Challenging weather dampened garden centre sales

UK’s wettest spring since 1986 impacts garden centre sales, but non-gardening categories perform well

Old fashioned cash register

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has released its latest Market Update for June, reflecting on the performance of garden centres amidst the UK’s wettest spring since 1986. The challenging weather conditions, with rainfall reaching 155% of the long-term average and sunshine at only 83% of the seasonal norm, significantly impacted garden centre sales. However, general sales were buoyed by strong performing catering (+13%) and food and farm shop (+12%) sales, providing customers with extra incentive to visit when the weather is less favourable for gardening.

Overall garden centre sales and transaction numbers declined by -3% in May. Garden/gardening category sales were particularly hard-hit, showing an -8% decrease, with outdoor plant sales suffering the most. Sales of hardy plants declined by -18% compared to May 2023, and bedding plants, garden tools, and outdoor living items like garden furniture and BBQs also saw significant declines.

According to the HTA Chief Executive, Fran Barnes: “Challenging weather conditions once again led to a noticeable decline in garden centre sales for gardening enthusiasts. On the other hand, footfall was still strong with non-garden/gardening categories, particularly in catering and food, performing well, demonstrating the resilience of our sector. Consumer confidence is on the rise, and with improving weather, we expect to see increased gardening activity. The growing consumer optimism and high wage growth position the industry to take advantage of any pent-up demand for gardening products. Nevertheless, we are mindful of the cost pressures facing businesses, particularly rising wage bills and shipping costs. Our focus remains on supporting our members through these challenges and advocating for favourable conditions for the horticulture sector, especially during this critical election period.”

The growth in non-garden/gardening category sales, particularly in catering and food, underscores the strategic value of diversified offerings in weather-dependent industries. The +6 % increase in gifting and wild bird care products from May 2023 further supports this notion.

Year-to-Date Comparison: Despite May’s setbacks, year-to-end May sales in 2024 are up +4% compared to 2023. Consumer confidence rose by 2 points in May as consumers became more optimistic about their personal finances amidst falling inflation (CPIH 3%) and high wage growth (5.8%).

Businesses continue to face cost pressures from rising wage bills and increasing shipping costs. Improved weather conditions are anticipated to stimulate gardening demand, providing a potential boost to garden centre sales in the coming months. The full Market Update Report, including detailed analysis and strategic recommendations, is available to HTA members.

The Garden Centre Association’s (GCA) Barometer of Trade (BoT) figures for May, also confirmed similar results, showing a small, overall year-to-date increase of +3.72%. According to the data from the organisation’s member garden centres, 11 of the 13 categories recorded when compared to May 2023 were up too. GCA CEO, Peter Burks, says: “As expected, given the lack of any sort of decent weather for gardening, some of May’s traditional sales have come in slightly down on last year.” According to the GCA, the largest garden centres seem to have suffered the most and are down slightly by -3.44%. Burks added: “As usual, in bad weather, the best performing categories were once again catering, clothing, food halls and farm shops and giftware. Overall, we are still seeing a small positive increase in the year-to-date figure and our members seem on the whole pretty pragmatic about the weather.”

The GCA BoT reports are compiled using actual sales figures and provide an up-to-date trading position statement. They are made available mid-month following the end of the prior month after all member garden centres have submitted their results.