Garden centres face a challenging spring

Fran Barnes, Chief Executive of the HTA comments on February garden centre performance and outlook for spring.

Spring crocus

The Horticultural Trade Association’s (HTA) Market Update, garden centre sales showed an+6% increase in overall garden centre sales compared to the same period last year. Fran Barnes, Chief Executive of the HTA, commented:

“In February 2024, England experienced extremely heavy rainfall, with the southern half of the country being hit the hardest, receiving nearly 15 times the amount of rainfall compared to February 2023. Despite this, garden centre sales saw a rise of 6% compared to February 2023 and 11% compared to February 2022, indicating a positive start to the upcoming Spring season.

“Although some gardening categories faced challenges, such as a 6% decline in hardy plant sales and a 4% decrease in seed sales compared to the previous year, customers continued to invest in bedding plants (up 6%), bulbs (up 6%), and indoor plants (up 5%) in February 2024. Gardening sales in the first two months of the year are typically small, but these figures suggest that consumers are taking a proactive approach in preparing for the Spring gardening season and enhancing their indoor spaces while waiting for the weather to improve.

“Our Market Update also shows a dip in consumer confidence, which fell 2 points in February 2024 due to the announcement of the UK entering a recession. However, confidence levels were still 18 points higher than the previous year. Notably, concerns for the National Health Service (NHS) have surpassed financial worries for only the second time since the onset of the pandemic, reflecting shifting priorities amidst ongoing societal challenges.

“Besides domestic factors, global dynamics continue to influence the market landscape. Uncertainty in the Middle East contributed to a surge in crude oil prices, subsequently impacting fuel prices. Furthermore, shipping container costs remain elevated, at 82% higher than last year. This adds pressure on business overheads alongside rising wage bills as the National Living Wage sees upcoming revisions in April.

“Looking ahead, the HTA is mindful of not only the potential challenges posed by unpredictable weather patterns and potential delays in plant supply but also the impending changes to imports from the EU with the introduction of Border Control Posts and switching off the Point of Destination checks that currently happen. As spring approaches, our peak season, our members are under huge pressure to ensure a steady supply of plants available within garden centres at a suitable price point. We are still asking the government to keep the current on-site expert plant checks system actively working until such a time when we have clarity and confidence that BCPS can effectively handle our goods. We also need to ensure that significant cost and administration burdens are not placed on our member businesses, predominantly SMEs. Our members remain agile in adapting their strategies to navigate these uncertainties effectively, but we need to ensure they are supported to keep Britain gardening and green.”