Garden centre trading poised for recovery as RHS Chelsea boosts gardening inspiration

The Market Update by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) reflects on challenging April trading but shares optimism for May on account of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

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Overall garden centre sales were down in April 2024 by -10% versus April 2023. The weather, along with the year-on-year comparisons reflecting an earlier Easter, made for challenging trading. The increase in rainfall, 1.5 times that of last year, significantly impacted footfall and outdoor gardening activities.

However, the year to end of April sales were +2% vs 2023, which eliminates the Easter effect, and it is hoped that as the weather improves and spring/summer bedding comes into its own, along with the inspiration from the media coverage of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, it will reignite a passion to get back out into the garden.

Market update headlines

  • Catering Sales: April’s performance saw a 7% increase in catering sales compared to April 2023, with transactions up by 5%. As rainy weather deterred outdoor activities, consumers turned to garden centre cafes and restaurants for indoor leisure, highlighting the importance of diversified offerings in weather-dependent industries.
  • Consumer Confidence: Consumer confidence rose modestly, increasing by 2 points to -19. This figure remains 14 points higher than April 2023, indicating a more optimistic consumer outlook despite challenging weather and economic conditions. Wage growth continues to outstrip the rate of inflation (which has been gradually falling over the last year) bringing a boost to household finances.
  • Hardy Plants Sales: Hardy plant sales have declined 6% year-to-date up to the end of April compared to the same period in 2023, reflecting the overall downturn in plants and core gardening purchases due to the weather.
  • The Q1 poll results HTA & APL Business Barometer showed that on average HTA members were -1% behind budgets in terms of sales/order book values, but -5% where they expected to be in terms of net profits.

HTA Chief Executive Fran Barnes said: “April’s unseasonably high rainfall created tough conditions for gardening enthusiasts, resulting in a notable decrease in garden centre sales. Despite these challenges, May always offers a timely boost in inspiration, encouraging gardeners to prepare for the upcoming summer months.

“While garden/gardening categories suffered a decline of 14% due to the adverse weather and an earlier Easter in March, non-garden/gardening categories remained steady compared to April 2023 and even saw a 9% increase from 2022. This resilience is promising as it suggests potential for recovery as we move into the warmer months. Coupled with the flower show season from village to national level and increased media coverage on gardening at this time of year, playing a crucial role in inspiring both seasoned gardeners and newcomers, we expect to see a positive impact on garden centre sales in the coming weeks.

“However, we are still mindful that our sector continues to grapple with significant changes in border regulations affecting the import of plants and plant products. Since January 2021, businesses have faced increased costs and administrative burdens, further compounded by new border changes implemented in April 2024. This all impacts the sector’s competitiveness and ability to invest and grow. We continue to communicate our concerns to the Government.

“Our market update underscores the importance of flexibility in retail strategies to adapt to changing weather patterns, consumer behaviours, and external issues. The HTA continues to support its members by providing insights and advocating for favourable conditions in the horticulture sector.”