The topic of garden centre re-opening, so close to all of our hearts, reached new levels of attention today with two MP's asking questions as to when garden centres would be able to re-open during Prime Ministers Question Time today.
In answer, First Secretary Dominic Raab, standing in for Boris Johnson, said "The current advice, as I've indicated, from Sage was that relaxing any of those measures - including the ones he refers to - would risk damage to the public health, our economy, and frankly the progress we've made, the sacrifices so many have made, the lives that have been lost.
"Can I reassure him that they looked specifically at garden centres and we will continue, as I've indicated earlier, to keep the evidence on each individual measure under very close review."
The questions come as a result of lobbying and media activity led by the HTA. Past President Adam Taylor told GTN Xtra: "It is a privilege to keep in touch with is the incredible amount of work that James Barnes, Boyd Douglas-Davies and the HTA Team are putting in on behalf of not just the membership of the HTA but all growers, retailers and landscapers. When we look back, this work should not be over-looked by those of us in horticulture as there are some individuals who have gone above and beyond to have achieved the publicity and the support from the public and key decision makers. They deserve our thanks."
Elsewhere in this issue of GTN Xtra you'll find more coverage of the HTA activity. Well done to all the consumer media outlets who have picked up on this and helped our cause. From our conversations with garden centres it is clear the demand from gardeners for plants and other gardening products is extremely high and garden centres are starting to plan for re-opening. One way systems are being planned and implemented in centres across the country and there must be a good trade in perpsex screens for till areas. In this issue of GTN Xtra there are stories from suppliers who are offering services to help with a safe return to trading and the Garden Radio team here at Potting Shed Press has even been recording social distancing messages ready to be played in garden centres as soon as re-opening is allowed.
Following on from last week we've had a few more suppliers contact us with feedback on how they are faring during the crisis:
More suppliers feedback
Craig Hall, Deco-Pak: "The government itself stated that 'manufacturing plays an important role in the economy' and as such we wanted to continue to support our retailers and their customers during this time. In order to do this, we have had to adapt our business in quite a considerable way, with the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff remaining our absolute priority. It is this that has been at the centre of the changes we have made, from furloughing staff, implementing social distancing measures throughout our site, increased cleaning schedules and the introduction of cleaning stations.
"We appreciate that these are unprecedented and scary times, so in addition to the changes already mentioned, we are also offering all our staff, whether working or furloughed, access to our product portfolio, enabling them to complete garden projects at home. It's a small gesture that we hope will show our appreciation for their efforts and ongoing commitment to Deco-Pak, as well as helping to boost their mental and physical wellbeing.
"Additionally, we're also donating products such as birdhouses, bird feeders, playpit sand and our Rockin' Pebbles and Pens to local schools that have remained open to support the children of key workers, as well as two local hospices - Overgate In Elland and Forget Me Not Children's Hospice in Huddersfield. We hope that these products will bring a little bit of enjoyment to those during these challenging times, and perhaps the Rockin' Pebbles might even be used to create positive messages of support for NHS and other key workers.
"In regard to our support for retailers, we are certainly not operating at our normal capacity, but we are able to continue to service our customers. Products, particularly DIY products, have seen a sharp increase in demand as the nation looks to improve their homes and gardens during this period of lockdown, and we are working hard to ensure that high levels of stock remain available. We now offer a drop ship service for our retail partners, supported by contactless collection. This is minimising the amount of 'hands' in contact with product, whilst also streamlining the process making for quicker and safer delivery.
"Like everyone we are of course looking forward to getting back to some semblance of normality, but for now we will continue to follow the advice of the government and the World Health Organisation as we navigate our way towards, hopefully, an end to lockdown. We will continue to make adjustments to our working processes as we move forwards, and will communicate openly with our staff, retail partners and local community as and when these changes are implemented."
Adam Taylor, Taylors Bulbs: "We have had jobs that cannot wait such as field-walking the flowers that must be done for the health of the crop, selling and processing last year's agricultural crops, drilling sugar beet, planting potatoes as well as supplying existing and new customers with whatever summer bulbs, seed potatoes, etc. they can take according to the channels they are operating in. The bulbs have been a drop in the ocean compared to the peak weeks we were expecting from garden retailing but we've been active enough to keep our full-time workers employed.
"We are fortunate in that we have facilities where the team can spread themselves out at this time of year (I am sitting alone in my office that usually seats eight). And we are now planning for the bulb harvest and packing campaigns.
"We believe the autumn season will be a crucial part of the recovery and we also need to help ourselves as we were approaching the payment date for the January deliveries of summer bulbs, seed potatoes, etc., many of which will still be hanging in closed garden retailers. So we are preparing as much as possible for a successful autumn campaign to help our customers. Although our sales team are grounded and unable to contact many of their buyers, we have been putting together suggested autumn orders in the hope that we can fine-tune those in the short window we will have after the inevitable re-opening. We know our customers will be busy enough making up for lost time, and we will run out of it before deliveries need to start so we feel the more we can do to prepare, the better.
"The other aspect of my working day that it is a privilege to keep in touch with is the incredible amount of work that James Barnes, Boyd Douglas-Davies and the HTA Team are putting in on behalf of not just the membership of the HTA but all growers, retailers and landscapers. When we look back, this work should not be over-looked by those of us in horticulture as there are some individuals who have gone above and beyond to have achieved the publicity and the support from the public and key decision makers. They deserve our thanks.
"I hope you are all well and I look forward to boring ol' normal!"
Michael Wooldridge, Woodlodge: "The lockdown period couldn’t have hit us and the industry as a whole at a worse time. After the poor weather in January and February and the perfect conditions we are now enjoying, it was set to be one of the best seasons we would have had. It has really put the disappointment of a rainy weekend into perspective!
"We are lucky to be in an industry that is used to adapting to change. It's great to see so many of our customers responding to the challenge with innovation and creativity.
"From an operational view, we remain open with staff at the warehouse and a small team of office staff working remotely. We have taken the opportunity to do some tidying up and have full plans in place to rapidly bring the business back up to full operational capacity when required.
"We have seen some customers already placing orders in anticipation of garden centres reopening and we have plenty of stock which means we are ideally positioned to service any pent up demand when centres are able to open up. We are looking forward to it!"
Malcolm Andrews, Panacea: "Panacea have continued serving our trade only customers during lockdown, operating safety first with a reduced warehouse crew. Office staff are working from home or safe distancing at our Swindon office - my thanks go out to all our superb colleagues, and respect for employees around the country who are keeping engines ticking over in these unprecedented times of uncertainty and anxiety.
"We are all learning new skills, especially ensuring communications are maintained throughout our business at all levels. One aspect which has personally taken me by surprise is the sheer time consumption of dealing with disruption! Our Company is expanding rapidly and importing stocks from abroad and gearing up high stock levels for a successful spring season has become a real problem. We were able to postpone further shipping at the beginning of the lockdown but now our warehouse space is crammed, costs are at a premium for additional temporary space, and the containers for now, keep coming!
"We shall be taking advantage of the various Government assistance packages where we can, facilities which will greatly help us and other small businesses to survive this potentially very damaging crisis. However we look forwards to a safe resumption of trading and the tills ringing once again, I’m getting a little tired of jam sandwiches. The signs look more positive since the start of lockdown and we now tentatively look to the future; needless to say we are ready and waiting.
"I do feel we will be a stronger team as we gradually come out the other side with new ways of looking at our business, new skills learned, and better ways of interacting with our customers and colleagues."