Can garden centres afford to re-open?

With the time approaching that garden centres are likely to be permitted, with restrictions, to open, some garden centres are asking if they can afford to open.

The summer months are usually a period of negative cashflow for garden centres, but the money made in the spring would normally provide a cushion. April would probably have been a record month, as it was the sunniest on record, but has been lost along with half of May.

Without this cushion and with future sales potentially restricted, garden centres face difficult months. How will they manage?

It appears that garden centres are divided

Many garden centres say they want to re-open. But there is a not insignificant minority who think their best hope for survival is to remain closed and maintain a delivery service, perhaps till the autumn.

One independent, typical of many mid-sized garden centres, explained the challenges saying, “Clearly financially,  it would be great to open and be able to offer a full range of products which would potentially bring in a greater revenue.

“However I do not see how, at our centre, we can open and manage in a responsible way the potential large influx of customers if as expected we will need to maintain social distancing throughout the centre and at the pinch points such as the till areas. This would mean that we would not be able to keep our staff or customers safe from potential contact.”

Practical issues

Practical issues the business faces include, limited car park space, difficulty in managing customer separation in different parts of the garden centre (what happens if it rains and people rush to come in from the plant area?), finding time when staff can safely replenish shelves – do they close sections at a time? 

A second independent owner wrote, “Come mid-June, then on into July, August, September, October, and November can we afford to be ½ opening our businesses? There will be the additional operating costs of increased staff levels to manage social distancing, police one in one out policies and deal with customers who still think ‘our rules’ do not apply to them.

Who will help garden centres?

He continued, “But as we then get into the summer and autumn, is the government going to allow us to re furlough our staff or the biggest proportion of them as sales slide away again?

“Are our banks going to continue to be told to support us (even though they ignored the government instruction in the first place). I suspect not.  It will then be down to us to make staff redundant, bear the cost of that and wipe up the mess. We need to think about this carefully what we wish for. Partial re-opening may be a one-way street.” 

Chris Bonnett of Bonnetts Garden Village and Gardening Express said, “At this stage, the industry might be better to lobby for financial measures and assistance rather than reopening, as the bulk of seasonal trade will be gone and you enter potentially break even/loss making months for stores. I doubt all will reopen, and it could be a lot worse for some if they do, it would almost be better to write the year off now for some and start again in 2021!”

We need to open for a myriad of reasons

Many garden centres are clamouring to open.

Former HTA president Adam Wigglesworth wrote, “We will absolutely be re-opening enthusiastically, with all social distancing protocols in place as per the requirements. Clearly levels of business will be different and we will be managing staff levels accordingly. There is pent up demand, we cannot keep up with our deliveries. We need to open up for a myriad of reasons …”

Nick Crabbie of Berwick Garden Centres said, “I find it incredible that any garden centre would not welcome a partial re-opening in May. This is not about loss making but business survival! Our staff have been pulling out all the stops these past six weeks, across three sites, and are currently achieving online sales of 25% of last year's total sales, which include catering… Social distancing should not be too hard to manage… There will be an on-going need for delivery and collection services for customers that remain in isolation…

“One thing is certain. If we were not straining every sinew to achieve online sales, we would be in a very much worse financial position than we are now.”

Stock availability

Neil Grant of Ferndale wrote, “We are convinced this summer will not be like any other summer we have traded through. June for us has always been a very profitable month…

“With pubs, restaurants & cafes staying closed and no holiday travel, there is a good chance they will carry on gardening. The dilemma then being stock availability. We are certainly looking at cost savings for the future to cushion the quieter months.”

Another retailer said, “A shopping trip to our Stax cash and carry in the early hours of Friday morning brought home to me the apparent shambles many garden product suppliers are in. Stax and their staff were doing a brilliant job, but with supplies from many of the leading brands in the garden trade just not available to them and their own stocks now all but exhausted, their stock availability was not good. Even if those channels right themselves within two weeks, that is ½ of May gone.”

Garden centres and suppliers face difficult decisions and find it a help to read what others are thinking. Add your comments using the button below.

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Here's what others have said...
Garden Centre Buyer,  13 May 2020:
...All the best to those reopening today , hope it goes well for you!
Neil,  8 May 2020:
...We turned our Café into a essential food store, using the same suppliers, Furloughed 12 out of 15 staff, switched off all lights, heater, cancelled all contracts eg skips, cut all costs to minimum, bought in veg plants, summer bedding herbaceous, climbers which we put on Danish trollies in carpark (like the supermarkets), bought in pallets of compost in carpark. made a single file path through front of shop, that goes past propagation, seed stands, sundries, tools and other key garden lines to the essential food area incl off licence, pet food (& Bird Food), hardware area. We have sent a price list of everything we do, to everybody in the area, for them to email orders to us for delivery. Making sure floor is marked with 2m stripes and staff keep everything clean. offered free local delivery to villages on our doorstep. Tried webshop but stock supply issues made it impractical, spent a lot of time tracking down key selling lines which are in short supply, so find we are the only place to buy certain lines eg 8ft canes Seems to have worked well.
Garden Product Supplier,  5 May 2020:
...I disagree with this statement: "the apparent shambles many garden product suppliers are in" From what I am seeing, all UK based suppliers are open and taking orders from centres who need stock. We all have excellent stock availability (no surprises).
Nigel,  30 Apr 2020:
...Maybe it's an Essex thing but not many are actually fully closed in a radius of Southend, most are doing deliveries and click and collect. A few are actually open and allowing small amounts of people in for i assume pet foods etc, i haven't personally been in any. People have told me that cars are queueing on the road.....i thought we were only supposed to go out in our cars for essential items. has just posted this on Facebook today, 30/4/20. We’ve been working very closely with the Council ever since the lockdown began. Following recent visits & safety inspections, we are pleased to announce that we will be able to open very soon... we’re just finalising the last few safety measures to make sure all of our lovely staff and customers are protected. We’ll let you know as soon as we’re ready to open the doors to you once again but it will be VERY VERY SOON!! can’t wait to see you all. I see Longacres at Chelmsford ( previous Wyevale) are showing supermarket type shelves full of food, Open. They seem to be getting around it. Personally, we're a very small firm and neither me or the wife fancy catching the virus and if we had staff we wouldn't expect them to do anything that we wouldn't do.

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