Covid19: problems and the future of garden centers

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There could not have been a worse period for the flower and nursery sector to face the health emergency of the coronavirus, which plunged onto the market with restrictions and prohibitions, not always of simple interpretation. GardenTV interviewed Lucio Brioschi, of Solution Garden, consultant since 1992 for the garden center channel nursery, to take stock of the current situation, evaluate the major problems and try to think about the future, hopefully near, of the restart.
How are you facing these emergency days operationally?
As far as our consultancy is concerned, since the release of the first restrictive decree, the work has been exclusively smart: with video conferencing, messaging and social networks, we have tried to keep a connection with customers and the garden center world.
As a result of the measures, many customers moved independently, producing quick and praiseworthy responses, others remained behind.
The work was to realize a common vision albeit with different places, times and tools.
And what about garden and nursery gardeners?
Beyond the confusion in the application of the various decrees to our sector, since the lockdown has not been total in all regions, there are realities that keep open to the public, relating only to plants and flowers and pet products, but which obviously indicate scarce revenue: what's the point in opening if customers can't move?
While others, to save the salvable, organized online sales with home deliveries.
Everyone worked hard to open a parallel sales channel, developing home deliveries to meet a demand that is still there and becomes more and more intense and considerable day after day.
The rest is firm; there is no clarity in the construction, maintenance of the greenery, there is no clarity on the green services allowed (maintenance of plants in offices, etc.), therefore those who cultivate continue with the hope that everything will resume before throwing, follows with difficulty, effort but a lot of determination with home delivery sales and wait.
Do you think there have been errors in the management of the emergency regarding the nursery sector?
Yes! The biggest mistake was the confusion created in the interpretation to be given to the various articles of decrees that followed: who was competent? Who could give unequivocal, certain answers? The sector complained not so much about the blockade or the prohibitions or the rules of application, but above all complained about the lack of clarity and an authoritative reference that could explain in a practical and simple way what was asked.
Minister Bellanova has developed important work that has gone off on the interpretations of the individual regions, Lombardy in the lead, where the reference figures have declared in contradiction, now one thing now the other. What then, again for Lombardy, stirred the flower and nursery sector and the Garden Centers was the rule that plants could be sold in supermarkets, forgetting who with full title could very well have sold such vital products for him, as opposed to the GDO . In short, many heads and few clear ideas if referred to the sector, with inevitable reactions.
There was no coordination, a single voice that by gathering all the requests from the various Category Associations expressed the common need, but alas it is going as it is going, despite the commitment of some of the Category Associations and the total absence of others .
How would you quantify your losses at the moment?
Two aspects of loss are identifiable and one of these will constitute a part on which to work so as not to make it even heavier.
The first loss is the failure to collect. Management data exchanged with the garden centers show a March 2020 which marked a - 68% turnout on March 2019 and a - 64% of collection.
Now the lock down continues with April and if this situation continues, even if we accept that deliveries can contribute to integrating part of the loss, we will close the quarter March-May 2020 with a loss of at least 50% on the same period of the previous year.
The second loss will instead be determined by the need to recover customers:
the online one will have learned a new way of buying and it will be up to everyone to invest money to go and catch those customers, working right on the online, land unknown to most. Then there will be customers who have decided not to buy or to go to points of sale that in any case have satisfied them when everything was closed (e.g. agrarian that could remain open and supermarkets). This will mean that a 2020 where stability-oriented communication and advertising investments could be hypothesized would turn into a

nno of more substantial investments coincidentally at times when the revenues are certainly not helpful. What can we say: damage in addition to mockery?
How do you imagine the future when business starts again?
A nice afterthought! First of all, I am not able to be able to give certainty, if for example the lockdown ended on May 2nd and we began to see Phase 2, it is possible to assume an assault on the points of sale by consumers, both for the psychological desire to cancel the curfew weight immediately, both for the desire to react with self-determination: I am a consumer and I want to buy!
This could also jeopardize the physical store which will have to combine energy on the two offline and online sales channels.
On the other hand, if the lock down continues, there could be sales but not as explosive as in the consumer mentality the season would be considered as "over" for certain purchases.
It follows that a real change of pace is required of gardeners.
The consumer is evolving today, thanks to technology, in very short times, times of evolution that are not the same within our distribution channel (always exceptions apart). One solution will be to consider that opening a parallel sales channel to support and the traditional one will be fundamental. So despite the sector's resistance, going in that direction will be inevitable.
The physical sales point, in a multi-channel vision, must not go out but must take on a different role; a place where ideas, inspirations, proposals are lifestyles, to take on which the plant, flower and accessories product will be the link between consumer thinking and the assortment of the garden center.
Finally, there will be better work on communication, offering content, because one of the greatest opportunities for the garden center will be to do what it does best: give advice on cultivation, on the use of plants and flowers. This is an added value that no one else has (for the moment) and that we must provide to our customers in order to be there tomorrow and fully.

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