The Wyevale Garden Centre chain is up for sale and it’s going to be sold in parts, meaning your local Wyevale garden centre will no longer exist under its current guise in the near future. It appears the larger centres will be taken over by the garden retail group Blue Diamond while the rest of the sites still await purchasers.
Garden Centre Association chair Mike Lind believes “if they are acquired by people interested in restoring them as individual garden centres, that is good for the industry overall”. Retail consultant Neville Stein says, “I see this as an exciting development that might result in more garden centres getting into the hands of independent operators – always a good thing in my view”.
So why are industry experts keen to see Wyevale garden centres broken up and taken over by smaller, independent retailers? Well, a 2010 Which? Study found the worst performers in the garden retail market were big chain DIY stores, the supermarkets and Wyevale Garden Centres. The survey concluded big retailers offer poor quality plants and that their staff are ill-informed. Although the survey found that independent retailers performed poorly on price, they performed well enough in other areas to come out on top overall.
So the loss of your local Wyevale garden centre might not be such a bad thing in the long run (assuming it continues trading as a garden centre, some of the sites may be sold off to developers). I’m a big supporter of independent garden centres. In my experience, independents are great for the following reasons;
1. They don’t have to rely on large supply networks, meaning they have more freedom to react to the demands of their local customers and to play to their strengths as growers. The result of this is they can stock plants that suit the growing conditions provided by the local soil and climate. It also means if they have an interest or aptitude for growing a particular type of plants, such as alpines, they are freer to specialise
2. As smaller businesses, they are likely to employ fewer staff and not be constrained by the problems that running a large business can bring. The recruitment and training process is probably more personal and will involve less hierarchy, meaning good communication between the business owner/management and lower level staff. A lack of barriers between upper management and shop floor staff allows the company values, knowledge and ethos to be spread from the top to the bottom more easily
3. You are more likely to find home grown plants in an independent garden centre. Large retailer chains are expected to have a wide range of plants and an uninterrupted supply of them, whereas customers tend to be more understanding if an independent runs out of a particular product – when it’s gone, it’s gone. In order to guarantee a steady supply of stock and the type of uniform, quality looking plants that people associate with the trollies of plants found at larger retailers, the retailers are often shipping them in from the continent. As customers are a lot more tolerant of variable stock and inconsistent supply from independents, these nurseries have the freedom to grow stock in-house which in turn provides jobs to UK workers and cuts down on plant air miles. Higher numbers of home-grown plants makes our nursery trade more robust and the UK more resistant to problems sourcing overseas stock, such as those caused by diseases that occur on the continent or the uncertain future of imports after Brexit.
4. Variety is more common. Independent nurseries have the ability to be more flexible in terms of experimenting with new varieties. If a retailer like B&Q trials a new colour of petunia that doesn’t sell well, the consequences can be hugely costly. If an independent retailer fancies growing a few packets of seeds of a new variety of cosmos and it doesn’t sell well, it’s not such a big deal.
5. Expertise is on tap. Independent retailers are more likely to know about the plants they are selling you. It’s not in their interest to sell you plants that won’t suit you or your garden as they know that incorrect advice or plants that fail will lead to customer disappointment and the chances are you won’t shop with them again.
6. A better café – possibly! I’m going to leave this open to debate, but if I had the chance to have tea and cake in an independent nursery or a garden centre chain, I know which I would choose. Do you agree? Please feel free to comment below…