Will gardening pre-season look different this year?

The new order

Following the great news that garden centres can open again, this week I’ve been thinking about how garden product suppliers and their customers will interact as we slowly come out of lockdown and begin the journey back to normal trading. How might our reliance on the pivotal, pre-season hiatus change this year?  Where do trade shows, sales conferences, sales training meetings, range reviews, pre-season presentations and showroom events fit in the new order?

There will be a whole new set of drivers dictating priorities, which might mean we should take a fresh look at how we approach pre-season 2021.

Garden centre drivers

  • A focus on ‘here and now’ trading and extending season 2020 as long as possible
  • Keeping staff safe
  • Promoting through remaining 2020 stock to boost cashflow
  • Training for staff on new hygiene controls
  • No time and little motivation for full range reviews
  • Avoiding unnecessary (close contact) meetings with suppliers
  • Limiting time and travel away from the centre
  • Developing retail space to accommodate more consumers with social distancing
  • Continuing to future-proof through their online and digital development
  • Dialling up social media activity

Garden product supplier drivers

  • Focus on moving 2020 inventory through the supply chain
  • Keeping staff safe
  • Re-running the 2020 new product launches
  • Pushing remaining NPD into season 2022
  • Minimising trade marketing spend
  • Extending safe working practices to increase productivity with social distancing
  • Controlling overheads and cost of sales
  • Continuing home working for administrative teams
  • Diversifying supply chains to future proof their business

We have all learnt a lot about working ‘virtually’ in the past few weeks. Using various platforms like Zoom, Teams, Google hangouts etc. as well as more reliance on websites, e mails and chat functions. Even the most tech-phobic have adapted out of necessity.

Now might be a good time to test a new buyer-seller communication strategy that better meets our current needs and supports the new business drivers more effectively. Technology may provide a very cost-effective alternative to the normal schedule of networking events, sales meetings and customer presentations.

Ivent works seamlessly on all media devices with no downloads required

I’ve been reviewing a couple of digital platforms that might provide a ‘turnkey’ solution to this challenge. A one stop virtual networking space where buyers can meet sellers, review ranges and promotions, collect information and even chat (online) with sales representatives. They are essentially digital event platforms that have sophisticated technology with virtual display stands, meeting rooms, seminars, video conferencing, etc. Buyers can navigate through virtual displays, search for companies or products, have online discussions with garden product suppliers, see and download catalogues, website links etc.  All in one place. The platform can be operational for weeks or even months, and suppliers can maintain and update their information quickly and easily. The same platform can be used for virtual sales meetings and training events for agents and representatives.  Its all available 24/7 but there’s no face to face contact, and its easy to create virtual private meeting spaces for confidential discussions if necessary.

Of course, it’s not only time that’s going to be in short supply. All businesses will be carefully managing costs and cashflow in the coming months. Moving the buyer-seller conversation largely to a digital platform could also save a very significant amount of money for all parties. Travel and subsistence, conference venue hire, exhibition & display stands, advertising and printing costs could all be significantly reduced.

V-ex interactive online platform hosts a trade exhibition

The set-up costs for suppliers are surprisingly modest and ongoing use is free once up and running, something that would be especially attractive to smaller businesses. The key to success will be in establishing a critical mass of core suppliers that make a single garden sector platform efficient and effective for buyers. The petcare sector has already taken the plunge with PetIndex taking place entirely online later next month. If our garden sector exhibition providers, media owners, wholesalers and trade associations are not already working on a virtual solution for gardening pre-season 2021 I’ll be disappointed!

Petindex launch 2020 event on the Vfairs platform

I’d love to hear if you think there is merit in virtual networking for the garden sector and happy to share what I’ve learned about the costs and features of various platforms available. Do get in touch.