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UK: HTA Garden Futures challenges industry to embrace change

With a focus on business agility in a disruptive world, HTA Garden Futures Conference and Dinner, sponsored by Hozelock and Scotts Miracle-Gro took place at Heythrop Park, Oxfordshire on 12 October. Brexit, the 2017 shopper, tomorrow’s garden centre, adapting to climate change, eLearning and the Energy Garden project were high on the agenda.

The UK gardening sector faces challenges, but also opportunities according to Joshua McBain, Head of Innovation at Future Foundation. Consumer spending is expected to drop considerably in 2017 and only start recovering in 2020. Growers and garden centres will see a shift in seasonal employment and labour from the EU. Moving goods across borders will see a double whammy hit with both high import and tariff costs. There is one solid benefit to be had, the falling UK pound has delivered a boost for UK tourism.

What’s trending in 2017 and the new consumer was outlined by Dominic Harrison, Content Director at Future Foundation. A new retail term is emerging called ‘Hygge retail,’ considered to be a celebration of simple pleasures, providing an opportunity to create stress free leisure. Could this be the antidote to pressured lives and a trend that garden retail can capitalise on?

An inspiring talk by Leonard Diepenbrock, Managing Director, of TOX-Dübel-Technik GmbH, encouraged delegates to start something new and digital tomorrow. Leonard turned his family business around by designing new, problem solving products. What's on your customers' minds? Think about their pains, how can you help? Could you create a NEW problem solving product?

The trends and opportunities that could shape tomorrow’s garden centre were explored by Paul Pleydell, Director of Pleydell Smithyman. Garden centres need to change. A good business is like a table; you need several strong legs. Add some legs to your business to give people new reasons to visit your business.

Climate predictions for the UK and how this will affect gardening and garden retail was examined by Dr Ross Cameron, Senior Lecturer in Landscape Management, Ecology and Design from the University of Sheffield. Overall the change in climate trends will give a longer growing season for gardeners. It is hoped that the beneficial side of landscape plants will be more widely recognised as they start to be increasingly used to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Energy Garden, a city-wide community gardening and energy project, is set to transform 50 train stations across London by 2017; the stations are to become destinations for gardening and renewable energy systems. Agamemnon Otero MBE the Founder of Energy Garden and CEO of Repowering explained how the project can help to engage new customers while also creating social, financial and environmental benefits. Anyone in the industry can get involved through the provision of products or as a sponsor.

Organisations can combine mobile learning with technology to enhance education and business performance, demonstrated David Barker from The Learning Eye. The benefits of mobile learning include: creating a good first impression particularly in terms of providing advance training and positive staff engagement such as talking in ‘youthful’ employees’ own language.

Keynote speaker, PY Gerbeau, delivered a ‘recipe’ for succeeding and the four things you need in order to survive: flexibility, adaptability, agility, and common sense. Leaders must remember that their best asset is not their product or their business strategy, but their human capital. Your employees are your best asset; they are the people who deliver the experience.

Closing on a positive note a panel session, chaired by George Bullivant the Director of Gardenforum, reminded delegates not to under value our product. We have the best product and opportunity to offer a space for growing as well as experience and entertainment. Our reach is extending, and we must get ready to meet peoples' needs.

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