Next reopened its stores in England and Wales this week (12 April), unveiling a Homebase shop-in-shop garden centre concept at six sites. The new venture, called Garden by Homebase at Next, sells pots, plants and garden tools, with staff on hand to offer customers advice on their gardening projects. The stores are located in Shoreham, Ipswich, Warrington, Camberley, Bristol and Sheffield.
“We know that people are spending more time outside and as we head into summer, they want to have their gardens looking at their absolute best,” a spokeswoman for Homebase told Drapers. “By partnering with Next, we’re able to provide customers with everything they need to brighten up their outdoor space and get it ready for the warmer weather ahead.”
Retail analyst Nick Bubb said the partnership makes absolute sense: “Next already ran small ‘garden centres’ in the back of some of its Home retail park stores, including Warrington and Shoreham. It makes perfect sense to bring in a specialist operator like Homebase, with the expertise and brand recognition, to do a better job of running this area.”
In their purest form, nature and plants create wonderful retail theatre
Peter Ruis, president of Canadian retailer Indigo, and former managing director of Anthropologie
The news follows on from lifestyle retailer Joules, which moved into this sector in February, with the purchase of home and garden retailer Garden Trading for £9m. At the time, Joules CEO Nick Jones said: “Garden Trading is a fast-growing and highly complementary brand to Joules. The acquisition will help to increase the Joules customer base, broaden our product offering and strengthen our digital platform.”
At the time, Joules said Garden Trading had been a “standout” brand for the last 15 months on its third-party marketplace, Friends of Joules, as consumers have spent time working on their homes and gardens since the pandemic began last year.
The DIY and gardening sector grew 4.6% to £11.9bn in 2020, GlobalData has reported.
GlobalData analyst Georgina Sreeves, who specialises in homewares, DIY and gardening, said: “The DIY and gardening sectors were resilient amid the pandemic as consumers shifted spend from holidays and leisure to the home, particularly amid lockdown periods. Demand for these products will not vanish as lockdown restrictions ease, so they are likely to capture some of this demand in the coming months.”
Sreeves said Homebase’s presence could increase dwell time in Next stores, increasing its “destination appeal” and encourage impulsive purchases of non-home products.
For Joules, diversifying its product offering with in-demand products, such as gardening product, is a way to attract new customers and offset losses within clothing over the last year, she said.
Peter Ruis, president of Canadian retailer Indigo, and former managing director of Anthropologie, agrees that a garden offering can help create destination appeal for clothing and lifestyle retailers.
“The one thing you can’t underestimate is how fantastic it looks in a physical shop,” he told Drapers. “In their purest form, nature and plants create wonderful retail theatre. You can buy a dress for the season, then stroll outside to see some wonderful plants. If you’re a lifestyle retailer, not just a pure fashion retailer, there’s an opportunity.”
Ruis said there is currently a strong trend toward outdoor, which is linked to a sustainable and well-being way of life that did not exist five years ago.
Multiple lockdowns over the last year has forced people outdoors, going for walks more and enjoying their surroundings. This trend has been amplified in recent months, as seen in the The North Face x Gucci collaboration, which focuses on the outdoors – a first for the high fashion brand – while Burberry offered an “exploration of the countryside” for its latest autumn/winter 21 menswear collection.
“There used to be a stigma around garden centres, that a person of a certain age would stroll around conventional aisles, but this has changed,” Ruis continued. “There has been a boom in the sale of houseplants. Young people in their twenties and forties, with less chance to buy mortgages and spend money on furniture, are buying into this trend.”
Independent lifestyle boutique Roo’s Beach, based in Cornwall, has just introduced a dedicated plant section into its newly renovated store, which reopened on 12 April.
Founder Roo Cross said: “We felt that adding this was a natural progression to make us a destination store, and the plants fit so much with our design and look. I think the pandemic has changed retail dramatically and the inclusion of outdoor plants, and houseplants has been driven by the need for people to have a lovely home and garden to live in.”
Gareth Jones, non-executive director of White Stuff and chairman of ethical fashion brand Aym Studio, said both Next and Joules are tapping into wider customer lifestyle opportunities through brand extensions, enabling them to deliver significant incremental growth and loyalty without distracting the business from its core proposition.
“The various lockdowns seemed to have intensified the nations love of the outdoors from entertaining with new garden accessories to more time spent feeding plants and birds,” Jones explained. “Taking a slice of this growing part of the market could be a shrewd move.”
However, GlobalData’s Sreeves warned of the challenges that clothing retailers could face by moving into this space: “I think there are a limited number of clothing retailers that could successfully offer DIY and gardening products. For example, these products would not translate well at the likes of Asos and New Look.
“Homeware is a safer venture for clothing retailers, and we are seeing new retailers offer this. PrettyLittleThing launched a homeware range late last year, and Mango announced in January 2021 that it plans to release a homewares range.”
Home is a graveyard. It’s something that looks appealing but is a capital-intensive
Richard Hyman, retail analyst
Launching a homewares offer can also be extremely costly, warns independent retail analyst Richard Hyman: “Home is a graveyard. It’s something that looks appealing but is a capital-intensive business. You have to build separate buying and merchandising teams for all the categories. You have a magnification of operating costs and I would question how many businesses are actually profitable in this sector. Next has already got a massive home business, but it is an exception.”
With a growing market of horticultural lovers and the need to create retail theatre to entice people back into bricks and mortar stores, now could be a great time for lifestyle retailers to test their green fingers with an outdoor offering.