesses and allow them to survive it!"
Meanwhile at Groves in Bridport, Charlie Grove (pictured above) has found stocks of Christmas loo rolls which they have put out on sale to help alleviate that shortage and give customers some light relief too. "Look what we found in the stockroom to bring out to the shop! Loads of (Christmas) loo roll!" he says on their Facebook page.
"Perfect for cheering up your bathroom in an emergency!
"Don’t forget you can always phone through orders for local delivery if you find you can't get out so you can stay fully stocked with all of your gardening and pet needs.
"Take care everyone."