Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 30 June 2008

Hard Times for Nurserymen?

As you know there's been much doom and gloom in the media lately concerning inflation, the credit crunch, falling house prices etc. So unsurprisingly it's already found its way into the garden industry - for example many of the 'big boys' like B&Q have felt the pinch resulting from an early Easter, our poor spring weather and rising costs. I think I've seen it too - there's been noticeably fewer customers at Franks Plants this year. So my conversations with Terry at the Botanic Nursery over the past few months have been interesting - we've been discussing the current challenges at the small specialist nursery end of the market.

The great thing about being the only workshop attendee sometimes is the conversation is further ranging than usual. I'd asked Terry about which shows he attends (pretty much all of them, sometimes 3 in one week) and they're a major sourse of his income - either at the show itself or from the subsequent mail orders received. Most of his sales are in the months of May through July, with order fulfilment mainly from September through to March. So if attendance is down at any of the shows, there'll be a direct knock on effect. He also tells me the number of the RHS shows in London over the Autumn to Spring period will be less, thus reducing the size of one of his main 'shop windows'. Conversely, the extension of Chelsea to Saturday has also affected some nurseries as they haven't been able to afford the increased exhibitor fees. Apparently at least 10 of Carol Klein's favourite nurseries have ceased to exhibit there.

Terry is also awaiting the potential impact of the change in London's Lord Mayor. The day's business congestion charge is due to rise to £25, but on top of that a daily £200 emission tax was due to be introduced under Ken Livingstone's stewardship. He's now unsure whether this will go ahead. I initially thought both were good ideas, but Terry's take on it has made me think again - the large businesses will be able to afford these increases or buy the more fuel efficient vehicles that won't incur the emissions charge. However, changing vehicles is a major chunk of expenditure for smaller businesses, so many are unlikely to do that and may cease coming to London.

We also talked about the latest RHS campaign to reduce VAT on plants and seeds. Again, I initially thought this was a good idea - as Patient Gardener explained so well a couple of days ago. However this campaign if successful, will have little impact on the smaller nurseries who aren't VAT registered and therefore don't pass on this expense to their customers anyway. I'm not sure now if I want to sign up to a petition that mainly benefits garden centres and the very big nurseries.

In spite of this doom and gloom, Terry continues to be upbeat about his business. He believes these challenges are an opportunity to shake things up a little, make it more efficient and explore untried sales channels. He's already worked out a way to continue exhibiting in London which minimises the use of a commercial vehicle and he's also poised to start web based sales in September. So I shall continue to support my own local specialist nursery the best way I can - by buying some more plants!

8 comments:

  1. I've noticed some of our smaller garden centers have fewer plant offerings this year, and the large grocery store chains and other similar stores that often had a large flower inventory each spring have cut way back.
    I'm doing my part, too, to support those that remain--Buy more plants!

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  2. Hi VP - thanks for the link. I agree that the VAT reduction will be useless for smaller nurseries but I think that those people that go to the bigger nurseries are necessarily the type to seek out the specialist nurseries. It may mean that more people start gardening and that is always a good thing

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  3. VP - This is such an interesting post.
    It is indeed difficult times for some smaller nurseries, and for some smaller independent garden centers too.
    I wont say much more as I will go off on a rant.
    A good subject to write and think about.
    Thanks
    Karen.

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  4. This is extremely interesting. I want you to tell your pal a conversation I heard at Chelsea - one was saying to the other that he was no longer doing Chelsea, but instead was putting on a "plant show" three times a year. He chose a speciality plant, then registers with the AA to get those yellow signs! It costs £180 to get the signs, but they can stay up for three weeks each time, and the increased traffic he said was incredibly worth it. And unlike plant fairs, it will be many local people who will come back, hopefully. You just have to get people to come once to try something good, and then they'll come back of their own accord.

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  5. Hi VP

    Great post - as you know, I have been predicting tough times for gardening and landscaping businesses for eighteen months or more and have tried to give advice regarding fuel costs and generally cost analysis for small businesses.

    Sadly, for many, the changes that are just being applied to their model will be too late.

    Only this afternoon I spoke with someone who said that they have just started to consider what journeys they take in their car because of the cost.

    Where have they been and what had they been watching for the last year?

    The world stock markets fell today into official 'bear' territory and it there is not a major bounce tomorrow then we can probably assume that we are in a recession.

    Landscaping and gardening are considered luxuries for some so there will be further casualties for sure.

    If we do not get a bounc, and the signs are appaling bad, then this recession could last 2-4 years.

    Best

    Phil

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  6. Rose - I thought you might be!

    PG - no problem, only to glad to. Hmm I'd hope that people might be like me - start at places like garden centres and then go to the specialists once knowledge and plant confidence has grown. However, if the smaller nurseries get squeezed out (as is quite likely), then we're going to have a much smaller palette of plants to try

    AG - glad you found it interesting and do please rant if yu want to!

    Emma - thanks I'll pass that on at next week's workshop

    Phil - I hope it won't be as bad as you think it might be. Strangely hardly anyone visits this nursery from Wiltshire, they come from much further afield. I wonder if that will change as petrol prices increase?

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  7. Hi Again VP

    The markets did indeed bounce but not strong enough to tell if they will continue to recover.

    The high oil price is crippling to companies who have to travel and it is not likely to improve in the short term

    I am an optimist by nature but I fear that we will be in the doldrums for a while.

    I suppose we just have to watch this space as they say!

    Best

    Phil

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