Why going to garden centres is the new “going out out”

Home & Garden

February 18, 2021 • Bel Booker

Going to the garden centre will be the new “going out out” this summer, as our gardens become the primary spaces for socialising. 

Following the latest easing of lockdown measures, garden centres across Britain are re-opening and people are allowed to meet outside – including in private gardens. It means that our gardens (if we’re lucky enough to have one) have now become one of the most important spaces in our homes. 

We’ll be spending more time in our gardens than ever, using them as a place to reconnect with loved ones, catch up with friends, entertain, celebrate and let children play together again. The new significance attached to outdoor areas is changing the way we view them. An overgrown patch of grass and a stained patio is no longer good enough – we want our gardens to be nice places to be. 

This new way of life is leading people to invest increasing amounts of time and money in their outside spaces, effectively turning them into outdoor rooms. As a result, rather than going to pubs and restaurants, Brits are flocking to garden centres. Here, they can stock up on plants, outdoor furniture and accessories to make their own homes the perfect venue for hospitality.

Business is booming for garden centres

Compared to March 2019, business at UK garden centres this year was up a staggering 90%. According to Horticulture Week, the industry is experiencing record highs, seeing not only an increased number of sales but also a much higher average basket size. The surge in demand is leading to garden centres requesting six to 10 times as many plants as they normally would for the time of year.

Director of Alton Garden Centre Andy Bunker said consumers are buying far more than they would usually: “Customers are buying up to four times the usual amount of hedging, compost and bedding to decorate their gardens as lockdown eases.” He added that they were “spending £300 at a time.”

Meanwhile, a survey of 2,000 homeowners commissioned by B&Q, found that Brits prioritised the garden more than any room in the house during lockdown. Nearly half of respondents had completed some form of DIY in their garden area, with 27 per cent saying they had prioritised fixing up their garden so they could spend time in it with friends and family. 

B&Q said sales of statement outdoor tiles were up 462 per cent, fairy lights up 56 per cent and outdoor rugs up 11 per cent, as people try to create indoor living outside.

Paul White, commercial director at B&Q, said: “We’ve seen how spending more time indoors has led to people falling back in love with their homes and discovering different ways to get the most out of them way after lockdown is lifted. With the nation’s confidence in their DIY skills growing from strength to strength, we don’t expect this boom to slow down anytime soon.”

Making hay while the sun shines

For home and garden stores with a network of outlets, now is a pivotal time. The boom in the sector represents a massive opportunity for innovation and expansion. One example is Dobbies, which has launched a new store format to target urban gardeners

The brand debuted its Little Dobbies store in Edinburgh last November and has now opened another in Bristol. Unlike Dobbies’ larger garden centres, Little Dobbies’ core offering is horticulturally-focused, with a curated range of convenience gardening products – ideal for those living in cities with compact gardening spaces.

Meanwhile, other retailers are getting in on the act, adding garden centres to their existing offerings. Discount brand B&M, for example, is taking over a former Toys R Us site in the Black Country where it will develop a 20,000 sq ft store that will include a 5,000 sq ft external garden centre. B&M will also complete a similar project in Manchester. And fellow discount chain JTF Mega Discount Warehouses will open a new store in Hull with “an extensive garden centre outside.”

Another new player to enter the gardening and outdoor furniture space this year is Joules, with the acquisition of Garden Trading for £9 million. Garden Trading designs its own range of home, garden and outdoor products that it sells direct to consumers online and to more than 1,000 stockists across the UK. Joules said it plans to leverage Garden Trading’s design and sourcing strengths to develop a broader range of Joules-branded home, garden and outdoor products.

It’s clear from the money being invested in the garden sector that the industry is confident about its prospects – not just in the short term as we come out of lockdown, but as a long-term trend. But to make the most of the forecasted growth – and not get left behind in a more crowded market – garden centre brands must increase their focus on marketing. 

“To be successful in this environment, garden centres with a network of outlets will require consistent marketing collateral and management,” says Gemma Stirling, Managing Director of Clear Marketing. “This is where we excel. We have years of experience working with national retailers in the home sector. 

“Clear Marketing can provide local marketing toolkits for branches that want to manage things themselves or we can be involved end-to-end from brand strategy to delivery of all communications. The garden centre sector is really exciting right now and we hope to bring our ideas, skills and experience to some new client partners.” 

Ready to grow your garden centre brand? Let’s work together to make it bloom. Give us a call on 0161 448 8008.