Are gardens growing up and not out?

By Jess Brunette September 01, 2014 Lawn & Garden

Does the trend towards smaller houses with ever smaller sections mean we are going to lose the “lawn” from lawn & garden? Jess Brunette reports.

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.

With some of Auckland’s recent developments showing what many consider the face of housing to come, the big back section and the well maintained frontage may soon be a thing of the past.

If you look at the houses being built (or planned to be built) in Hobsonville, Stonefields, Waimahia Inlet (just to name a few), 2-3 storey terraced town houses with very compact footprints are definitely the way things are going for the larger urban centres.

Before we look at how the garden will be changing, however, let’s take a look at the immediate lawn & garden category and find out how some of the major players have been faring in the market this year.

Kiwicare’s National Sales Manager Neil Martin reports that sales in the past 12 months have been up on the previous year partly due to the quality of the brand’s communication to its base of home owners as well as the strong status that is afforded to New Zealand made garden care products.

He explains: “Through qualitative and quantitative research that we have conducted in the market we have found that if the consumer understands that our type of products are designed, tested and manufactured in New Zealand that they feel more confident about using them around their home.

“This confidence is borne out of the knowledge that the products have been tested and proven to perform to a high standard in local environments to solve problems that are topical in our conditions and not those of another country.”

At GARDENA, Nick Bright reports this year’s comparatively wet season has created positive growth in the power garden market and along with an understandable drop off in watering.

“We can make all the plans we like in this industry yet at the end of the day consumer demand is driven by the weather and getting that mix of inventory right is the biggest challenge we face.”

Still, he adds: “We have consistently delivered 90%+ supply rates this year and have a very strong marketing program lined up with GARDENA for the back half. All we need is the right weather and we will be lining up to break last year’s record,” he says.

Another that has seen steady if unremarkable growth in the past year is Yates’ Country Manager David Mortimer who says that the market is “not going to set the world on fire but it is going in the right direction and in the last few years convenience products that are easy to use and get the job done have certainly performed very strongly for us.”

 

WELL-MADE TOOLS TAKING OFF

Circumstances beyond the control of the industry have also had some positive impacts for Neil Pinkerton from SNAE and Bahco, who reports double digit growth in the last six months compared to the same period last year.

“That’s partly the whole market coming back but we also supply commercial areas like the vineyard and kiwifruit orchards and both those areas are trading extremely well. Kiwifruit has made a really good recovery after a problem with disease three years ago,” Pinkerton says.

Also “ticking along” is Omni ProductsAnn Dodds who explains that although the company’s core business has been gloves, some expansion into other areas has paid off well in recent years.

“The garden arts and wind sculptures have been a really good seller for us and we have added other things that go in the gardening sector that have sold exceptionally well for us.”

Other positives for Omni include a set of heavy duty hand tools that the company picked up from its acquisition of part of the Jardine Marketing brand, a situation that seems to be working out well for Omni.

Another that has done well recently with quality lawn and garden hand tools is CE Lawford. Managing Director David Lunny reports heritage gardening brands are seeing a healthy resurgence as new gardeners increasingly become more comfortable investing money in products offering performance and longevity.

Lunny says: “The move back to better quality products is a move back to the past really and we are now selling more of the Bulldog products which are forged spades and garden tools that are still manufactured in England along with Freund brand secateurs and cutting tools which are manufactured in Germany that have also shown general improvement in sales. So there is a definite trend back towards quality, heritage manufacturers.”

 

THE EVER-SHRINKING LAWN

While all the players we talked to for this feature are reporting steady business, some are also expressing concern that, particularly in urban areas, the space for lawn and garden is getting smaller and smaller with continued subdividing and new housing developments using space to go up, rather than out.

Looking at the Auckland market, Yates’ David Mortimer feels this will be a major factor for the lawn & garden category in future: “An interesting dynamic is that you hear about how new developments definitely drive through to the hardware business but it doesn’t drive through to the same level in gardens anymore.

“And if you look at a development like Stonefields, I’d be surprised if there was 10 square metres of lawn in each property so they are damn small gardens! And as Auckland goes more and more under the Unitary Plan and there’s more intensification in housing it’s not going to proportionately drive the garden market as one might expect based on the number of dwellings going in,” Mortimer says.

The changing Auckland housing market has also created challenges for landscapers explains Landscaping NZ President Lynn Cairney: “As sections are getting smaller, access is becoming a real issue,” she says.

“It’s nothing now to be laying tracks and putting wheel barrows through apartments. And some of the sites are getting steeper and things like that so you are looking at trying to get gear in there because if you can get a machine in there it’s far cheaper than a man. So it’s about getting material and tools in and out of tight spaces.”

So do smaller sections mean easier, cheaper gardens? Not according to Lynn Cairney: “A small space is actually far harder to design and to create the right environment in simply because there is no room for error. So you still have to get the function and aesthetics right from a design perspective and that’s what a lot of people do wrong where they build a metre and a half deck which is really just a place to stand when you walk out the door. So it’s much harder to get the balance and feel right than with a larger space.”

So does this mean less and less lawns in New Zealand’s future? “I would have thought so, and therefore less lawn products potentially,” comments Yates’ David Mortimer. “So it will be a lot more condensed gardening, with more pots, tubs and raised beds.”

Vertical gardening up walls and trellises may also begin to take off he adds: “The Block and similar shows are starting to show some of that kind of thing so it might catch on as a trend. So it will be interesting to see but it will become more relevant as intensification continues.”

 

WHAT ABOUT THE PLANTS?

Although smaller gardens in Auckland seem inevitable, identifying the actual plants that will occupy those spaces won’t be any easier, as Kings Plant Barn Operations Manager Jamie Gardner explains.

“Trends for the season are hard to identity until we get into spring and know what the spring plants will be. And many of them are being finalised and planted by the growers now.”

While Gardner stresses that he doesn’t have a crystal ball, those in the game tend to look at trends in colour in other areas to get an idea on what plants will come into fashion.

“If you used giftware as an example it looks to be the pinks and blues and pastel shades but it’s still really hard to know. The trends tend to be in the home market and then the influences come from all sorts of places and you could never pin them down because it’s such a different market,” he says.

With colour being a major focus it seems that native plants are not a major part of upcoming trends. “It’s really all about colour in the garden now, especially in Auckland where they’ve got small gardens. So it will be the new petunia of the season and the new colour plants that come through that will be where all of the interest will be going,” Gardner says.

While the shape and style of the lawn & garden market may be changing, it is a constant that the sector is retaining its feelgood factor – and that gardening is a nice to do rather than must do, a pleasure rather than a chore.

Omni Products’ Ann Dodds exemplifies this outlook: “I always think the plant market is a nice market to be in because it’s a happy place. People that are going to plant are doing improvements so they are always in a happy mood. So I think gardening shops are very happy places to go into.”

 

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GARDEN PRODUCTS ONLINE SET TO DOUBLE BY 2018

The UK lawn & garden sector may have seen patchy times recently but in the UK online is now the fastest-growing distribution channel for garden products by far – and it’s predicted that internet sales will more than double by 2018.

So predicts the recent Internet Garden Market Report – UK 2014-2018 by AMA Research, which estimates that the UK internet garden products distribution market is now worth over £300 million at retail prices. 

AMA says the internet garden market is still relatively immature and that it is expected to continue to show strong annual growth levels. It estimates that the UK internet garden products market will be worth £744 million in 2018, more than twice its current size. 

Part of this exponential growth is due to the internet removing barriers to entry, and that this has allowed small and medium-sized specialist e-tailers to enter the garden products market, creating “a new competitive dynamic”.

By 2018, says the report, the UK internet garden products market will account for an estimated 15% of the total garden products market, up from around 8% in 2013. 

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