How did garden centres around the world experience Covid-19?

In sampling sentiments in the global garden retail industry, FCI  invited Mike Mills, owner and operator of Sunshine Coast Nursery in Gibsons, Canada to share his thoughts on the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The outbreak of Covid-19 caught everyone by surprise and unprepared. I recall with some clarity the utter frustration (with fear mixed in) as the reality of this virus came over us like a wave on the west coast. As the owner of a small garden centre and as the sitting chair of the BCLNA (British Columbia Landscaping and Nursery Association) I was overwhelmed with the reality that many people were looking to me personally for answers, where I had none to give.

The immediate reaction to the pandemic in BC was mixed. Many garden centres closed completely for a period of time (most had reopened by April) while others stayed open. Many reduced or cancelled orders, while others keep moving ahead.

The initial reaction by the public was the obvious fear of food stability and the clamour for all types of food-related products was unlike anything I have ever witnessed. Sales went through the roof and there was a need to have parking lot attendants in place to control crowds. Many new initiatives were introduced in our store, reduced hours of operation, Plexiglass screens, no children, one family member at a time, no public washrooms, limited sales on certain products, strict social distancing, no returns, online ordering, enhanced delivery service, sanitation protocols etc. The sale of seeds and veggie starts was over the top and restrained only by our inability to purchase more from our suppliers who were sold out. That said, moving further into the pandemic, sales in all categories showed significant increases. We were all told to stay at home and gardening was one of the few things the public was allowed to do. So the garden they did!

March, April, May and June set all-time sales records for us. Keeping in mind that we were operating on reduced our hours, 10 – 4 daily and closed on Monday to allow time for staff to recover. At the peak, bonus payments were paid to all staff in appreciation for the fact that they stayed on and worked through all of the anxiety and the panic to get the job done. I saw firsthand the fear in their eyes, but in the same manner, as other front-line workers, which they truly were, they stood their ground and did their jobs in the face of very difficult conditions.

As we rolled into July, conditions in BC related to Covid-19 have relaxed and to a large extent, situations have returned close to normal. As a result, traffic at our garden centre has calmed and is running at about a normal historical pace for this time of year.

Credit needs to be given to our provincial government for how well the pandemic was handled in our province. Very early on, the ministry of agriculture, recognizing the potential threat to the food chain in our province, reached out to our industry to offer help and to find solutions to the key problem areas. They immediately embraced garden centres as an essential service and encouraged us to stay open, recognizing the fact that we were a major factor in the mental health necessities of our customers.  It is my sincere hope that this is something that we will never have to experience again.”

Mike Mills

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