Coronavirus is killing our industry as well as our lives...
NWP's Perspective on Covid 19.
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There have been too many things said about Covid 19 in relation to our industry and it’s not my purpose to be controversial here however from an NWP perspective this has had serious consequences for everyone which at this time seems to have changed from being a very negative experience to a more confident and dramatic change of events.
In March it started with so many customers cancelling booked orders as either space or cash OR nerves took precedent with owners making forced decisions over the plant buyers. This caused mayhem for everyone involved but a number of people took a more optimistic view and stayed glued to the helm and as a result this has paid off now. At first panic set in and opening emails became a daily routine of hesitation.
This has taught us many things in particular who of our customer base became the ‘loyal’ stalwarts and who seemed to be not interested in discussion as to a way forward. It was our view that if people were in lock down then there were only two things you could do (apart from play snakes and ladders) and that was DIY or Gardening. Neither seemed an option at first as the government did not permit these places to remain open. As a result, so many plants either did not get produced or were dumped or did not have homes to go to. Suppliers were also varied in their response to us with some imposing cancellation charges, whilst customers made it clear these would not be accepted and clearly if we wanted to trade in 2021 this would be a bad move on our part.
This has been possibly the most challenging season that I can recall in living memory, despite centres being reopened now, the damage has already been done with significant plants dumped and revenues lost. The amount of extra work in either re selling product or reducing/changing orders was in itself a mammoth task but all so necessary. With pressure mounting on all sides and from emails and phone calls there has been, and still is with some outfits, a heaviness in conversations that at times is overwhelming. Something so much more than a hectic season!
NWP worked hard at campaigning alongside other growers with the NFU and to local MP’s, the latter being less helpful and not so supportive as perhaps they could have been. The end result was that the government did accept the need for garden centres to open, by which time people had been used to social distancing. The explosion of trade that followed and still goes on as I write this, has been utterly staggering. Our belief that this was an opportunity for less enthusiastic gardeners to improve their outside space for once and that online sales whilst the only option prior to reopening could go crazy for plants in the flesh as well as the surge for fruit and vegetables. It is my belief that this trend will stay strong going forwards and we will have recruited more conversions to gardening.
The number of our customers who have reported in recent weeks demands for product far above their expectations and report on breaking records week after week is an encouraging relief. This however for us does not help with the loss and disposal of young plants that needed to be supplied in wks. 14 onwards. We have to wait with bated breath to see how customers will react to ordering for next season and if insight to the future will shed any light. Again so many factors such as what will happen to crops like Bergenia unsold on the ground, will they hold or will they get potted up and as such will we see odd pot sizes appearing next season for the first time in order to keep plants looking healthy? 4 or 5 Lit Bergenia perhaps? Will there be another major lockdown this autumn which would potentially put a serious ‘chill’ on orders being booked for next season and how do we apply perhaps different terms and conditions after the lessons learnt.
One thing for sure is that people do want to garden and optimise their private space which with this year’s weather has influenced the surge greatly. If we are to learn from this is that we need to pull together to cooperate more by real conversation and not email perhaps, and sharing the new plans being developed; and to take more chances knowing so many have no product to sell right now because they cancelled and if they could only hold their breath a bit longer could participate in this record-breaking time now and claw back those losses in early spring. We have full admiration for those who took on the entrepreneur spirit and examined ways to be creative and do what they could to survive such as the ‘plants for people scheme’. As someone who has been passionate about plants I have smiled as many nurseries have rapidly developed an on line presence which could continue to be improved in the winter months and I believe have the opportunity to sell a wider range of plant varieties than they would otherwise dreamed of stocking! Now is the time to rekindle a 'Plantsman Presence' and cash in on the sensational demand for variety that only previously small private nurseries seem to offer. I hope that people do not forget these lessons and remain optimistic for 2021 and reinvent themselves from old traditional methods of doing business. We might be bruised from this season but with a spirit of kindness and confidence and trailer loads of cooperation we might live to fight another day. I penned this note during the early period of campaigning to get garden centres re opened, which I believe bears some reality...
Gardens are special peaceful spaces with restorative qualities that can work wonders when we are stressed and under pressure. They provide a sanctuary for all things nature and an environment to relax , entertain and enjoy as well as sharing with our friends. The physical act of gardening provides exercise and a mental stimulus that is useful for our bodies. The additional benefits and rewards are numerous resulting in reaping a harvest of fruit, vegetables and flowers to be enjoyed within the home. A place to educate our children and encourage them to become our future custodians of our gardens and parks.
Have a read of this article from the NFU (Lorna Mayberry) which appeared in the ‘Countryside magazine July 2020’ when interviews were taken from a number of people in the industry right in the peak of things.