Bigger, stronger and better together

‘Bigger, stronger and better together’ was a key theme throughout the HTA Garden Futures Conference which took place on 16 October at RIBA in London, with much of the day’s content about collaboration and cooperation for the good of the horticulture industry.

In his opening address HTA President Stan Green encouraged delegates to be imaginative and proactive in promoting and shouting about the huge benefits of horticulture so that more attention is paid to the industry. He demonstrated how through campaigns, such as Cultivation Street, gardening can truly make a difference.

“We can achieve much more and are better together’ he said. TV Gardener David Domoney spoke of ‘Growing Gardeners’ and looked at the opportunities for sparking interest in the outdoor world for children and adults alike. Posing the question ‘Can gardening improve people’s lives?”

HTA Market Information Manager David Denny looked to 2015 and the big and little changes impacting the market and consumers habits. Declining levels of home ownership and volatile weather events are just two of the challenges that present themselves. Smaller factors include the need to create positive first impressions, avoiding too much product choice and making greater use of tactile displays.

Julian said:

“If you want to sell more plants, sell better coffee’ was the top tip from Haskins Garden Centres CEO and GCA President Elect Julian Winfield during his talk that gave insight into maintaining your identity and building a profitable product mix. Plants are very much at the centre of their offer but they have seen huge growth in their non-gardening categories over the last 18 years. December is now their biggest sales month, despite the fact that they don’t provide a Christmas grotto. ‘It is all about providing an enjoyable shopping experience.”

John Shaw, HR Director of Homebase and Garden Designer Adam Frost spoke about inspiring future gardening talent through the Homebase Garden Academy which this year has seen 1300 applications for the 20 places on offer. The Garden Academy offers people a once in a lifetime opportunity to kick start a career in horticulture through gaining qualifications and experience.

As John Shaw explained:

“How do we relate to the next generation of consumers if we don’t have the next generation of experts in store?” Homebase stores with the garden academy students outperformed other stores as the students shared their knowledge and inspired their colleagues and customers.”

HTA Head of Horticulture Raoul Curtis-Machin and Sarah Cathcart, Head of Education and Learning at the RHS gave an update on the Grow Initiative and how it is working to attract young people into a career in horticulture. When less than 50% of careers tutors can even define ‘horticulture’ how can they sell it as a career? Horticulture is now (since September 2014) included within the school curriculum which is a major step forward although more needs to be done. A short film (still a work in progress), produced by Grow, was played. Aimed at 11-14 year olds this reflects the diversity of the industry and the range of careers available and Raoul and Sarah encouraged the industry to be proactive, link with schools, and spread the word.

Lucy Adams, was HR Director at the BBC through some challenging times which included the move from London to Salford, the exit of four Director Generals and the Savile crisis. She highlighted the authentic approach that certain leaders took which made a difference to their teams.


She said:

“Be visible, show humility and humanity and use stories rather than powerpoints.”

“It is the simple things that really make a difference in keeping teams happy and engaged.”

After rebranding and bringing high street fashion trends into garden retail, Briers Managing Director Jackie Eades shared with the delegates just how it was done in her talk ‘Right product, right customer’. Using eye tracker and EFSA research to find out more about its customer’s shopping behaviour and the latest trends in retail, Briers have revamped their brand strategy creating six new product ranges including Function and Fun (their children’s range) and Function and Tradition (their Historic Royal Palaces Collection).

Surviving in an online world was the topic of discussion for Tim West from the Big Green Bookshop, a London based independent store, who was interviewed on stage by Trevor Pfieffer from Garden Trade News. Tim’s bookshop, which has no café, no online sales and no product discounts uses social media and community events to draw people in – with great success.

Tim summarised:

“Focus on what you can provide that an online retailer can’t.”

Simple steps to talk to customers in a fresh way were provided by William Sinclair Marketing director Simon McCardle in his talk ‘Adapting for the new consumer’. Using the HTA consumer segmentation research Simon focussed on the ‘newbies’ (time and cash poor 28-40 year olds for whom the garden is low on their priority list). They really want a lovely garden to enjoy, relax and play in but they see gardening as outdoor housework with the lawnmower the equivalent of the hoover. They need ‘fool-proof’ products that can’t fail along with an easy to shop experience, inspiration along with reassurance, knowledge and value. This ties in nicely with Love the Plot You’ve Got, the industry wide campaign which starts in 2015, which is aimed at the same audience. Project Manager, David Arnold, spoke of the opportunities that lie ahead with the proposed roadshow which will take garden inspiration out to non-garden events across the country.

The day concluded with key note speaker Andrew MacMillan, who spent 28 years with the John Lewis Partnership. Andrew provided an overview of the journey of customer service within the company and an insight into how they have developed a branded customer experience.

He said:

“It needs to be a great place to work and a great place to shop.”

“You need to start inside and the work out as the customer experience becomes an extension of the staff experience. Using freedom within a framework staff are encouraged to ‘do what they think is right’ and each branch has the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary to help a customer once a month. These random acts of kindness are shared internally and celebrated – helping them to become part of everyday activity.”

Closing the event HTA Chief Executive Carol Paris said:

“Today’s programme has provided plenty of inspiration and food for thought. We live in a challenging and changing market place and it is imperative that we work together. We have heard about how we need to do something that others can’t do to stand out. Garden retail is well placed to deliver this and I would encourage all to do something different.”