As we went into Lockdown back in March 2020, Derek Bunker at Alton Garden Centre in Essex made a number of predictions for garden centre trading for the rest of the year which proved right, including the foresight that we would have a record Christmas as a result of the pandemic crisis.
With that in mind, on New Year’s Eve, GTN Xtra asked Derek what his predictions for 2021 are:
“Realistically, looking forward to 2021, I think you've got to go back to 2019. If you want to look at figures, you want to look at turnover, you want to look at what you sold, go back to 2019 and add 15 per cent, but no more than that. If you sold 50 spades in 2019, then, you know, you might sell 55 or 60 this year. The fact that you sold 80 or 100 last year is irrelevant. 2020 was exceptional. We will never see that again. Those of us that carried on, we've seen some good turnover. But, being sensible about next year, we're not going to see that again. So don't get too excited about that.
“The second thing, I think generally gardening is going to be bouyant. And that's on the basis that there's a lot of indecision about holidays. Normally people are booking their summer holidays now and there's a lot of people hanging back, saying, are we going to go? I think they're going to spend more time in the garden again. And I think they'll be buying more plants and barbecues and the like.
“The third thing, because we were fortunate enough to be open, classed as essential, a lot of new customers came in for something to do and they realised that garden centres we're not just plants and compost, but they're actually offering much more. We've all got gift departments. We've got lots of other nice things for gardening. And I think we have retained quite a few of those customers. They now accept that a garden centre is quite a nice place to go to, it's not just about plants and compost. They have got lots of other nice things as well. I think that's going to help us along really good.
“As far as the season is concerned, it's all going to be about weather again. Easter is becoming less relevant every year now because what with being shut Easter Sunday, as soon as it starts to warm up, people start gardening.
“I think one of the biggest issues in the coming year, 2021, can be stock availability. There's still shortages of stuff, this issue with containers coming into the country and all the delays on things, that's going to take some time to sort out and things like garden furniture and barbecues, all the stuff that comes from the Far East, who knows?
“I don't understand the concern amongst my fellow garden centre operators about the fact that there's this six to seven per cent surcharge on containers, which is going to put the price of garden furniture up. The reason I say that is someone coming in this year looks at a set of furniture at £799, they are unlikely to know it was £750 last year, So there's all this unnecessary worry. At the end of the day if we're selling for £799 rather than £750 we're actually making fractionally more.
“And the only other thing I’d like to comment on is the Internet. I don't think it’s going to be half as good as everybody thinks it's going to be. People like to come in to garden centres. They like to go and see stuff, they like to feel it, they like to look at it. So I don't think necessarily there's going to be a massive increase. My concern is the manufacturers and suppliers who I believe should only supply bona-fide retailers.
Suppliers should look at their business sensibly and only supply bona-fide retailers who will put products online at the proper price. That way everybody's happy.
Finally, we asked Derek about his plans for the Alton Garden centre coffee shop which has been closed since March 2020: “I will not be re-opening it until social distancing finished. If it takes till July, it will take still July. At the end of the day, if I open it, I'm causing more problems than if I had it closed.
“If I'm wrong, I'll change it. But my plan at the moment is certainly not to open it until I can do it properly. I don't like half doing things.