Monday, 25 May 2020

Garden centres and plant growers fight for survival

Garden centres and plant growers fight for survival

GARDEN centres and plant growers are expecting to make huge losses as they can’t sell stock due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nurseries have had to close as they are not deemed essential under the Government rules on the movement of people designed to curb the spread of covid-19.

However, the spring is a key sales period for growers, who say they will have to throw away stock.

Hare Hatch Sheeplands, near Wargrave, has closed its plant nursery and coffee shop but the farm shop is open and operating a home delivery service.

Andy Dicks, one of the managers, said about a third of the staff had been furloughed but there were a lot of volunteers helping out.

He said the 100,000 geraniums in the nursery would probably have to be thrown away.

Mr Dicks said: “Most garden centres are closed and it is going to be absolutely devastating for the growing industry.

“We are friends with lots of local contract growers that do work for us and all those plants are just going to sit in the nurseries and eventually end up going in the dustbin.

“If we are all on lockdown and not allowed to move the plants there is only so long you can keep them alive.

“Our trade bodies are lobbying the Government because this is threatening to put most of the independent growers out of business.”

Sheeplands now offers dedicated priority slots at the farm shop for different customers.

It is open from 7.30am to 2.30pm on weekdays. The 7.30am to 8am slot is for individual adults with children and 8am to 9am is reserved for the over-60s, NHS staff, key workers and customers with disabilities.

On Saturdays it is open from 7.30am to 5pm and on Sunday from 10am to 4pm. Mr Dicks said the support from the community has been “overwhelming” and he was not worried about the long-term financial impact of the pandemic.

He said: “Quite frankly, we have too much business. We are only doing this to help out people who are vulnerable and anybody who can’t get supplies.

“We did 20 orders the first day and overnight it went to 100. There are a lot of elderly people that have been let down by the major supermarkets because they can’t get a delivery slot.

“I have had people ringing me day and night from all over the country asking if I can send out a food package to their elderly relatives who live in Twyford, Henley and Caversham.

“The garden centre side of things is fairly small. We are lucky because we have only just started rebuilding and it is only a small portion of the current business.

“The biggest impact is on our growing side. We don’t know what is going to happen or how long this is going to go on for.”

Woodcote Nursery & Garden Centre is still open as it also sells pet supplies, hardware products and fuel but one member of staff has been furloughed. The plants are not grown on site.

Mike Hill, who has owned the business for 25 years and lives on site with his wife and daughter, said: “For the industry overall it has been dire. The problem is getting stock. The big suppliers are not supplying anywhere, so it is getting harder. We bought in a lot more stock than we normally would because we were worried this would happen.

“If we can keep trading then we will hopefully sell most of what we have got but if we weren’t doing the other services we would have had to close. We take a third of our income in April and May and if we can’t stay open it won’t be good.

“Because we have some private reserves, we can probably weather the storm but not everyone is in that position. The industry is in dire straits.

“It could have a big impact, but while we are still trading, we are okay. It depends how long this goes on for.”

Mr Hill said one supplier had given him extra because otherwsie they would have had to throw it away. He has therefore been giving away free pot plants for every customer that spends £20.

Mr Hill added: “We are quite happy doing deliveries but we don’t want people queuing to get in because it is important to maintain social distancing.”

David Burton, manager of the Herb Farm in Sonning Common, said the business was coping.

He said: “We have not yet reached the stage where we are having to throw stock away or heavily reduce prices. We have the ability to look after the plants and keep them on-site, which gives us an advantage over most average garden centres.

“It is going to have an effect on us if we are unable to sell as much as normal. We have been selling plants to people in Sonning Common and delivering them every Friday.

“That means we still have an avenue to generate income by arranging a delivery time. The list goes out on a Monday and we work out the best way to get to everyone. The locals seem to have been very receptive to that. We have had lots of orders and they are quite grateful to have that option open to them.”

Playhatch Garden Centre, part of British Garden Centres, closed on March 23.

All the company’s sites have been shut down temporarily as this was felt to be the best way to ensure staff and customers remained healthy.

A spokesman said: “It became clear that to maintain safe social distancing and ensure that both our team and our customers are kept safe, we must close every garden centre.

“We want to take this opportunity to thank all of our team for their continued hard work during these difficult times.

“Please take care of each other in these unprecedented times and we look forward to seeing you as soon as it is safe to re-open.”

LADDs Garden Village in Hare Hatch has also closed.

Primrose Nursery, which is next door to Hare Hatch Sheeplands, closed for three weeks but re-opened to offer a “call and collect“ service.

The family-run business has been open for 35 years and owner Pete Reading says he is struggling to sell stock.

He added: “We are not going to cope. This is our peak time of the year, as it is for everyone else. We should be taking lots of money but we have only got one or two orders a day. We are only a small nursery.

“People are coming into the car park and they have to phone through to order what they want. We will take it out to the car park and do the payment over the phone to avoid anyone coming on site.

“We won’t close but we are having a lot of problems. A lot of our suppliers have shut off our orders and I have still had to pay for them.

“I am worried because you never know how long it’s going to go on for.”

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