Grown in Wales

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Opportunity knocks

Charles Warner

I feel that it has been an important year for horticulture. Garden centres in the UK have been stretched to the limit by the relentless wet weather at a time when the news is a constant reminder to all of us that the economies of Europe are on the brink of meltdown. The suppliers of the garden centres have had to find strategies to overcome huge ups and downs in demand . For some the approaching spring might give little comfort because where they are able, the garden centres are holding stock that they normally would have sold by now.

For the garden centres there has never been a more important time for innovation, even reinvention. Those that just pile the stock up and keep their fingers crossed for good weather are going to be at the highest risk and will need deep pockets to get through 2013.

I see centres trying all kinds of ways to give themselves an edge. Some more successfully than others. Some are just natural born sales people that love what they do. They engage with as many of their customers as possible. Smiling, joking, knowing many of them by name. These are the sort of people that get a little jolt of joy at every sale and I love watching them in action. These are the ones that I would go to when planting a garden. Brondesbury park garden centre in Cardigan springs to mind. You get excellent personal service from people that believe in what they do. Another way is to create a beautiful place to be . Somewhere where people would spend time even if it wasn't a garden centre. Fishguard Garden centre springs to mind here. When I deliver plants to Fishguard it's always a pleasure and I always linger far to long. I think that they are building a coffee shop now and if so you can bet your life it will be excellent.Some places just exude retail proffesionalism. Old Railway Line Garden centre in Three Cocks near Brecon is the epitome of this. They have a small army of well trained staff. I try to deliver early in the morning here but I've yet to catch them napping . By eight o'cklock they are like a hive of bees checking, and adjusting the whole plant area to perfection. Even during the massive expansion that they have undergone this year the whole place was buzzing with activity. They don't rest on their laurels. I must also mention Ystrad nursery in Llandovery. I have always felt that they approached their busines in a similar way to myself. They just work very, very hard and in that way they manage to run a garden centre (and grow a fair bit) with just the two of them for most of the time. It looks like somewhere that has maybe four or five full time staff. Always neat, always tidy, always inviting. What amazes me is that Andy  also finds the time to be an amazing bass guitar player and Gayle manages to care for a menagerie of livestock. They are clearly perfectionists and deserve to thrive as I'm sure that they will.

There are others that deserve to be mentioned. One of the unifying features are that they are the ones that have a diologue with us. They are the ones that understand that, just like them, we have challenges. They are the ones that call and discuss what they want. The ones that tidy the benches up between our visits. The ones that use our point of sale material and are interested in the provenance of their stock. These are the ones that are going to thrive. They are often the most challenging of our customers and also the most fun to deal with.


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