Giving people a reason to visit is key

. From armadillos and meerkats to biscuit icing, story-telling and circus performances these activities do help to attract visitors, according to members of the HTA Marketing Committee, which met last week in London.

Burleydam Garden Centre on The Wirral hold an extensive programme of family events from animal petting sessions to sunflower growing, biscuit icing and, for Father’s Day, a Harley Davidson exhibit. Bents Garden Centre in Warrington run a range of successful events from ‘Inspiring you to do’ drop ins, regular story time sessions, a monthly farmers market and weekly ‘Ready, steady, dig’ sessions for schools. Bird box painting and exotic animal visits (armadillos and meerkats) have proved extremely popular at Hilltop and Studley Garden Centres, along with the soft play areas that they have installed on both sites. For the May Bank Holiday Hilltop will be hosting a circus for three days – again aimed at attracting family audiences to the centre.

Customer expectations are high and service is key. It is staff that make a real difference and help to de-mystify gardening. At Scotsdales Garden Centre they employ a team of Garden Angels who are highly visible on the shop floor helping to guide customers and provide advice and information. They also run regular gardening clinics which are well attended – helping to reinforce the garden centres position as the place to come for gardening advice.

HTA Director General Carol Paris comments, “Whilst plants and gardening remain at the core of the garden industry – they are our USP – it is increasingly important that for year round appeal garden centres develop activities and events to drive footfall. Often working closely with their local communities garden centres can offer a relaxing and pleasant shopping environment far different from the High Street.

Paris adds, “Consumers continue to seek authentic products and experiences and garden centres are well placed to deliver these. Time is precious and by providing people with enjoyable and memorable experiences they are more likely to make return visits and purchases.”

Suppliers too are working closely with retailers to help improve the customer experience. Stewarts are in the second year of using celebrity gardener Pippa Greenwood to run staff training days for garden retailers on grow your own themes. Briers run training sessions with garden centre staff providing them with simple and memorable retail tips. Gardman have extended their promotional activity to include monthly offers across the core gardening category – recognising that consumers are looking for value. After having successfully delayed their TV advertising campaign to coincide with better weather Westland have re-launched their website which includes ‘This week in the garden’ updates. Along with a focus on instore activity and TV campaigns for lawncare and Flower Magic, Scotts have launched an e-commerce site aimed at younger consumers and, with their Miracle Grow’er network of school children, will be exhibiting at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.