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!