Garden Centre Association October Column - by Mike Burks

As we move into autumn, our members have become increasingly busy and a lot has changed for them in terms of returning to ‘normal’.

To start with, we were able to celebrate together, face-to-face, for the first time in two years at our regional award meetings, which we held in late August and early September and were a huge success.

These awards, which are one of the highlights of our annual calendar, follow our inspections, where our dedicated team of independent inspectors visit each member centre, unannounced, to help maintain standards across all departments. These couldn’t take place in 2020, so we’re delighted to have been able to do them once again.

The whole process is invaluable and each year the quality just gets better and better. Feedback was happily received, along with any changes our inspectors suggested. The evenings were engaging and the ability to share best practice, ideas and information in person between members made such a difference.

Despite friendly competitiveness, one of the great things about us is that our members thrive on the success of each other and have a willingness to share their business experiences. Plus, the variety of awards reveals the scope that our industry has. Special awards included those for the Most Improved, Sustainability, Innovation and Creativity.

The overall winners for Garden Centre of the Year in the Destination Garden Centre (DGC) and Garden Centre (GC) categories in each area for 2021 were:

  • Wales and West:Monkton Elm Garden Centre (DGC) and Old Railway Line Garden Centre (GC)
  • Midlands:St Peters Garden Centre (DGC) and Planters at Bretby (GC)
  • Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • For Scotland:Simpsons Garden Centre (DGC) and Klondyke Group – Mortonhall Garden Centre (GC)
  • For N.Ireland:Creative Gardens Bushmills (GC), there are no DGC categories for this region.
  • South Thames:Haskins Snowhill Garden Centre (DGC) and Squire’s Garden Centre – Hersham (GC)
  • North Thames:Perrywood, Tiptree (DGC) and Thurrock Garden Centre (GC)
  • For North East:Tong Garden Centre (DGC) and Cowell’s Garden Centre (GC)
  • For North West:Barton Grange Garden Centre (DGC) and Klondyke Group – High Legh Garden Centre (GC)

However, one department that has had a particularly tough time during the past 18 months is catering and this year we didn’t give awards in these categories. Members’ facilities have been fully open for a couple of months now and everyone is working hard to serve customers, but there are still potential difficulties.

As we progress towards winter, experts are also predicting a very busy Christmas sales period, coming earlier than normal, as people get ready for the festivities and in the anticipation of ‘normal’ celebrations and gatherings. The general feeling is that customers will be keen this year to have the Christmas they missed out on in 2020 and that they will want to get presents and other items sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment.

In other good news, we’ve also recently announced the 20 finalists for our Ruxley Rose competition. It is normally judged in the spring, as part of the inspection process, but was done this summer due to Covid delays, with a second assessment in autumn.

Ruxley Rose takes the regional awards one step further, as it’s judged across the year. Its purpose is to inspire our member garden centres to maintain best practice at all times. It helps boost both visitor and staff satisfaction by ensuring centres are welcoming and attractive. It also assesses staff knowledge, which provides long-term positives for both visitors and individual businesses.

This year we’ve seen a record number of centres receiving a ‘Highly Commended’ certificate too. These are awarded to those who have achieved 75% and above in their annual inspections. One-hundred-and-two centres accomplished this, which was well deserved after a difficult year and a half. In addition, the top 10 scoring centres will be awarded a ‘Centre of Excellence’ at our annual conference next year.  

We represent nearly 200 garden centres nationwide and are delighted to announce that we will have a further nine new members joining us this autumn who have recently passed our rigorous inspections.

We’re also delighted to confirm that our 2022 Annual Conference will be taking place from January 23-26 at the Mercure Blackburn Dunkenhalgh Hotel and Spa. We aim to provide attendees with pertinent information on key aspects of the garden centre industry and invite external speakers to share their experiences and apply them to our sector to help members achieve their business’ goals.

Members will be able to book their places this autumn and we’ll be announcing speakers in the near future as well.

For further information about the GCA, please call 01244 952170. Alternatively, please visit www.gca.org.uk.

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