UK: ‘Dare to be Different’ at HTA Garden Futures Conference

Garden retailers, growers, landscapers and suppliers came together for this sell out strategic industry event which was sponsored by Bord Na Mona, Hozelock and Scotts Miracle-Gro.

Key topics covered through the day included attracting younger gardeners, the rise of new technology, e-commerce and the supply chain. Opening the conference newly elected HTA President Stan Green from Growforth Ltd said ‘The beautiful truth is that we trade in an amazing product that brings joy and comfort to so many people… the beautiful truth is that our product promotes sustainable and healthy living.’ He added, ‘Gardening has not lost its MOJO, the British people have not fallen out of love with gardening despite the economy and the weather, gardening has always been unpredictable. There are still huge opportunities to engage consumers. Gardens are an aspirational place to relax and socialise in with friends.’

In his presentation, sponsored by Gardman, about connecting with customers Mark Palmer, Marketing Director for Pret a Manger (and previously Green & Black’s) commented, ‘A clear message is vital to marketing your business – you need to know what are you saying and to who in order to be effective.’ He also spoke of the need for consistent communications across all channels and encouraged all to think laterally about promoting your business – ‘it is not always about the obvious stories’. Citing an innovative solution for packaging for Green & Black’s Easter eggs he said, “Innovation often comes from people who know the customers best and be prepared to listen to ideas from your staff”.

Using their experience of the HTA market segmentation tool to target their promotion and product development Richard Carr from Hozelock spoke of the changing nature of the shopper journey. ‘Experience and theatre will be paramount’, he said. ROPO (research online, purchase offline) is key and whilst already happening now will be even more important in the future. Consumers will want consistent shopping experiences across many platforms.

This point was emphasised further by Josh McBain of the Future Foundation who shared some key stats and consumer insight on technology usage. Mobile commerce is set to move quickly over the next decade with smartphone ownership set to rise to 75% by 2020 (43% in 2013). ‘Click and collect’ has taken hold and this is set to move to another level making it even more flexible for consumers in the future. There is a growing desire for people to seek knowledge from experts – a huge opportunity for garden retail to really meet this need offering advice and expertise in-store.

With the rise of the omni-channel approach designed to provide a seamless customer experience small businesses have a huge advantage over the large corporates claims retail champion Clare Rayner. ‘For large businesses change is costly and small businesses have much more agility and flexibility to provide service and advice helping to keep the customer loyal. People still like to deal with people.’ She adds, ‘Engagement with customers is about conversation – be social – across all channels. The internet is only a threat if you choose to ignore it.’

Providing a perspective from within the industry Chris Roberts, Managing Director of Van Hage Garden Centres shared his experience of serving customers on a multi-channel platform from dealing direct in-store to web shop to online ticketing for events. ‘Our website provides a shop window helping to support our retail business and promote our events’, he said. This joined up approach is certainly working for them with 43,000 tickets being sold for their Christmas ice rinks last year, along with 17,000 mugs of hot chocolate!

Mike Saunders from Barclaycard Bespoke looked at the trends in discount vouchers driven in part by the recession but now very much a mainstream expectation. With consumers being overwhelmed with product information there is a need to leverage mobile technology to deliver at the right time and to the right place for the consumer using preferential filtering to help people select the products suited to them.

‘Gardening is so much more than just a hobby’ said TV gardener David Domoney talking about the ways in which we can inspire a new generation. This year’s Cultivation Street campaign spearheaded by David with The Sunday People has demonstrated the wide appeal of gardening and the way it helps develop pride in Britain’s streets fostering community spirit. With the winners receiving National Garden Gift Vouchers as prizes they are encouraged to do more not least encourage neighbouring communities to step up to the challenge in 2014.

Ethnobotanist James Wong believes that in order to appeal to the younger generation the industry needs to talk to them in the right language. ‘Talk of making horticultural cool sounds like you are saying that it isn’t cool! It is - we just need to change the packaging but not the promise’, he said. We should also move away from the obsession with ‘how to’ and focus on why everybody should be gardening or interested in plants. We know the interest is there – grow your own has 374,000,000 hits online – more than the Great British Bake Off, Xfactor and Big Brother combined!

‘With garden centres selling non-essential items we need to give people a reason for visiting’ said Paul Pleydell from Pleydell Smithyman. He adds, ‘We can see that consumers are enjoying shopping online and so we need to think differently about how we operate and get physical, sensuous and emotional to provide people with unique and memorable experiences which will keep them coming back for more.’

Providing examples from Holland Pepijn Janssen from Store Performance Group demonstrated how through store development, product selection and connecting online and offline sales they have been successful in developing growth within garden retail outlets they have worked with.

The conference concluded with The Big Debate, chaired by HTA Chief Executive Carol Paris which brought together Boyd Douglas-Davies from Hillview Garden Centres, Joanna Dyson from ReSharpen, Robert Hewitt from Klondyke, Geoff Caesar from The Bransford Webbs Plant Company, Richard Butler from Stewarts Plastics and Wayne Eady from Delamore to look at growing the market through the supply chain.

Opening the debate Joanna Dyson from ReSharpen commented that businesses within the industry can’t deal with risk like a hot potato – ‘it is part of your world and collaboration is key’ she said. Bob Hewitt stated that relationships with suppliers are long term partnerships in which both parties communicate in order to strike a balance. Talking about the issue of plant wastage Wayne Eady spoke about how as an industry we have been squeezing margins for years and we need to create new demand for our product in order to get the perceived value of plants up. The panel agreed that good knowledgeable plantarea staff are key – people that know your business and your customers. There was also consensus on the need for better communication and commitment or aim to get forecasting right. Contracts were universally not thought to be the best way forward as this would force buyers to seek plants from abroad. Better information, communication and collaboration were the key themes.

Concluding the day HTA Chief Executive Carol Paris invited the industry to ‘dare to be different’ in order to stand out from the rest. ‘It is our choice as to what our businesses represent and our industry has serious advantages through our knowledge, our cafés and restaurants and the experiences we can offer. We need to embrace the new customer and technology and make sure that people want to spend their valuable income with us’, she said.

Look out for HTA Garden Futures video highlights coming soon at www.gardenfutures.org.uk


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