Through the throng of garden press, a rather determined elderly gentleman worked his way towards me at last week’s Garden Press Event. ‘Are you the tall lady I am to meet to discuss this?’, he inquired whilst feverishly pointing to an edition of Garden Centre Update (GCU) magazine. Unfortunately, qualifying only on the ambiguous height requirements, he swiftly moved on. Only, as later revealed in various discussions on the trade floor, to every tall woman in the room. One can only hope he eventually made it to his elevated rendezvous. Unbeknownst to him, or perhaps part of a masterfully cunning plan, every 6ft+ woman in attendance, is now very aware and a tad curious of GCU magazine.
Stocked up on complementary mints from the front desk, I worked my way through the dizzying array of (new) products, and excited trade representatives. Mystic Meg, I certainly am not, but taking the trade collective at the Garden Press Event as a microcosm of the garden retail market, a pattern of developments seemed to emerge.
Home sweet home
According to the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA)1, the market is healthy, holding steadily at the £4.6 billion mark. The coming year is expected to show similar if not improved performance in light of the ‘retreat to home’ trend where the deteriorating macro economic conditions force consumers to look more to the domestic market. Bumper National Trust visits over the past year for example, do seem to suggest that Britons are increasingly spending their leisure time, more economically, on home soil.
Gardening too, is expected to enjoy the proceeds of this increased social currency2, led by the ‘grow your own’ trend. According to the HTA, 50% of gardeners intended to grow their own fruit, vegetables or salads in 2011, with at least 12% of these claiming to be first time growers. The ‘grow your own’ vogue is set to continue, with the subsequent expectation for further sales increases of vegetable seeds. Vegetable seed sales continue to outperform the sale of flower seeds. Though, if Sarah Raven is correct, there may be some traction in Cutting Flower seeds, as it is thought that consumers will look to cheaper options for their weekly flower fix.
No surprises therefore that the stands of (a.o); Thompson & Morgan, Kings and Suttons, presented a strong focus on vegetable seeds, with new exciting varieties proudly on display. Food lovers’ Franchi seeds, seemed to take this a step further, presenting a novel selection of Alpine, hence hardy, vegetable seeds. The larger multiples such as Homebase and B&Q, continue to extend their celeb ‘grow your own’ ranges, with Jaime Oliver and Alan Titchmarsh (respectively) firmly at the helm. Celebrity endorsed ranges will probably become more widespread. The Downtown Abbey inspired Turnip can’t be far behind.
Grow your own, needn’t be limited to vegetables though. Agralan Limited, presented their novel ‘Grow Your Own Ladybirds’ set. A simple rearing box laden with eggs, which with careful feeding and care will develop into aphid terminator larvae and eventually, delightful ladybirds. In light of the ever increasing focus on the use of biological controls, the Agralan sets, are almost certain to take off. Confirmed too by the mounting omnipresence, of those rather cumbersome insect shelters available on the market.
Growth through chatty gardeners
The HTA reports evidence that irrespective of age, consumers are talking more about gardening with more sharing ideas and knowledge, hence further raising the profile of what is surely, the best possible hobby. Good news, as it presents opportunities for market growth, and potential for the trade to ‘tap into’ the heightened gardening mindset of consumers. The importance of online communications, paired with mobile capabilities, should therefore not be underestimated, especially for those looking to increase market share. Web presence alone is not enough, but involvement in the ‘word of mouth’ social media is crucial. Without the intention of blowing one’s own trumpet, support of the garden blogging community is certainly something to consider. Of all media, bloggers are probably ‘closest’ to consumers, being not only gardeners, but directly in touch with the market through immediate feedback to blog content, by means of comment functionality and related channels such as Twitter and Facebook. With the internet fast becoming the first place where people tend to seek information, online governance will become increasingly critical for the industry as a whole.
Apart from sales & marketing potential, the web also provides substantial product development opportunities for the horticultural industry. A former entertainment software (games) exec with a passion for gardening, Peter Laughton, has developed an ingenious online, free to use, no download required, garden design tool at Plantify.co.uk. Laughton’s previous credentials are certainly evident, as the application is clever, thoughtful and easy to use for amateurs and professionals alike. Clever use of both established navigatory tools, paired with unique functionality, allows one to map out one’s garden patch, determine orientation and soil type, outline established tree and their shade cast. Subsequently one can start (re)designing the garden. An extensive and growing plant directory, enables the choice and (eventually direct purchase) of suitable plants for the garden. Progressively more companies are providing intelligent online applications at no charge, where by extensive usage, revenue will be generated through advertising, enhancements and commissions on product sales. Escalating usage of the internet and increasing consumer confidence to make online purchases, will put companies such as Plantify in good stead, but volume will be key. Further diversification, through the sale of garden furniture, features and tools etc., is probably on the cards. Note, one needn’t be a software guru to take advantage of new technology. Our very own garden journo, blogger, hat adorning; Mr James Alexander Sinclair was proudly touting his snazzy newly developed and soon-to-be-launched, garden app (for iPad) called IntoGardens. Furthermore, renowned plantsman Noel Kingsbury, recently launched his range of e-books for Kindle, Ipad and other such reading devices. All very exciting developments.
Garden furniture resuscitation
Despite reports of a declining garden furniture market due to falling disposable income levels, the big multiples reported positive trading on outdoor (home & garden) products last year, much credited to good weather conditions. B&Q reported growth in sales of their outdoor seasonal ranges, with garden furniture sales up by 68%. The garden furniture market is steered, not only by sunlight, but also the development of the ‘outdoor living culture’, requiring comfortable seating, lighting, and above all, food preparation paraphernalia. With more people focused on their gardens, the garden furniture and outdoor (home & garden) products market seems to look more positive. Crocus, certainly seem to think so. Crocus, best known for their Chelsea Flower Show winning plant ranges, are extending their portfolio to include hardwood furniture ranges and home & garden related wares. The new Crocus range fits well into the revived ‘nostalgia’ trend, where consumers are increasingly demanding products of ‘traditional’ appeal made from quality (sustainable) materials, constructed to high (traditional) standards. Such a wide range of quality options available on the market, will hopefully spell the banishment of those horrid 80’s plastic garden furniture sets, once incredibly, rather popular.
Apart from furniture, Crocus too is going Dutch with their garden tools. Harrods have Sneeboer, and Crocus now offer De Wit. Herewith, an apology to all domestic garden tool manufacturers, as the competition from my tulip growing countrymen seems on the rise. Furthermore, commercial support through the extensive online sales motors of Harrods and Crocus should not be underestimated. If our shed is at all representative, the future for Dutch tools is looking bright, despite the price tag.
In terms of product development, nothing shined as brightly as the new introductions of the very young entrepreneur, Joe Page. Depressingly, the fact that I refer to him as young, can only mean that I too, am now part of the ‘matured’ population. Joe’s product is straightforward; quality nylon garden gloves, not dissimilar to CSM’s range, presented in a simple, easy to choose, range of three bright colours. Sometimes less choice is better. Gloves, or otherwise, it’s refreshing to see younger entrepreneurs coming into the market, with no fear of the established market dragons. Good luck to you Joe.
Chemical vs natural?
In light of the growing focus on the environment and associated media coverage on environmental issues, one couldn’t but feel for the chaps at the Bayer stand. Bayer AG, one of the largest chemical and pharmaceutical companies, produces many of the chemical controls present in most garden sheds throughout the country. Admittedly, we do use chemicals, but over the years our usage has reduced substantially, as our desire to use them dwindles. The Bayer representative explained that their portfolio includes biodegradable products and some based on natural ingredients as opposed to chemical compounds. He went on to explain, that (when relevant) they prefer not explain the ‘natural’ or ‘natural based’ nature of the product on the label, as this directly impacts sales. Negatively, that is. It seems that, the British public is turned off by natural based chemical controls, in that they are perceived to be less effective. A rather surprising yet worrying revelation. In Nordic, Dutch and German markets the contrary is true, where consumers harbour a strong preference for natural based, and natural marketed chemical controls.
In the past months, various reports and photographs of delightful rooftop gardens have been circulating in the media. With space becoming increasingly limited, particularly in inner cities, it is almost prescribed that green roofs and plant walls will become more common. The Germans have taken it a step further, where local authorities strongly support the greening of roofs as part of their environmental strategies, with some even having made it mandatory. Undoubtedly, a prospect of much interest to Eviroden, exhibiting their green curved, PlantfoilTM covered roofs. ‘Green roofs are becoming increasingly popular throughout Europe as people look for ways to green their environment and take small steps to counter global warming’, explained Enviroden’s Nigel Jupe.
It’s not just individuals though, as commercial companies are starting to realise the potential of their roof tops. The roof garden of Thornton’s Budgens supermarket, Crouch End, North London, is such an example. This (retail) award winning, non-profit venture, is a collaboration between Thornton’s Budgens, the Positive Earth Project and the local community. Proceeds from the sale of roof grown produce are reinvested in the project, aimed to inspire urban food growing. The mass of tiny Sedums tightly packed on the Enviroden (fit any garden building) roofs, did not look that tasty, but products such as these make the concept of green roofs more accessible for consumers.
I look forward to attending again next year, if only, enough courage can be mustered to initiate a conversation with the dashing Matthew (thank-goodness-my-husband-wasn’t-with-me) Wilson. On that note, had better get on with his book review….
(1), (2) HTA Garden Retail Market Analysis Report Executive Summary