Gardenforum’s Review of 2012

The story of 2012 can be read as the way that the industry reacted to the weather and the economy. There was also a question whether it could draw any benefit from the year’s two great events, the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. Here’s a pick from the stories on Gardenforum during 2012.

UK gardening provided the backdrop to both national events. A dedicated team of florists led by Mark Fane of Crocus had the honour of decorating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee barge that led the pageant of 1,000 boats down the Thames. At the Olympics, years of research paid off as banks of wildflowers bloomed suitably out of season on a site that had long carried the toxic residue from making car batteries and the like. Both were a triumph for the British landscape industry.

For the trade, the 2012 weather was the most obstructive that the industry can recall. The concern at the end of March was that hosepipe bans were a threat to sales across half the country. So there was relief when it rained over Easter allowing gardeners to plant without needing a hosepipe. The trouble was that it never stopped. Gardens were not planted, nursery production was thrown into chaos, peat could not be harvested and slugs grew bigger than ever.

Despite the dry first quarter, 2012 ended being the wettest year on record – or almost. This dampened many garden centres revenues by 10% or more.

But is it all the weather? Or is there a downward drag also from the economic climate? No one knows, but more now agree with Scotts’ Martin Breddy, that the fall in sales is due to more than the rain. How has the industry reacted?

On the supply side of the sector there has been consolidation. Bord Na Mona took on the distribution of Vital Earth, and Solus has taken on the Neudorff range. Henri Studio closed its UK distribution and Kelkay took exclusive rights to a part of its catalogue. Smart Solar announced at Glee that it had acquired exclusive rights to distribute Haxnicks products in the UK.

There were a number of acquisitions. New owners and £1m investment brought new life to Living Stone; Westland Horticulture bought Cranswick Pet Products, and Scheurich acquired PP Plastic, which will lead them into products for outdoor plants. The world leader in sprayers, Exel Industries, announced the purchase of Hozelock and 151 bought independent chemicals specialist Doff Portland.

The weather was blamed, at least in part, for the collapse of 2 major plant growers. Highland Heathers and Porters Horticultural were put into administration. There was also news that Amethyst Horticulture had bought Kent based Colourpacks (Newington Nurseries) and that Wyevale East Nurseries and East Horticulture, which operate as separate businesses on the same site in Kent, are merging to form Provender Nurseries.

2012 was a year of restructuring for Gardman. It brought in Jonathan Halford as its new chairman; he also chairs Forest Garden. Bird food production was brought onto a single site at Kings Lynn. But the most significant news came at the end of the year as the banks took control of the group, converting a significant part of the debt into shares. The company says this gives financial security and greater flexibility.

In June, Sinclair said sales were on par with last year, with full year results still expected to be in line with 2011. By July, the wet weather forced a profits warning to be followed by a second in August as the wet halted the peat harvest. A third warning in October cut the dividend and warned that peat shortages for 2013 would hit the professional sector. MD, Bernard Burns then announced he would be retiring (for personal reasons unrelated to recent trading) and Peter Rush, former MD of Hozelock was named as his successor.

Flying Flowers, Flowers Direct was sold as Flying Brands disposed of all its operation businesses. By August it was no longer selling plants and by the end of the year the once famous company had ceased to trade in the sector.

Garden Centres
On the retail side it was the smaller garden centre groups that were most acquisitive, lead by QD Stores’ continued expansion of Cherry Lane Garden Centres. In the year it has added a former garden centre site at Cromford in Derbyshire, Croft Nurseries and Garden Centre in East Yorkshire and Roman Way Garden Centre in Milton Keynes.

Hillview Group completed its second acquisition with Hilltop Garden Centre in Oxfordshire. The Garden Store has taken on the lease of Burford House Garden Centre in Tenbury Wells that house the National Collection of clematis. Blue Diamond bought the business and lease of Grosvenor Garden Centre.

Capital Gardens added to its own financial security with the sale of Highgate Garden Centre for development. It will continue to operate the site until planning permission is granted.

Other garden centre news included: - Whiteleys GC (Huddersfield) being placed in the hands of administrators; Barton Grange put development plans for Bolton on hold, while Klondyke Group leased Beverley Garden Centre near Hull. Hare Hatch Sheeplands had development plans rebuffed by Wokingham District Council and then found themselves facing enforcement action against a number of planning breaches.

The Multiples
The year started with a short list of private equity houses preparing to submit final bids for The Garden Centre Group. At the end of March it was confirmed that the buyer was to be Guy Hands and Terra Firma. It was not until September that Stephen Murphy, former CX of Virgin, was named the new chairman and this lead to the unexpected departure of the chief executive, Nicholas Marshall. Two of his directors, Antonia Jenkinson and Lorrie Robertson, quickly followed his exit. The new CEO Kevin Bradshaw, former managing director of Avis, was named in early November. The new finance director is a Terra Firma insider, Nils Steinmeyer.

Expansion slowed for Dobbies in 2012. It won permission at Kings Lynn for a first joint store with Tesco, with a second proposed for East Kilbride. It also got approval for a new garden centre at York and exhibited plans for a site 2 miles from the centre of Harrogate. It also revealed plans to build next to Tesco at Inverness.

Next continued its cautious venture into gardening, announcing its second Home and Garden Outlet at Ipswich and a third at Warrington and said it has identified 19 more potential sites. Morrisons sought to open temporary garden centres at up to 100 stores

Marketing Groups
The marketing groups continued to thrive. Tillington celebrated its 25th anniversary. Members credit the Group with protecting their independence while giving them the buying and marketing clout of a large group. Sales are now almost £200m.

Future Marketing added Poplars Garden Centre of Dunstable, Simpsons of Inverness and a second Millbrook Garden Centre.

Trade Associations
2012 was a year of change for the trade associations and the HTA (Horticultural Trades Association) in particular. President Carol Paris switched roles and became the director general. She has given herself the task of restoring HTA finances and making it the umbrella association working more co-operatively with the associations. As evidence of this, The GCA (Garden Centre Association) has agreed to move its secretariat back to Theale after a rift of 5 years.

Other changes this year include the expansion of Garden Gift Cards and a restructuring of National Garden Gift Vouchers to increase commission earned by the HTA.

Also on the move is GIMA (Importers and Manufacturers). It is to move its headquarters to the Federation of Garden and Leisure Manufacturers, of which Gardenex and PetQuip are divisions.

The weather has persuaded garden centres to look again at the growing number of high street retailers interested in sharing the customer flow of busier garden centres. In the past 12 months Cotton Traders, Bucknalls Restaurants, Mountain Warehouse, The Clothing Outlet, Roman Originals and Virgin Experience Days have all said they wish to extend their presence in UK garden centres.

Glee ended its 12 year link with Pet Index as it tried to find a new formula for a changing industry. With numbers down again in 2012, the industry asked itself if it really wanted a Glee. There was a strong positive answer at the end of the year from exhibitors and trade associations, which has given i2i Events the confidence to make changes. The first is the return to a Sunday–Tuesday pattern.

In August we published ‘The HTA is seeking to raise awareness of Ash Dieback (Chalara fraxinea), after the discovery of the disease at a number of UK sites over recent weeks.’ It succeeded!

To read more about any of these stories click the most relevant category on the menu top left and scroll down till you find the story.

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