With the sale of Wyevale, it is an interesting time for the garden centre world. For many years Wyevale has been acquiring garden centres and have amassed a portfolio of over 140 garden centres all over the UK. Some smaller groups were acquired, and some independent garden centres sold to Wyevale by owners pleased to cash in after a life-time’s hard work. The food offering in many of these independents went rapidly downhill under Wyevale ownership in the opinion of many within our industry.
I think the food side of the business was always seen as a problem by the owners and never invested in properly and in 2014 they attempted to concessionise the food hall for all the garden centres. For the larger centres this has worked to a degree, but with the small to medium size centres it did not work, and they had to change strategy again soon afterwards. I think it is difficult for a large business like this to have enough focus on an area of business which will, at best, be no more than 10% turnover, and probably more like 5% in some cases. There are now some good independent garden centres that are close to having food as 15% turnover, a significant part of their business.
With Wyevale being around 4-5 times large than its nearest rival garden centre chain, it is now likely that the group will be broken up again, unless another investment company comes in for it, which is looking unlikely. Some of the larger centres will be bought by the other existing chains but many will go back to being independent garden centres, which can only be a good thing for gardeners in my opinion. Having people passionate about plants owning garden centres will always be a bonus. And it could be that some will start to develop the food side of the businesses too.
There is a huge opportunity here for growth in food within leisure shopping. I recently gave a talk at the HTA Catering Conference and on my first slide was the statement, “Old people aren’t as old as they used to be!” A strange comment, you may think, but those retired recently were born in the fifties and were teenagers in the 60s. They are not looking for the rather tired-looking jams with paper or cloth hats or chocolate ginger biscuits made by Mrs Miggins. They are looking for more on-trend and interesting products when browsing in their local garden centre at the weekend.