GTN November/December 2021 - Garden Trade News, UK

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Thinking outside the box advanced advice they can go to the next level for further information. Our staff get far more questions in the Little Dobbies setting than they do in a typical garden centre setting and there is much more customer contact.

The Little Dobbies way Little Dobbies feature a curated range of products found elsewhere across the estate, with a focus on design-led items. Houseplants are extremely dominant, making up around 70% of sales. This is a really strong area which the consumer is looking for and we try different mixes in terms of that space to keep it fresh and interesting. This is key, especially when customers will be walking past regularly. Seasonality is important and we are learning and adapting all the time when it comes to our product mix, refreshing stock every month. We are bringing in different fixtures to suit the plants stocked in each store as we go. For instance, we have seen a huge demand for trailing plants, as well as for different plants such as Monsteras. This enables us to look at products in a slightly different way from which we can learn. Ideas around small space gardening apply elsewhere too and so we can take that back to our larger stores – it works both ways. Short, fun projects such as growing microgreens, planting seeds, windowsill gardening, collecting cacti have universal appeal. Ten years ago we stocked a very narrow range of houseplants. Now we have proven there is demand we can allocate more space and put more of a range in. Now it is the case of asking the growers for as many varieties as they can provide – better colour, greater variety, easier to manage, something new etc. There is great demand for foliage plants but those with flower still have a place. It remains to be seen whether our Little Dobbies customers will have the same desire for poinsettias or whether they will want something more contemporary in nature. Whilst we aim to provide a good value offer we can’t compete with the supermarkets on price but we can provide range.

By its very nature Little Dobbies is little. The Chiswick store is less than half the size of a typical garden centre houseplant department.

With no back of house storage on the Little Dobbies sites, all stock goes straight onto the shop floor. This is a good discipline but can also be quite challenging to keep stock at the right level. We use just one supplier to bring houseplants in from the Continent which enables us to bring stock into a single location. We then split it down and use smaller vehicles to transport it into our London locations.

What will Christmas bring?

Garden centre retailing at its best delivers customer satisfaction with relevant related products and that’s not been missed at Little Dobbies.

We anticipate that we will have strong Christmas sales ahead in these locations. We are learning every season about what people want and it is a more contemporary market that we are dealing with. People are buying houseplants for Christmas – foliage plants, cacti, air plants, Citrus – the whole range – because it is such a trend that everyone is getting on board with. We anticipate that pot grown Christmas trees will also be popular in providing doorstep décor.

A Sustainable approach We have been dealing with the same issues in horticulture for decades and we have needed an exterior force (consumers) to help drive this forward. There is recognition that we need to come together as an industry to work on creating solutions and Dobbies have been working with suppliers on this feeding back

insight from consumers about what they want. There are ingredients and materials that are out there that just aren’t available to the consumer yet because they haven’t been retail packaged. This area offers a huge amount of opportunity and that is really exciting. Dobbies have been making progress on a number of environmental fronts. Peat is going, going, gone with the estate being peat-free next year for compost and progress being made on the plant side. We have been doing pot recycling for a long time but we have just installed new bins in partnership with Elho in 10 of our stores. This has smartened this area up and we are looking to roll it out across our stores next Spring. On compost bag recycling we have been working with Evergreen which has been a huge success and proved popular with consumers. This is something we need to do and we will also be rolling this out to our stores next Spring. It is an important part of what we do – we need to do the right thing for the environment. We must have no dirty secrets. If we have a product that we need to sell and it needs to be packaged in a certain way then we need to provide a solution with regard to recycling. The compost bags are being recycled into garden furniture which is then used by Greenfingers in childrens’ hospice gardens.

In conclusion… This latest development for Dobbies of a series of urban shops ticks so many boxes. There is such a huge opportunity with the huge density of population walking past the shops every day that don’t usually come into contact with this green stuff that we live our lives being so close to. It is wonderful as it is now not just something that an elderly relative used to do. Now it is something that people want to engage with and do. At Little Dobbies they can do this, step across the threshold and step into plant paradise!

8 November / December 2021