Those of us in the garden center trades have been told for years that we needed to look to Great Britain for the future of garden retail. We we're told that the British, with their love of all things gardening somehow had unlocked the secrets to gardening retail.
All is not well with garden retail in Britain. In Garden Center Magazines, "Reflections from across the pond" author Ian Baldwin say's, "British operators seem to have put gardening 'on hold...'" WHAT!?! The British nurseryman putting gardening on hold? Yes, it seems the British have the same issues we are dealing with here in many parts of North America. According to Ian, who visits Europe regularly as part of his consultation business, "many places had a tired look from the front of the 'Car Park.' Some outdoor sales areas had simply been allowed to go backwards without even a screen or fence to hide them. Only one or two centers had continued the creative standards of merchandising, POP (point of purchase) and even cleanliness in the plant areas that we took for granted in the past 20 years."
This is a profound change! Nothing could stop the motivated British gardener from pursuing their craft, or so we believed. In addition The British have their own box stores. Ian say's, "many stores we saw on our yearly tours were no longer owned by the original family, having been acquired by small chains of investment companies or, in one case, by Tesco, the U.K.’s biggest retailer. "
In "Finding Mr. Flowerdew?" written in 2006, I quoted Sir Roy Strong, historian and former longtime director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Sir Roy said, "Gardening is one of the few things holding British society together". If that is the case it sounds like British society is going through much the same angst our own society is experiencing.
In October 2007 I wrote, "This can be a lonely profession". I said, "we read the trade magazines, listen to the consultants, and go to the trade shows which only confuse us more. People only want flowers in color, they don’t want to garden themselves (DIFM), drop the Latin Names (we’re told the consumer just doesn't care), put a coffee shop in, basically just try to make gardening as work free and instant as possible. " Glad we didn't follow that advice.
In the same 2006 article mentioned above the nucleus for our current garden center groups was formulated. I said, "the solution is communication within the individual garden centers. I enjoy reading other nursery peoples experiences with these important subjects. Since we are generally separated by distance, the idea of talking to the 'competitor' changes to talking with a fellow nursery person. There seems to be a freer exchange of information and experiences."
The post continues, "I would like to hear from more of you in the trade. Many of us are like Teresa who says, 'This article has finally gotten me to step out of my silent reader status' and comment. I think many of us don’t speak up because we are afraid of rocking the boat. We’ll its time for the boat rocking to commence. We independents must speak up to the wholesale concerns that supply our plants, we need to speak up to the large retailers that continue to dumb down gardening and attempt to convince people that gardening is problem free (two year guarantee?)."
That was the catalyst to starting my LinkedIn group, "Garden Centers, Nurseries, and New Media", which as of today has over 2800 members (anyone with an interest in gardening businesses can join). Our Facebook Group, Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries has over 355 of the most forward thinking nursery people as members (you should be there!). Finally, our newest group, Retail Independent Garden Centers, Vendors, and Media now has 180 members. Did I mention we have members from across the pond now, too? In our interconnected world we are more alike, than different. We can all learn from each other.