Furniture and barbecues were the biggest sellers when garden centres re-opened in May according to the GCA Barometer of Trade report.
Furniture sales were up 24.19% compared to the same month in 2019.
Iain Wylie, GCA Chief Executive explained: “It was devastating to see our beloved garden centres across the country forced to close due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Not only did we miss one of our busiest times of the year, Easter, but the closures meant gardeners weren’t able to properly prepare for the new season.
“In true British ‘keep calm and carry on’ spirit, we were extremely proud to see how well our member garden centres coped with the lockdown. Many began offering online or telephone orders and delivery services, doing their best to ensure their customers could continue gardening during the pandemic.
“It was certainly tough, and we were all extremely grateful when centres in England and Wales were allowed to re-open in early May. Those in Scotland and Northern Ireland followed a few weeks later, all with strict social distancing measures in place.
“Thankfully, the Great British weather was on our side, and when centres re-opened, the weather was glorious, meaning lots of customers stocked up on garden furniture and barbecues in order to enjoy their outdoor spaces.”
Hard landscaping sales were also up 20.36%. Houseplant sales were down -25.51%, outdoor plant sales were down -13.19% and seed and bulb sales were up 2.49%.
Gift sales were down -55.05%. Food hall and farm shop sales were down -8.18%, clothing was down -71.66% and catering down -98.85%.
Iain added: “Many centres still have gifts and clothing departments closed in order to help customers social distance, so this has affected sales figures and restaurants and cafés currently remain closed.
“It’s not surprising that traditional categories were down. There have been some problems with plant availability since the re-opening, especially bedding plants. Many growers ceased or reduced production significantly during the lockdown having seen perfectly good crops, worth millions of pounds nationally, go to waste at the end of March and in April.”
Sales in garden sundries were up 7.78% and pets and aquatics sales were down -27.13%.
Overall sales for the month were down -21.95% with a year to date change of -35.7%. However, Iain noted that if the catering figures are stripped out, the monthly change is closer to -6%, reflecting the quick reversal of fortunes once centres reopened on May 11 and 13 in Wales and England, respectively.
Martin Cowell, Director at Cowell’s Garden Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne, said: “We are delighted that our sales for May were up against last year, thanks in part to some healthy online sales while we were unable to open our garden centre to customers.
“Since reopening on Saturday May 16, it has been wonderful to see our customer’s enthusiasm for gardening, which has resulted in excellent sales for compost, outdoor plants and pots in particular. Our May sales were +6.7% with year to date sales of +7.8%.
“There was a huge effort from the team, who have worked incredibly hard during and after the lockdown to achieve these tremendous results. Let’s hope it continues throughout the summer and autumn.
“I’d also like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to the GCA and the Horticultural Trades Association for lobbying on our behalf to get garden centres opened again.”
The GCA BoT reports are compiled using actual sales figures and provide an up-to-date trading position statement. They are made available mid-month following the end of the prior month after all member garden centres have submitted their results.
The BoT reports allow members to compare their trading positions with other centres.
Guy Topping, Managing Director at Barton Grange Garden Centre in Preston, said: “Trade was very strong from the off, with weekdays trading like weekends, and strangely, weekends being quieter than usual. Furniture, BBQs, plants and compost flew out with our average sale nearly three times the norm.
“Our Farm Shop opened a bit later and has traded very strongly since re-opening.”