Horticulture Wales recently led a study tour that enabled a dozen ornamental growers to quiz the owner of an award-winning independent garden centre near Brecon, before moving on to enjoy an in-depth visit to one of the UK’s largest and most successful wholesale nurseries. The growers were given a fantastic opportunity to find out about the latest consumer and market trends, as well as discussing the wider sector with real industry experts…
The fact-finding visit began with a trip to The Old Railway Line Garden Centre in Three Cocks, Powys, a family-run enterprise that has scooped the prize for ‘Best Garden Centre in Wales and West’ the last two years at the prestigious Garden Centre Association Awards.
The growers were treated to a tour of the facilities by Director Mark Cleary, who established the business with his wife and fellow Director Christine back in 1990. Mark also led a discussion with the group and outlined what the firm, and other independent garden centres, would expect from growers that wanted to become suppliers.
Mark revealed that a very high percentage of customers visit garden centres without the intention of actually buying any plants – many are looking for non-plant purchases, such as equipment or tools, or simply visiting to enjoy catering and hospitality facilities such as farm shops or restaurants. Plants must be a particularly attractive proposition to lure these types of customers, so eye-catching product labelling and point of sale material is a must. Mark demonstrated strong examples of both to the growers.
Herb and vegetable plants are becoming increasingly popular, in Mark’s opinion due to the rise of ‘celebrity’ chefs and the TV cooking programmes. Many of these customers are in the key target market of age 20-30, but as a whole, they tend to be a group with limited gardening knowledge, which he believes re-emphasises the need for labelling and promotional material that really stands out from the crowd.
In terms of labelling, barcodes and technical information are essential from the garden centre’s perspective, while use of colour and images of the plant in full bloom are a must to capture a customer’s attention. Labels should also be firmly attached to the plant or pot – according to Mark one mistake many growers make is labels that are only placed in the compost, which can easily fall out during transportation.
Mark revealed that what would appear to be ‘more expensive’ plants often were amongst his best-sellers, as not only where they quality products, they tended to be well-presented with good accompanying labels.
Labels that clearly demonstrate ‘British Grown’ products prove to be popular with customers, who are increasingly aware of issues such as carbon footprints and the environmental impact of transportation. Mark believes a more locally-focused ‘Welsh Grown’ campaign could be very successful across Welsh garden centres.
The Old Railway Line Garden Centre does use a number of local suppliers – although in relation to the company a ‘local’ supplier might actually be based across the border in England. Quality and speed of delivery are crucial factors for the centre, which for example, uses a local bedding supplier that charges 30% more than other stockists, but can guarantee an excellent product and reliable, swift delivery. The growers were told that to be an attractive proposition for independent garden centres, they must where possible be able to deliver using Danish trolleys, and all stock must be supplied completely ready for display.
According to Mark, current plant sales trends include:
Growth in ‘Grow Your Own’ vegetables and herbs
Shrubs in decline
Bee-friendly plants increasingly popular
Roses and perennials always popular
Cut flower sales have been strong in 2013
Tastes have shifted away from stocking plants alphabetically A-Z in favour of groupings such as plants for sunny spots/shady spots
It’s a good idea for growers to supply one larger, more mature plant to display alongside smaller products
While peat-free compost is the centre’s best-selling compost product, specific demand for plants grown in peat-free material has been limited.
Following a delicious lunch at The Old Railway Line Garden Centre’s on-site restaurant – which opened last year with an adjoining farm shop – the growers headed eastwards along the A438 and proceeded on the 25 mile journey to Wyevale Nurseries across the border in Herefordshire.
Established back in 1930, the business employs more than 100 permanent employees and up to 60 seasonal staff across its four production divisions:
Wyevale Container Plants (container-grown shrubs and herbaceous)
60 acre production site in Hereford
Approximately 1.4 million two or three litre plants (70% shrubs, 30% herbaceous)
Wyevale Transplants (field-grown seedlings and transplants)
Around 200 acres in Gloucester
Annually sow 14 miles of seed beds producing seven million plants
Wyevale Hawkins (container-grown trees)
Around 8,500 trees grown in pots ranging from 15-75 litres
Wyevale Trees (field-grown trees)
More than 360 acres in Hereford
Grown over a three or four year cycle, typical annual planting would involve 35,000 feathered trees (native and grafted); 28,000 budded rootstocks; 10,000 transplanted trees; and 4,000 specimen evergreens
After being introduced to Wyevale Nurseries Managing Director Andy Johnson, the growers were treated to a comprehensive tour of the Hereford site by Chris Bennewith-Mair, its Cash and Carry Manager, incorporating glasshouses (including a two acre structure used to hold stock destined for the Garden Centre Group), its propagating, potting and labelling departments, and the loading and dispatch yard.
All plants grown are hardy, so are produced in open-sided tunnels that are only lowered when the temperature reaches -12oC.
British-grown trees are phenomenally popular at the moment, with numerous varieties actually selling out.
The nursery has introduced its own plants into the industry, in particular its Choysia White Dazzler.
Staff from all departments of the nursery – even the back office – participate in regular group weeding sessions to ensure pots are kept in their best possible condition.
Due to the sheer size of the operation, water use can be particularly heavy, so the nursery has invested in on-site rainwater harvesting and recycling systems to minimise the amount of mains supply required.
Plant sales contribute around 15% of Wyevale Nurseries’ annual turnover, with a number of Welsh suppliers selling their products through the operation.
For six months of the year, the firm also runs ‘Nursery Direct’, an online seasonal retail nursery selling direct to the public.
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