Summer lull – should we be worried?

After the initial flush of retail activity, it’s definitely feeling quieter. The public filled their boots and they are now enjoying their green space. It’s a matter of balance. It’s natural for us all, staff, managers and the buying public alike, to heave a collective sigh of relief and start to reset and recharge. However, as Autumn fast approaches, followed by Christmas and next year, we need to start preparing (supply chain allowing).

Short term – the next few years.
Most budget comparisons are set against 2019, but even that needs interpreting. We were not just recovering from the effects of a pandemic back then. Most trading periods have a “balancing ” period at some point. If there is a good busy spell, there usually is an opposite reaction between comparative weeks, months and even seasons i.e. a good spring can mean a quieter autumn, meaning that large percentage gains can often be clawed back to single figure gains. The public only have so much to spend on their garden. That said, currently there are more people spending and they are spending more. How much and for how long isn’t clear, but it will be interesting to see predictions from demographers  and statisticians. We will have to fight to maintain our percentage of the leisure pound, which is our biggest challenge for the next few years.

I am looking forward to getting back in touch more regularly with customers, suppliers and friends in the industry. Making time for conversations and visits – remember them? We can’t underestimate the feel-good factor of seeing people face to face. Personally it feels like I have just been processing and working in the broken supply chain as best I can. Little job satisfaction there. I feel we need time to recharge and plan for the seasons and years ahead. Undoubtedly horticulture has taken a positive step change.  We have a higher profile – due to the positive impact being highlighted of gardening and mental wellbeing. It’s now high on the political agenda. Recent figures tell us that there are 400,000 more/new gardeners in Scotland.  Interestingly, the hunt for houses with gardens or close to parks and greenspace helped drive the housing market through the pandemic.

We’ve had two challenging springs within an extremely challenging 18 months – where from here? I can genuinely say, for me, medium and long term planning in some sense hasn’t been clearer, short term planning (next two years) is a nightmare of variables that need time to settle – and then there’s always the weather.
1) We are budgeting for an increase of around 10-20% depending on the product group. But based on what?
2) Shortages – Long lead time products will be in short supply (and may cost more) for some time. Trees are a good example of this (and there are plenty of examples you will have in general retail). As Europe discovered gardening the supply chain broke and is still damaged, and there are no magic wands or switches to flick.
3) Prices are up and will settle.

There are still bumps in the road to endure as some of the variables start to bite – general economy (recession?), Brexit, weather, plant health and our fight for the leisure pound as lockdowns unwind.
To summarise; in the short term I’m not worried  but I am cautious.

Medium and long term – what is the 10 year plan?
Again, I’m not worried, if the weather behaves for the next 3-4 years I am encouraged, maybe even bordering on excited. We are planning to invest further in staff, IT and the nursery. However there are still significant challenges as Brexit and plant health issues settle, including peat replacement, and obtaining skilled staff. 

The last 18months has shown us that life is as unpredictable as ever, but on a positive note, we are seeing glimpses of normality and these should most definitely be embraced.