By Linda Shannon of Shannon’s Garden Centre
Since the official lockdown on 23rd March we have had to adapt several times to new ways of trading. With our doors firmly shut to the public and a lockdown in place, it was hard to imagine how we would sell plants. In our industry, March to June is our busiest season so it couldn't have come at a worse time. Stock had arrived, having been pre-ordered at the beginning of the year, and a lot more was already on the way to us.
We realised quickly that people still wanted to buy plants. We did not have an internet-selling platform as our stock changes weekly, even daily in busy seasons, and comes from many suppliers. We asked customers to email their wish-list orders to us. We were overwhelmed with emails, which sometimes reached 250 per day with all sorts of enquiries; and for seven weeks we worked 12-hour days answering emails and preparing orders for collection and deliveries for a quarter of our normal sales. Since we are a family-run business, we created our own small family ‘bubble’ and worked together in isolation. We had to be careful like everyone else because, if one of us got ill, we could all catch the virus.
Since the weather at the time was glorious, people were enticed into their gardens. Whether they were sheltering at home, working from home or home-schooling their children or were just busy frontline workers looking for escapism, they all needed gardening supplies to be able to grow plants; for that, it was worthwhile to keep going as a business.
It was a relief when our industry was allowed to reopen and let customers back in to choose their own purchases. We realise how lucky we were, as other local businesses could not open at that time. Customers came back and initially we had queues around the block!
We had good stock levels when we reopened but, as things started to sell through, we realised that new stock was either not available or on a long delay. Understandably, upon lockdown, plant growers had to stop growing their plants. Instead of us choosing which plants we need, we now have to be content to take what the growers have. It's always a mystery what turns up! Compost was the new toilet roll as people bought it in large amounts in a small period of time; and we had to limit the quantities being purchased. The manufacturers of compost then went into lockdown and ultimately furloughed staff, which resulted in reduced stock levels and only larger bags of compost being packed for sale.
During this strange time we have seen new gardeners who, whilst being confined to their houses, have rediscovered their gardens. With an enthusiasm to sow and grow their own vegetables and plants and the time to tend and care for them, they have been able to reap the benefits of gardening.
It’s heart-warming to see people venturing back out and choosing our garden centre as the place they feel safe to shop in, and we are thankful we have been able to open for business. Many have commented since restrictions have lifted how grateful they were that they were able to source their gardening needs while under lockdown, and that gardening helped keep them sane.