HTA’s annual Garden Futures conference this year asked: what lies ahead for the industry? With a wide range of guest speakers and a panel discussion towards the end of the day, the conference focused on the need for change and adaptation in order for the industry to survive in the face of challenges such as climate change, technological advancements and Brexit.
The day opened with head of innovation at Future Foundation Joshua McBain, who took a concentrated look on what we know about Brexit so far, and forecast what its long and short term implications may be for the industry, from staff wages to imported trade costs. Also from Future Foundation was content director Dominic Harrison, who followed Joshua with a dissection of the garden centre shoppers journey and how it’s changed in the modern day, with emerging factors such as technology and new needs and demands heavily influencing how the new generation shops. Closing the morning session was managing director or Portland Design Associates Ltd Ibrahim Ibrahim, who presented the future of retail and the four pillars of success necessary for success in the industry’s coming years.
Leonard Diepenbrock, managing director of TOX- Dübel Technik GmbH encouraged businesses to ‘start something new tomorrow’, and emphasised the importance of striving forward with new ideas for constant business growth, stating that a need to: ‘not be afraid of looking like an idiot’ is essential for a company to creatively expand to its full potential. Director of Pleydell Smithyman Paul Pleydell explored the current trends in garden centres, and hypothesised what could be next, imploring for the industry’s centres to use their space to best effect and to be open to diversification as new opportunities present themselves.
Senior lecturer in Landscape management, Ecology and Design from the University of Sheffield Dr Ross Cameron presented current predictions for climate change in the next fifty to a hundred years, exploring what this will mean for the industry, including the need to increase plant resilience to predicted future climates.
Looking at the future of the industry from a technological point of view, David Barker from The Learning Eye discusses the benefits of incorporating e-learning into garden centres for staff enhancement, which he stated garden centre businesses are currently behind in when compared to other industries.
Agamemnon Otero MBE explained how his business Repowering began, and how listening to his customers led him to become founder of a second project, Energy Garden, providing green spaces to several urban areas to provide a connection for locals with the environment and horticulture. This connection is further strengthened by its community share offerings, which finance a proportion of the project and allows members of the public to purchase renewable energy generation and contribute to their local area.
HTA Future’s live panel session saw questions on Brexit and the future of the industry posed to managing director of Ferndale Garden Centre Neil Grant, managing director and co-owner of Newey Group Alex Newey, vice president and general UK and Ireland manager of Scotts Miracle-Gro Sheila Hill and HTA chief executive Carol Paris. Neil Grant highlighted that the industry has always been able to adapt and respond to change, and that whilst Brexit will pose some interesting challenges he has no doubt that the industry will come out on top. Sheila Hill pondered on the upcoming need to discuss who will bear the costs of Brexit, most notably of prices for trading abroad changing, and Alex Newey predicted that garden centres and nurseries selling ‘collections’ of products may emerge in the coming years. Carol Paris congratulated the industry on its flexibility and endurance in both past and present times, stating that horticulture should be celebrated as one of the most diverse and inventive industries in the modern day.
PY Gerbeau closed the conference for the day with a refreshing perspective on what it means to be a great team leader or manager in the modern workplace, and the importance of staff in a business feeling proud and happy to ‘live the brand’. Drawing from personal experience, PY outlined the differences in previous generation’s work ethic and that of Generation Y, and how these differences should dictate the approach of managers wanting to get the best out of their staff.
After the conference guests had some leisure time before drinks and dinner, where Raymond Evision was awarded the annual HTA Pearson Memorial medal, and The Greatest Awards took place. The day was rounded up with horticulturalist and broadcaster David Domoney, who spoke of the importance of gardening shows on television and took a comedic view of the garden centre industry as a whole, with anecdotes on the power of flowers and plants.