The history of garden centre concessions

Concessions are now widespread in garden centres and the range of businesses is broad. However the growth of independent companies trading from garden centres is a recent introduction but the origin of concessions can be traced back to the 1960s and one of the countries historic stately homes.

Plant retailing in the 1960’s

Once restricted by a limited growing season that offered just a small window through which to sell seeds and plants to the public, one of the defining moments in the history of garden centres was the ability to containerise plants.

Up until the 1960’s plants could only be sold in their dormant periods so Autumn and Winter were the only time that plants could be dug up and sold. Containerisation transformed the selling seasons by making it possible to sell stock throughout the year.

In 1968 a collaboration between the Duke of Northumberland and ICI at the prestigious venue of Syon Park in London, saw the first gardening exhibition. Manufactures came together to promote their gardening goods from exhibition concession stands within the beautiful setting of the Capability Brown landscaped gardens in the grounds of Syon House.

The exhibition and collaboration was a resounding success and this promoted other companies to enter the gardening market driven by the desire to establish themselves as first movers.

A spate of small garden shops and seed merchants became established and as interest in gardening grew, these small shops were gradually replaced in favour of modern garden centres often set on many acres of land.

First steps for Concessions

The first products and services offered by independent business (concessions) under contract, had direct tangible links to gardening; seeds, sheds and conservatories, for example, were among some of the earliest concessions. However once owners realised that they could charge rent for areas of unused space and concession stands the variety of goods started to widen.

Pets Corner, the largest independent pet retailer in the garden centre market, was one of the first to get into garden centres, opening its first concession outlet in 1991 in Country Gardens, Brighton.

The free parking and decent sized retail units were the main draw for the company and they realised that garden centre customers were generally pet owners so there was a good synergy between the two.

Another early pioneer was, Maidenhead Aquatics which started in 1984 in a small high-street outlet before closing up and moving into Bourne End Garden Centre in Buckinghamshire five years later.

The company moved into garden centres because they realised they were a better environment for retailing water gardening products and the retailing was far more relaxed environment.

Broadening the range of Concessions

Once Maidenhead Aquatics and Pets Corner had proved that garden centres were not only a lucrative trading ground, but that it was also possible to run multiple concessions, several big-name retailers of other goods began to wonder if their wares would attract custom.

Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Cotton Traders now operate hundreds of garden centre concession outlets between them but they did not join the garden centre revolution until the late 1990s and early 2000s. Over the next decade, however, their brands became heavily associated with garden centres and they began to develop products aimed specifically at this market.

Crafting concessions

The next notable addition to concession retailing came in the form of crafts. The garden centre seasons were still reliant on the spring and autumn but when crafts centres began to trade from garden centres they started to iron out the seasonal fluctuations, because they drew customers to the sites at times when garden centres were generally quieter.

The next notable addition was the introduction of kitchen companies and kitchen utensils. Gardens had become known as “outdoor rooms” and so it was natural for other room products to be promoted. Kitchens, kitchen utensils and bedrooms were introduced and now some of the UK’s leading specialists trade from garden centres.

Books, luggage and beyond…

Garden centres then started to push more boundaries and in 2001 The Works Stores opened their first major book outlet in a garden centre. Then companies such as Antler brought their well know luggage retailing into garden centres and Yankee Candles launched its unmanned concession formats into 100 UK garden centres, to support garden centre gift departments.

Carving out a new niche

In the short time that concessions have been involved in garden centres, the industry has witnessed the development of some really impressive, multi-million-pound sites, which are much more likely to stock products perhaps not directly associated with gardens and gardening, such as books, gifts and other leisure-related products. They have become ‘leisure-shopping’ centres in their own right.

Opened last summer, the £25-million Peterborough Garden Park, with a lifestyle shopping experience that is centred around upmarket and affordable garden centre Van Hage.

As more household brands open stores within garden centres, the demographic appeal of garden centres widens. As people continue to invest in their homes, garden centres offer consumers the chance to shop within an environment that people see as relaxed and informal and in these difficult times it’s not surprising that the retailers that are aligned with this marketplace are sharing the financial rewards.