How garden centres are appealing to the wider community

How garden centres are appealing to the wider community
“There is such a fashion now for things going on in unusual venues, it seems very appealing to listen to folk music in a greenhouse lit by fairy lights”

Garden centres need to make hay while the sun shines to show off what they have to offer when they are looking at their best.

Inside Retail asked indie garden centres how they are tapping into the local community and attracting new customers with classes and events.

Barton Grange in Lancashire puts on a massive array of activities to appeal to both children and adults alike.

These include watercolour classes for adults and workshops where children can do anything from painting garden gnomes to decorating cupcakes, which cost the modest sum of £3.50.

Offering diversity

Marketing manager Kate Ford says the events are organised to “offer diversity and variety to customers” and attract a new audience through laying on of specialist events.

Barton Grange relocated in 2008 and as part of the move it created a custom-built events space called the ‘Green Room’ that can seat up to 60 people. When summer is coming to an end Barton Grange also clears the furniture from its main indoor retail area and hosts a food and drink festival that plays host to 60 local suppliers and 6,000 visitors.

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Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses in London is equally creative with its existing space and has hosted small unplugged concerts in its greenhouses.

“There is such a fashion now for things going on in unusual venues, it seems very appealing to listen to folk music in a greenhouse lit by fairy lights” says Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses director Kate Sebag. “It is nice because you have the benefit of the indoor-outdoor space of the greenhouse and it is very pretty.”

The community greenhouses are a charitable initiative that was born out of “guerrilla gardeners” squatting in greenhouses 20 years ago after the site fell into disrepair.

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Community spirit

This community is still very much enthused by the place and as a result it has an army of volunteers on its mailing list and strong links with local schools.

The children who have visited with their school often return in the summer holidays and Sebag says they have a “sense of ownership” having visited before, and they are able to show off to their parents what they learned

A range of events are held every Sunday and the centre even holds corporate away days during the working week.

Sebag says the charged-for sessions drive as much income as its plant sales.

Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses is fortunate in that it benefits from the footfall of people visiting the local park where it is located. For those in more out of the way locations, hosting events can be an effective way of increasing visitor numbers.

Matthew Bent, managing director of Bents garden centre in Glazebury, says their events are not “specifically designed to generate revenue”.

Driving footfall

“Events are fast becoming an important part of our business,” says Bent. “The main focus is to drive footfall, encourage customers to visit the centre and in turn increase revenue throughout all areas of the business.”

Bent says his company has created a destination that encompasses “home, lifestyle and leisure for a complete day out” that still stays true to Bents’ gardening heritage.

In 2014 it opened a whopping 30,000 sq ft of retail space, including a children’s boutique and a “fur friendly” pet café.

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Bents hosts 200 events a year with the majority held in the April and September school holidays, and activities are held across locations to best reflect the event’s focus.

Branching out into classes and workshops allows garden centres to make the most of their peak Spring and Summer period, but the true beauty of them is they provide garden centres with a regular stream of income throughout the year.

“Those diehard gardeners will garden all year round, but a lot of other people won’t and once they’ve planted up their hanging baskets and pots in June they do not want to buy any more plants until next March,” says Ford. “Garden centres need something that is appealing all year round.”

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