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Garden centres revisited
How inspired were you on your last visit to a garden centre? Did you leave with a trolley full of plants or empty-handed?
My recent comments on this blog certainly created some interesting responses (thank you – we love hearing your thoughts), and it appears many of you think garden centres could do more to inspire their customers.
After all, isn’t it the shared passion of garden centre staff that makes your visit more rewarding? Shouldn’t their enthusiasm and knowledge be something every customer values, building loyalty that ensures repeat visits, and repeat business?
Speaking on a panel at a trade conference at the Garden and Leisure Exhibition called Glee last Monday to debate these issues, I was struck by just how many people who either run garden centres or work in them actually agree that more could be done to boost inspiration.
Plant quality is paramount, good advice essential, and better displays and interaction can entice gardeners to buy more.
Traditional A-Z benches lined with plants in alphabetical order were defended by some and attacked by others. They help customers (and staff) locate plants if they know what they’re looking for, but you could hardly call these benches inspirational. To new gardeners they can even appear intimidating with their endless rows of Latin names.
Seasonal displays are needed too. Creative planting ideas and combinations help demonstrate which plants work well together, and would probably tempt people to buy more plants at the same time. Highlighting plants suitable for different sites, soils and situations also helps make them more accessible.
Yes, there are good garden centres out there doing just this, and the very best ones in the country are always worth visiting if you’re in the area. In particular, check out the winners of the Garden Centre of the Year 2010 run by the Garden Centre Association (GCA).
A different take on assessing garden centres is to look at their turnover, and Garden Retail magazine has done just that and published the Top 100 Garden Centres in the UK by turnover.
But some garden centres do expect the BBC to be providing the public with inspiration for them. One even asked me why the BBC wasn’t doing more! Well, in addition to the inspiring content in Gardeners’ World magazine and on this web site, I’d say that the BBC is the only broadcaster doing anything to promote gardening across TV, radio, web, print and more. How about ITV, Channel 4 and the rest putting gardening on their agenda?
Without doubt, television is the most influential medium around. The garden industry was all a buzz back in the late 90s when millions tuned in to Ground Force. Garden centre tills rang out at almost deafening levels as ‘the Dimmock Effect’ encouraged many people to build water features and makeover their gardens. Tommy Walsh demonstrated just how quick and easy it was to build decking, while timber everywhere was treated to a coating of Barleywood Blue paint thanks to Alan Titchmarsh’s persuasive brushstrokes. Ground Force certainly influenced millions in a way no gardening programme had done before or has done since.
Perhaps it’s time for the garden industry to pool their creative juices and bring their combined passion to life in new garden centre promotions. They have a tremendous opportunity to engage with their local community, enhancing and personalising the gardening experience – something that internet shopping sites can never do.
I wonder what else gardeners would like to see their local garden centre do to inspire them? Do let me know.
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