In the October edition of GTN, which will be arriving in the post early this week, we've published a compilation of research and analysis about the "New Gardener" phenomenon. We also asked garden centres what how they are reacting to the changing market dynamic or not:
Garden Centre Comments: GTN asked garden centres their views on the New Gardener phenomenon…
Derek Bunker, Alton Garden Centre
“We know we have many new customers coming in store because the most asked question this summer has been “Where are the toilets?” As a result we are buying more of what we already sell. I wouldn’t say there were necessarily more gardeners but there are definitely more garden occupiers who have a greater awareness of their gardens.
“In our area, (South Essex), people have been buying things to go in their garden; fountains, furniture, BBQ’s, bird baths, ornaments and landscaping products.
We’ve also seen an increase in the sale of large plants as they grow their garden awareness and look to improve their gardens.”
Alan Roper, Blue Diamond
“Whilst I don’t totally buy into the ‘new gardeners hyberbole my analysis shows that new customers must be responsible for the average spend increases experienced. Average spend for June, July and August in GCA garden centres was 64%, 40% and 33% respectively, whilst footfall for the same months for GCA garden centres was down 8%, 5.45% and 7%.
“What drove gardening sales were higher basket spends. What I can’t rule out though is that the mix of customers who did shop was weighted more to ‘gardening’ and this drove average spend up. Our Blue Diamond club members spent an average 25% more so the additional 25% increase we witnessed must have come from new customers (we were 50% up in total). We did see new customers but felt this was mainly due to transfer from competitors when we had stock and they didn’t always have it at various points in the season. Our footfall has been positive every month since lockdown.
“With that in mind the facts do support that new customers entered the arena and tried some form of gardening, as they had the time! But I doubt the figures of 3 million being claimed and feel that any new interest will be fleeting. When normal life resumes the majority of consumers will resume their normal daily lifestyles. The same thing happened after the banking crisis – there was a boom in grow your own for a short period which then calmed to normal levels.
“We don’t plan any changes in our business because as a garden retailer your approach is always to focus on new potential gardeners – to support, help and demystify. Suppliers drive this through innovation and marketing.”
Will Blake, St Peters Garden Centre
“We are definitely getting more customers asking ‘How do I….’ on a whole range of subjects from planting bulbs, improve my lawn, not kill my houseplants. It highlights to me just how many more people have taken an interest in gardening. Being able to deal with and answer these questions has always been one of the strengths of the garden centre industry. It is what keeps customers coming to us opposed to going to the supermarkets or DIY sheds. So, in some ways it is business as usual for us.
“With the horticulture trend very obviously on the up, we have given more space, display & prominence to the horti products and ranges. Of course, we also made it easy for beginners, ensuring relevant products are grouped together.
“We have been as nimble as possible throughout the crisis – reacting, replenishing, moving, increasing or decreasing – anything which will help our recovery. Product has been in short supply and you can guarantee that everyone is after the same stuff! We are planning a number of department moves for January to give more space to horticultural categories, such as houseplants, as the trend roars on.
“Looking ahead I believe our core gardening categories will continue to do well in the coming months and years. If staycations remain outdoor living will continue on the up into 2021 and beyond. ‘Localism’ and ‘Providence’ seem to be more important than ever. Likewise supporting local businesses definitely appears to be higher on our customers’ radar. We also see that customer expectation around sustainability, and environmentally friendly product remains at the forefront, thankfully! I am proud to say we do not have a single ‘disposable cheap toy’ in any of our crackers this year.”
Sam Bosworth, Bosworth’s Garden Centre
“Are there actually new gardeners? Our customer numbers are down but sales up and average transaction value way up. I do think the new gardeners are there but I am not convinced about the massive numbers suddenly going green-fingered.
“We did have new customers around when we re-opened, mainly because they couldn't get standard product, such as compost, from their normal source, and they were hunting it out, but, we did not have it either. Have we retained them? Some yes, but that is gut feeling as we cannot analyse this sort of thing in depth.
“We are certainly selling more houseplants, that trend has continued upwards, and that is driven by a good percentage of new customers. We only have a small traditional 'jams and chutneys' food offering, so that has been moved to make way for more houseplants, and to make them more accessible with the new customer flow in place. Specimen and hanging houseplants have a bigger presence, and the ratio of non-flowering houseplants to flowering continues to rise. Also, more succulents and structural houseplants are selling, which I think are a younger, newer audience.
“One thing we have noticed is that we are selling what traditional horticulturists would say are bizarre plant combinations. If it is in flower, and looks nice, then we can sell it. We still have some late delivered Begonias in flower in the plant area, which is leading to Begonia/Viola/Ivy/Cyclamen combinations being planted. Newer, and inexperienced, customers are not shackled by horticultural knowledge and tradition, and we need to work with this. Not necessarily in an exploitive way but understanding and working with inexperienced customers who just want instant colour. Some of my staff have really struggled with this.
“We are seeing more staff time being taken up with customers, which I guess are the 'newbies' asking questions a lot of the time. Personal shopping is the new term on the Planteria and this is difficult to discourage even if it costs significantly more staff time. We have taken more staff on to cope with this. One candidate was successful specifically because she came from an Interior Plant display company, after redundancy, and will bolster our service levels in houseplants.
“Looking to 2021 it will be about colour, colour and more colour in plants, particularly herbaceous in larger pot sizes. I guarantee we will all sell out of roses if we can get any! Gardening products will still be strong sellers, but we must ensure products are fit for purpose and not price led all the while. Grow your own will again be popular as people will still be at home more, which will hopefully see continued strong furniture and garden decoration sales.
“Marketing in 2021 is going to be based on Social media more than ever. Lead times for traditional print marketing make it risky, and we have been very busy in 2020 with no marketing and no loyalty mailings, which we will have to deal with early in 2021. Of course, I am hoping that we see a reduction in sales of face masks and visors.”
Kevin Turley, Lakeside Garden Centre
“We have found like the rest of the industry a massive increase in new customers. There have been a lot of first-time buyers and they have been asking a lot of more simple questions. They are finding their feet and using us more than the supermarkets as they can get the knowledge they need from ourselves. We have seen 40% growth on last year. Pots, plants and compost have been the winners with pots at this rate almost showing 100% growth on its own.
“As we went into lockdown we looked at what we could do to keep trading and support customers – we offered a free delivery service but with a twist. We asked our customers to give a donation to the local hospice (whose funding disappeared) and working with Taylors Bulbs we offered Narcissi Rainbow – with all proceeds going to the hospice as well. As a garden centre we have been very lucky and felt it fair to spread our luck with others who might not have been so fortunate.
“Next year is going to be interesting and I can still see a 25% growth on what this year should have been. With plans for more housebuilding I can see more growth on pots, compost and plants for these as gardens nowadays are smaller and this works easier for the busy modern gardener who doesn’t have time to weed big borders. This year social media has been a godsend with our reach increasing from 3,000 to almost 5,000 followers.”
Roger Crookes and Nicola Pugh – Pughs Garden Centre
“This feels like an amazing opportunity for our trade – I can’t recall a shift towards gardening from all ages of the public like we have seen this year. We have to make sure that when other options become available for our new customers to invest their time and money, we have converted the ‘lock-down customers’ into committed lifelong customers and successful gardeners.
“Our trade associations have been working with each other, and us, to help all areas of the trade maximise the opportunities – but in the end us is down to us to rise to the challenges.
“Here in south Wales we have been in localised lockdowns for a few weeks, which means that some of our customers can’t get to us so we have to be ‘light on our feet’ and ready to change plans continually, and our staff also have to be flexible. For example, kitchen staff have found themselves watering in the plant area – and enjoying it!
“A few thoughts about our garden products plans
• The average customer has changed, has different expectations and doesn't understand a lot of what we say and do – we need to listen to them see what they are saying and watching e.g. on social media.
• It is hard to predict how 2021 will unravel – this year’s amazing garden products season was driven by millions of potential customers having spare time, spare money and not many options on how to invest that spare cash and time … apart from gardening!
• Present simple clear options and messages – browsing and catering which have been our back bone for a long time are currently less popular, customers want to be in out of the centre and back home as soon as possible (this may change as lock downs are less common).
• Product bundles – some web shop trends of linked products can be replicated on to the shop floor.
• Look out for products that may not have worked in the past but will be ideal for our new customers.
• Involve ‘non gardening’ staff in the garden products planning.”
Dobbies Garden Centres
A spokesperson for Dobbies said: “The two key audiences as outlined by the HTA, Family Focus and Convenience Gardeners, are aligned with our customer personas, and we have been working hard to engage these customers.
“Our range is already authoritative but we are increasing ranges to cater for the demand from new gardeners. We have increased the range and prominence of houseplants in all stores as well enhancing our spring flowering bulbs and autumn gardening products. A more extensive range of planted containers and hanging baskets for the patio or doorstep are now available.
“Education is an important part of what we offer – “When do I do this” is the most common question we hear, as new gardeners ask for support and advice to look after their plants. We support this in-store, on social, on email as well as online to give confidence to new gardeners.
“In 2021, our main focus will be meeting our customers’ requirements, providing a convenient shopping experience with quality products and educational information that helps them to have success with their gardening.
“We believe the popularity of Grow Your Own will continue – we are up on seed sales compared to last year and we have seen increased demand for strawberries, herbs, fruit trees and soft fruit such as raspberries, and believe this will continue.
“We’ve also increased our gardening product offering online and site visits to dobbies.com are the highest on record.”
Boyd Douglas-Davies, British Garden Centres
“We are directing a lot of our marketing output to social media as we can see a large customer engagement through this – quite probably a reflection of the new customers. We are using the pen portraits from the HTA to help us with ranging for 2021. Each of our centres is treated individually so these are giving us great insight into the customers around our sites, particularly the recently acquired ones.”
Simon Bourne, Perrywood Garden Centres
“Christmas has started really strongly, especially at Tiptree where our customers are used to seeing our displays and every year they are eager for us to open the door to the Christmas shop. At Sudbury our Christmas is quite different to under previous ownership and it will take a few more years to build momentum. We have opened Christmas in the new Plant House at Sudbury with a vastly wider range of product than last year.
“We are discussing in our teams about plans for the 2021 season. We still feel that we are reacting to change and are operating a business that is quite different to years past. Therefore, the focus has still been on making changes to ensure that the Perrywood team and customers are not only kept safe but also have a pleasant shopping experience. We have had to change the layout of the shop, the till queuing system and the style of merchandising to allow for wider aisles.
“For autumn we have reacted where we can but for many items it is too late. Christmas order books closed in March and any surplus stock they may have has been mopped up already. In our food area we have normally stocked ‘Gift and Treat’ but this autumn we have expanded to include local frozen meats including venison and wild boar as well as cooking sauces, flour and eggs.
“Bulb and seed sales have been extremely strong along with autumn plants. We are still experiencing longer lead times from suppliers and items going out of stock that wouldn’t normally which can be frustrating for customers. Those that have learnt from this experience already pick items up to put on the shelf as a spare and we are therefore seeing lots of out of season purchases on many gardening products.”
Martin Cowell and Lynsey Crofts, Cowells Garden Centre
“We have more customers seeking advice on care for their plants than previously, these frequently include what type of compost to use and frequency of watering. This reflects the inexperience of many of our new customers, we are more than happy to offer advice and encouragement though and it’s wonderful to have so many people interested in gardening.
“We have always carried a large range of outdoor plants, we are working to ensure that this continues and that we have sufficient volume to cater for the increased demand. Plants and core gardening products will continue to see sales growth as well as garden furniture.
“We have increased the size of our houseplant department again to reflect the continued growth in this area.
Julian Winfield, Haskins Garden Centres
"No new initiatives specifically, we have been too busy taking money. We have spaced out Christmas to make it easier to social distance and we think this has worked and is something we will continue to do after Covid. Customers have been in and out of the garden centres quickly, social distancing has been the driver for this I suspect.
"Keeping on top of our inventory has been key this year to make sure that we had stock of the key lines, through enormous efforts of our buying department and loyalty to our suppliers we have achieved this.
"The weather will remain our biggest driver, as always. We were lucky this year with customers being at home more and the weather was fantastic."
If you'd like to add your comments about the "New Gardener" phenomenon, please use the comments space below or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Read GTN's compilation of "New Gardener" research and analysis in the October issue of GTN on-line here