GCA members attend virtual forum to plan for a successful Christmas

Members of the Garden Centre Association got together recently (October 2020) at a virtual forum to discuss their plans and share their concerns for the festive period.

Matthew Bent from Bents Garden and Home, Louise Burks from The Gardens Group, Guy Topping from Barton Grange Garden Centre and Justin Williams from Fron Goch Garden Centre were panellists for the forum.

Mike Burks, GCA Chairman, explained: “It was great to have our members join us for a discussion on one of the most important times of the year for the garden centre industry.

“During what has already been an uncertain year, there was plenty of apprehension surrounding Christmas for garden centres, but I feel the virtual forum really eased people’s concerns and it was one of the most positive forums yet.”

Each panellist discussed their confidence surrounding having a successful Christmas this year and explained what a typical Christmas looks like for their centres, including the importance of events and grottoes.

They spoke about what they envisaged will be the biggest change to their centre’s Christmas offerings and how social distancing will work during the festive season as limiting numbers will be very different compared to earlier in the year.

Mike added: “There has been a lot of media coverage surrounding Christmas being cancelled this year, but if anything, it will be bigger and better than ever, as people are determined to make it that extra bit special after such troubling times.

“Garden centres have had successful Christmases when there have been recessions in the past. Often this results in a late rush for purchases. In 2009, many saw the opposite effect with an early start and customers planning and spreading the cost, and it was interesting to hear people’s thoughts on what will be most likely to happen this year.”

The GCA represents nearly 200 garden centres nationwide.

Iain Wylie, GCA Chief Executive, said: “It was marvellous to hear the positivity from all the panellists considering the huge challenges they face. There has been a good early start to sales but, aside from any tightening of rules and new restrictions, the panellists’ biggest concern seemed to be how they would be able to cope with demand.

“One of the problems, with limited numbers allowed in centres so that customers feel safe, is how the usual busy periods, the peaks and troughs, can be levelled out and customer visits spread throughout the day and throughout the week. Promotions are being considered to persuade customers to visit at traditionally quieter days and times along with extended opening to spread the opportunity for customers to visit.”

Through sharing information and its inspection programme the GCA helps members to achieve high standards in customer service, plant quality and reliability.

Justin Williams, Managing Director of Fron Goch Garden Centre, said: “I very much enjoyed being a panellist on the recent GCA Christmas forum. Preparation for it made me focus on all the COVID consequences that could be ahead of us and what actions and preparation we should be taking at Fron Goch.

“Having the opportunity to discuss and hear what such established and experienced centres like Castle Gardens, Barton Grange and Bents are doing was invaluable. Especially so in the current environment where getting together is almost impossible. Networking like this is one of the best benefits of the GCA family.”