14 Jun 2024

Blossoming Through Adversity: How Garden Centres Thrived During the Pandemic and Beyond

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the way people approached life, and one surprising beneficiary of this shift was the gardening industry. As lockdowns confined individuals to their homes, garden centres experienced an unprecedented surge in popularity. Essential status during specific periods and increased time spent at home contributed to this boom, revealing a newfound appreciation in gardening.


According to a survey by GlobalData market research, gardening was listed as the second most popular lockdown activity in the UK. As a result of this, garden centre sales soared. The HTA Garden Retail Monitor's insights from the period highlight a remarkable upswing, with gardening product sales soared 23% during the peak of the pandemic. Individual customers, reflecting a newfound passion for gardening, were investing 35% more on average. Bedding plants, seeds, and gardening equipment experienced a surge of 46%, while garden leisure categories outpaced the figures from pre-Covid. 


During the pandemic, garden centres, deemed essential, were the first businesses allowed to reopen to the public. Abridge Garden Centre, led by Paige Clark, and Old Railway Line Garden Centre, overseen by Katie Eckley, provide insightful perspectives on how these entities strategically navigated the challenges and opportunities presented during and after the pandemic.


Paige Clark, owner of Abridge Garden Centre, shares a narrative of family legacy and adaptation. Acquiring the garden centre in October 2021, just as the pandemic was winding down, they responded to the increased demand by growing their own produce, expanding greenhouses, and hiring additional staff. Clark noted that “the business was founded by my great grandad around 120 years ago & hadn’t experienced a pandemic, it was all new to us!”. The surge in interest in 'grow your own' prompted a bold decision to increase plant production sixfold. This gamble paid off as the demand skyrocketed, leading to the successful opening of Abridge Garden Centre's first retail unit post-COVID. Despite the challenges, the family business not only weathered the storm but also thrived, displaying resilience and a commitment to nurturing the family legacy.


On the other side of the border in Wales, Katie Eckley, owner of Old Railway Line Garden Centre, outlines a community-focused approach. During lockdown, the garden centre established strong community ties through a webshop and click-and-collect service. Building on this foundation, they organized free events, such as a Tractor Run finale and charity bingo and quiz nights, fostering a sense of community spirit. “The events were not necessarily profiting,” Eckley notes as she goes through a moment of reflection, “but I have never experienced festivities like it, the community spirit on these nights were incredible and it really boosted awareness of our contribution within the community.” Through a loyalty card membership, an app, and social media, Old Railway Line maintained an engaging dialogue with its customers. The centre also actively reaches out to schools and community groups, emphasizing sustainability and demystifying gardening jargon. A resolute team, coupled with a comprehensive training program, ensures that the Old Railway Line Way extends to both customer experience and community engagement.


Both Abridge Garden Centre and Old Railway Line Garden Centre exemplify how adaptability, community engagement, and a passion for nurturing plant life have not only helped them weather the challenges of the pandemic but also positioned them for sustained success in a post-Covid landscape. 


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