"The first week of the lockdown was horrible with orders being cancelled everywhere", says UK plug and liner producer Neil Alcock of Seiont Nurseries. However, as internet sales skyrocketed and van deliveries started up, they were able to gain back sales. "All in all, April has been very good for us and even though we are still behind in sales compared to last year, the COVID-19 crisis made our business stronger and will enable us to grow next year. The market has changed forever and with our new website, we will be able to meet the consumer's 'online needs'."
Orders from growers cancelled
Seiont Nurseries supplies plugs and liners to growers across the UK and Europe, but when the COVID-19 crisis kicked in, orders stopped and were cancelled. "It was terrible and I thought we would finish the season like this."
Production site Seiont Nurseries in Caernarfon
Mail order and online retail sales increasing
However, demand picked up as online sales started to increase. For many years, Seiont Nurseries has been supplying to mail order companies and online retail, and as the garden centers had to close their doors, many people turned to the internet. "Many of our cancelled orders, we could now sell on the internet."
"Our easitrim is making light work of these Salvia today! 2 men 5 minutes to cut 4000 P9" Posted on Neil Alcock's Twitter page on May 27
New customers - van deliveries
On top of increasing their sales on their existing channels, they also expanded their customer base. "We saw more van deliveries arising, which were asking for our products. For them, we supply different collections."
Own website - LoveGardeningDirect.com
In the midst of the pandemic, they've have also launched their own website with their parent company, Lovania. With this website, www.lovegardeningdirect.com, they offer collections of fern, perennials and shrubs, and they have also launched a choice patio/balcony collection which appears to be very popular with consumers who live in cities.
But how was it possible to get this all done in such a short time? "We already had it in the planning two to three years ago. We had the website already built but we never went online. Since the online sales started to increase, we thought it would be the right time to go launch it and within a week, we were online." Alcock is very pleased so far. "We work on new products and on this website, people can buy the latest varieties and they seem to like it very much."
One of their products: Peat free Cosmos Blackforest
Export picking up
Since last week, Seiont Nurseries has started to export again. "We sent out shipments to Italy, France and the Netherlands. Fortunately, we have our complete workforce back, so we can prepare all shipments for the growers in these countries." National shipments to the growers in the UK, however, have not picked up yet. "Garden centers opened up their doors just two weeks ago, so I expect the orders to come in next week or so."
Market changed for good
According to Alcock, the pandemic and the lockdown changed the market for good. "I think, in the future, people will be more cautious when going out and I think online sales will remain higher than previous years."
"It made us stronger"
For Seiont Nurseries, the last couple of months, and particularly just after the lockdown, have been hectic. "We had to quickly adapt, and fortunately, as we are not such a large company (producing 1.5 million plants a year), we were able to do that. I think, the entire situation made our business stronger and by adapting to all changes, we've increased sales in new and existing markets. This year, we expect to be slightly down compared to last year, but when looking at what we've achieved this year, there is no doubt that next year will be much better."