When did getting dirt under your finger nails become so de rigueur? While Capability Brown sounds like a colour by Farrow & Ball, according to IMRG, The UK’s Online Retail Association, home and garden sales soared 74% year-on-year in 2020.
While gardening has been part of British culture for many centuries, the pandemic has been a catalyst for many people desiring an outdoor space or spending more on their existing one. In 2020, UK households purchased approximately £6.2 billion worth of plants and flowers and other garden goods said Statista, a specialist in market and consumer data.
This upward trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of Britain’s high-street brands looking to capitalise on all things green. Joules bought The Garden Trading Company brand for £9 million in February, while Next recently teamed up with Homebase and John Lewis announced that it was thinking about branching out into garden centres.
The Garden Trading Company Limited is “a digitally led retailer of home and garden products inspired by the British countryside and lifestyle trends”. Garden Trading had been a leading seller on the “Friends of Joules” digital marketplace since Joules launched the marketplace in 2019.
For the year to 30 November 2020, Garden Trading delivered revenue of £16.8 million, up more than 40% on the prior year, and a profit before tax of £2 million. Joules said the acquisition supports its strategy to grow its customer base, broaden its product offer and strengthen its digital platform, and strengthen Joules’ position in the important and fast-growing home, garden & outdoor category.
Joules intends to continue to develop and grow the Garden Trading brand and product range whilst also seeing opportunity to leverage Garden Trading’s design and sourcing strengths to develop a broader range of Joules-branded home, garden and outdoor products.
For those consumers without gardens, house plants have become something of a must-have accessory, particularly on social media. Online plant delivery service Patch reported a whopping 400% increase in sales last year. Data for sales of houseplants at garden centres across the UK bloomed in July (2020) according to the Barometer of Trade report published by the Garden Centre Association (GCA). Compared with the same month in 2019, sales were up 81.82%.
Horticulture meets haute couture and the high street
High fashion has always had a relationship with gardens, plants and flowers. It signified the luxury of leisure time and is a reflection of people’s taste and wealth. In 2018, Gucci opened its “Gucci Garden” in Florence. A new retail and restaurant concept, it was a reimagining of the original Gucci museum, which suited Gucci’s new look and classic “Flora” pattern. Gucci has just launched an advertorial with Highsnobiety for SS21 titled “In The Garden With Gucci” starring Gerald “The Veg King”.
In late 2019, Maria Grazia Chiuri recreated a forest for Dior’s Paris Fashion Week, promising to replant the trees in the Parisian region after the show. In addition “Adidas Consortium”, a line from German sportswear giant that is known for its experimental collections, launched a gardening-themed collection featuring household favourite, Alan Titchmarsh. The “Adidas Gardening Club” collection spanned apparel, accessories and footwear (pictured above).
Back on the high-street, Homebase’s partnership with Next, will see its garden centres open inside six Next stores. The home & DIY chain has occupied space at Next’s shops in Bristol, Sheffield, Ipswich, Warrington, Camberley and Shoreham. The Homebase shop-in-shops sell pots, plants and garden tools, while staff will also be on hand to offer customers advice on their gardening projects.
Homebase has also launched more of its smaller format high street stores. The retailer has opened its latest “Decorate by Homebase” store, as well as first small-format Homebase shop and a dual-branded ‘Kitchens by Homebase and Bathstore’ concept on the high street in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. The openings brings Homebase’s portfolio of small-format stores to six across Guildford, Cheadle and Sutton.
B&Q has teamed up with the supermarket giant Asda, but more the DIY side, involving the trial of “shop within a shop” compact B&Q stores within Asda’s superstores in Edmonton, Sheffield and Dagenham. Customers can also order selected items from B&Q’s full range online at diy.com for click and collect at the new B&Q Asda concession, or for home delivery.
When John Lewis & Partners unveiled its new strategy, in late 2020, it mentioned building a new gardening business, potentially with new partnerships and acquisitions.
The most popular suggestion from partners was to build a new businesses out of “Waitrose Garden, Leckford Estate and the Waitrose Farm, landscaping (The John Lewis Partnership farm in Hampshire) and John Lewis Outdoor Living – potentially with new partnerships and acquisitions.”
Chair Dame Sharon White, said: “We clearly won’t be able to achieve all this alone. So we will create partnerships with other businesses who respect our ethos and can bring resources or capabilities we don’t have… We are already in a number of commercial discussions and are also looking at acquisitions.”
John Lewis & Partners told TheIndustry.fashion they didn’t have anything available to share right now in relation to its new garden centre concept.
It is worth noting what a difficult area this can be for some retailers. In 2016, Tesco sold its garden centre chain Dobbies for £217m after buying it in 2007 for £150m. Tesco said that the business contributed £17m to its annual profits in its final year of ownership.
Wesfarmers, owner of Australian DIY market leader Bunnings, bought Homebase for £340 million in 2016. It sold the chain in 2018 for £1, and ended up writing off an incredible A$1bn (£547m). Homebase is set for a fourth owner in just five years, as private equity specialist Hilco seeks to cash-in on soaring home improvement sales during Covid-19 and put the retailer up for sale again.
What this trend shows is the appetite and potential for more garden/fashion/lifestyle crossover brands, but, it’s a difficult area to get right and it’s understandable that brands have partnered to reduce the risk and increase expertise.
Joules has probably got it most right with a brand closely aligned to the parent company and already tried and tested with its customer on its marketplace.
An aspirational rollout of something like a mini (& more affordable) Petersham Nursery, a Nunhead Gardener or a Battersea Flower Station would suit somebody like Next rather than Homebase, a brand that does little to excite.
It also shows the potential for a new brand in this area which combines fashion, style and necessity. Do what Urban Outfitters or H&M Home has done with plants but expand it into gardens and take it more mainstream. John Lewis could be onto something here, but would it ever have enough scale for them?
Florals for spring? Groundbreaking. But it would have to work in the other three seasons too.