How Garden Centres can become the heart of a community

The heatwave and drought faced this summer demonstrate that our changing climate will impact lifestyles and gardening habits.  Tough times are ahead.  The cost-of-living crunch will make households think long and hard about every penny they spend.  

How can garden centres respond to this dual crisis ensuring they remain in business with a loyal and engaged customer base?  There are three strategies they might consider.

Climate proof gardening

Climate change will disrupt UK weather patterns.  We are likely to see weather systems get ‘stuck’ with more prolonged heatwave and droughts, there will be more extreme storms causing flash flooding. 

It is possible that gardeners will become increasingly wary of spending hard-earned cash on plants that might not survive these variations.

Garden centres can counter this concern by being explicit as to how gardeners can create more resilient gardens.  This could include highlighting drought resistant plants, educating customers on water efficient gardening and illustrating how increased planting can help to reduce flash floods.

Scientists also believe that urban heat is going to be a growing issue for households and here again garden centres can promote the value of plants that offer shading and the cooling benefits of water features.

Crucially, garden centres need to demonstrate that they are actively addressing the climate crisis with proactive messaging on reducing peat, reducing plastic use, sustainable gardening and efficient use of resources.

Cost saving guidance

Saving money will be at the forefront of many minds over the coming year.  Garden centres should respond by focusing on cost efficient gardening.  This could take several forms including practical advice on how growing vegetables, fruit and herbs can make use of even the smallest amount of space to produce cheap produce. 

Promoting home composting could illustrate how people can enhance the quality of their soil and be less dependent on buying product.  Water efficiency advice and devices could help those on water metres who might also be facing an on-going hosepipe ban.

Garden centres could even go a step further by inviting people to head over to their catering centres for a coffee as a warm and welcoming space during cold spells.  This could be linked to practical advice on saving energy in home linked to the sale of easy-to-use products such as foil for behind radiators and draught excluders

Garden centres in the community

It is likely that many will struggle emotionally with the challenges that they face.  Garden centres could become a welcoming space offering solace and comfort as well as practical support. 

For example, they might consider establishing a ‘Community Fridge’. 

By the end of 2023 there will over 500 Community Fridges across the UK which are spaces where people can freely access perishable food that would have been wasted.  This food could come from the centre’s own catering facilities, it might be gluts of fruit and veg grown by customers or could be from local retailers

Community Tool Shed

Similarly, a centre could also create a Community Tool Shed similar to this one in the US  This facility would be a place where people could borrow rather than buy tools that they need for one-off jobs saving them space and money.  This would illustrate to customers that garden centres are promoting the circular economy and are there to help.  It could also increase footfall on site and provide a positive story for social media and press.

The New Normal

It is likely that the changes in external circumstances are here for the long-term and should be viewed as the new normal.  This will require garden centres to rethink their operating model and role in society. 

Some of the changes will hit product sales and short-term profitability but are likely to increase long-term resilience by building a loyal customer base and increased footfall.

About Trewin Restorick

Trewin Restorick was the Founder and CEO of Hubbub UK.  Over 8 years, Trewin took the charity from concept through to a multi award-winning organisation. He stood down from being the CEO in May 2022 to establish a new organisation called Sizzle.  He will continue to support Hubbub as an Ambassador.

Trewin was recognised in 2020 with a Global Leader of the Year award. In 2021 he won the Business Green ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ and in 2022 voted by peers as the most influential person in the UK’s recycling and resource sector. 

Research into peat replacement

He has secured charitable grant funding for my new venture to undertake preliminary research. If the replacement of peat with composted food waste is to be viable, a complex jigsaw puzzle needs to be put together involving the waste industry, local authorities, horticulturalists, garden retailers, and the public.

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