Show’s over

Given that it’s pretty much two months since our last show of the season, the NCCPG Dorset plant fair at Athelhampton House on 10th September, it’s pretty fair to say that it’s all over for 2017. So, with all that time to reflect on things, a review of this year’s roadshow should be a well considered affair.

It was a less intense roadshow than in the recent past, as we have been scaling back the number of events we attend as a consequence of the demands of increasing internet-based sales. But more of that later.

We kicked off our events season in early April in the splendid quadrangle at Marlborough College and, for once, the weather was relatively benign: sadly, that didn’t seem to make much difference in terms of sales. The mid-April Easter weekend went by without an event, as the Craft & Garden Fairs that Katie used to organise are, alas, no more, so it was back up to Marlborough, right up on to the downs this time, at the end of the month for the Kennet Valley RDA plant fair. The best views of any plant fair location, bar none. And spectacularly good sales too, despite the fact that customers have to brave miles of single track and, in some instances, gravelled roads to get to the event.

May was a relatively relaxed month, with only five events, but each of them – the St John fair at Bishop’s Waltham, the NCCPG events at Stockbridge and Athelhampton, the Rowdeford Garden Fair and the Milford on Sea gardening club fair, held on the village green – was a buzz of non-stop sales activity and meant that the month of May accounted for over 25 per cent of our show income for the year. If May was relaxed, however, June was anything but.

The month opened on a high note at the Solent Gardeners’ Fayre, which provided the best day’s takings of the year and, we think, of any day anywhere ever, which was very nice indeed. But the three weekends that followed were sheer madness, given that we were also trying to keep up with internet sales running at their highest levels ever. The three days at Stansted were, as usual, a crowded blur, and we had only just got over that when we were at Gilbert White’s House in quaint Selborne for the two days of the Unusual Plants Fair. Scarcely time to get our breath back or, indeed, get some plants sorted out before it was off to the 17th century West Woodhay House near Highclere for the West Woodhay Gardeners’ Fair, a new – or, rather, revived – event in the calendar. And a very stylish affair it was, too, with all the stands presented in house style with hessian-covered tables and cream canvas parasols the order of the day. And very good that consistency of presentation looked too, as can be seen in the image below.

On the evening of the opening day (Friday) there was a charity gala which attracted the great and the good from the surrounding area and during which we were obliged to remain on site manning our stands. In the space of rather more than two hours spent observing the guests sip sparkling wine and nibble on their canapes Rob managed to sell all of two plants, which prompted him to leave around 8. 45 pm (with most of the guests still lingering) so that he could get back to base and restock for the following day before the Paddock Plants van turned into a pumpkin. A stroll round the grounds on the Saturday revealed a rather fine specimen of Abutilon Red Tiger in the conservatory, which might explain the popularity of said plant on our stand.

After the madness of June things eased off, thankfully, and there was a breathing space of a month before the three days of the Garden Show at Loseley Park, which turned out to be the best three days we have had at that particular event. It is quite hard to nail down the reason why things were up by quite such a margin: perhaps it was down to pretty decent weather and the arrival of several coachloads of eager punters on each of the three days, Jane’s hard work in promoting the show since it was reborn some seven years ago seems to be paying off.

After that it was downhill all the way, with the usual Ellingham Show and Emsworth Show giving us something to do in August and another trip down into deepest Dorset to Athelhampton to round things off on the second weekend of September. Which marked our 22nd day manning the Paddock Plants display stand during 2017. Now that represents quite a change since the heady days of 2015, when our tally of such days stood at 42, and another reduction on last year’s figure of 35.

Cutting back on the number of days spent away from the nursery has been quite deliberate, as the balance of our sales sheet has tilted in favour of our online business. If you are standing around in the grounds of some stately home or other, you can’t be packing plants into boxes or, indeed, potting on or propagating the next generation of plants. Our show revenue may be down (but not proportionally to the reduction in number of events, as we have kept the best ones on the calendar), but gross turnover continues to grow, so there are certainly changes afoot in the world of plant retailing. Rob’s theory is that the keen and knowledgeable gardeners, perhaps feeling their age a little, are now staying at home and silver surfing on their iPads (other tablets are available) in search of plants rather than going out to plant fairs.

Although they don’t qualify as shows, it is worth mentioning our selling through other outlets. We have been supplying Sunnyfields Farm Shop near Totton since last spring, and this year we have been doing the same for Romsey World of Water and the Kimbridge Farm Shop, on a sale or return basis, which seems to work quite well for both parties.

Looking ahead, Rob is currently working on the show calendar for 2018: chances are it will be around the 20 days mark and hopefully with a month of June less likely to require a health warning. Keep an eye on our events page for further news as things fall into place.

Rob & Joanna – November 2017

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