The All Weather Garden Center.

This story headline from Horticulture Week, a British concern. “Holiday sales slump sparks calls for all-weather garden centres.”

According to the article “Garden centres will have to look at being less weather-dependent after poor weather hit trade this bank holiday weekend, say retailers.” The solution? “We need to be much less seasonally dependent — selling 60 per cent in three or four months. We’re trying to use food as a traffic generator, with coffee shops spreading turnover throughout the year.” The last quote of the article says it all, after three days of rain “Indoor attractions fared better, with “people looking for places to go that were undercover”. Who would have guessed? People don’t like to get wet.

Here is how one concern solved the problem. According to Matthew Bent of Cheshire-based Bents they “went into Christmas in a big way in the early days and our current developments, including the £3m Open Skies development, is all about all-weather shopping.” That’s three million pounds folks, approx, 4.5 million dollars.

Nursery people since the beginning have tried to figure out how to prolong the sales season. Christmas shops, living Christmas Trees, Fall is for planting campaigns, pet centers and bone bars are some of the ways. Coffee shops and eateries are some of the latest.

Since coffee and food service is the way to take seasonality out of the business why not go all the way. Maybe we should be Golden Gecko Coffee Co. We could mention that we have a small garden center attached for you to enjoy your coffee in. The nursery would be the accessory, not the main game.

I say the above tongue in cheek since that may very well be the future of the larger garden centers. As the largest garden centers morph into “lifestyle centers” and “Open Skies development(s)”, plants and garden accessories may very well become the impulse buys while enjoying your java and food. This may save the larger garden centers.

I hope all the larger concerns head this direction. I believe that larger garden centers will be a thing of the past as younger family members realize that the value of the land in many places is greater than the business. There is just too much overhead for these mega-nurseries to depend on just garden related activities for business anymore. They will become lifestyle centers while gardening and garden centers will be run by medium and small concerns that can manage the downturns in weather that will always happen.

As we continue into the future as a small garden center we will watch as the large concerns scramble to come of with the latest gimmick to keep the growth up. There is nothing charming, quaint, or unique about a 3 million pound “open skies development”. Our target consumer may enjoy a cup of “Joe” while shopping, but what they really enjoy is the “funkiness” and originality that can only be expressed by a smaller concern. Besides, I can’t get the foam on the cappuccino to stand up like the do at the coffee house.