Well it looks like Waitrose is going into gardening
in a big way. Not content with poaching gardening guru and national treasure Alan Titchmarsh from B&Q, or with launching a new garden centre in Newbury, the JLP-owned grocery chain is now introducing 6,000 garden products across its network of stores and online, and has even launched a dedicated garden website.
But is this yet another general merchandise retailer having a stab at the garden sector and potentially seeing no real results, or is Waitrose just the type of brand to actually make a success of its foray into horticultural territory?
Several people have already commented on the fact that Titchmarsh is a 'better fit' with Waitrose than B&Q and, along with JLP stablemate John Lewis, the chain is one of the most trusted and revered retail brands in the UK. Of course that doesn't necessarily determine whether or not they will be a success selling plants and garden tools but it does mean they are potentially already better placed than the likes of fellow grocer Tesco, who tried and, many people feel, failed to crack the garden sector.
Tesco certainly has scale and is tightly focused on its keen price points but is this 'budget approach' where it fell down? Is the concept of quality and luxury that surrounds the Waitrose brand more in keeping with the type of audience that a spot of gardening appeals to? I'd hazard a guess that Waitrose shares a similar customer demographic with many garden centres, allowing for a much more profitable crossover.
It is difficult to determine just what impact Waitrose's latest venture will have on the dynamics of the sector at this early stage and if it will make a significant dent in the business of garden centre operators across the country, but superficially, the formula seems to be right.
What does seem ironic, however, is that, as the supermarkets strive to widen their appeal and push into every sector going, a host of garden centres are doing just the same in a bid to create a destination centre, with cookshop, foodhalls, clothing and gift departments often eclipsing their garden offer. Who knows, with garden centres outlets and supermarkets both sticking their fingers in a lot of pies, maybe they'll meet somewhere in the middle.