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Thoughts from the International Garden Centre Congress

The International Garden Centre Association exists to provide a forum for the mutual exchange of information and benefit of similar minded independent garden retailers on a world-wide basis. Photo: IGCA.
The International Garden Centre Association exists to provide a forum for the mutual exchange of information and benefit of similar minded independent garden retailers on a world-wide basis. Photo: IGCA.

A week in Prague with the International Garden Centre Association: what’s in it for you?

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24 October 2018 | 0

Edwin Meijer of Garden Connect recently spent a week in Prague with the International Garden Centre Association, here’s what he learned.

Prague is vibrant

When you think new retail concepts, you think London, New York, Amsterdam, and really any city in Europe other than Prague. But Prague is an incredibly vibrant city and offers many great, beautiful shops. The shoes/lifestyle shop Vnitroblock with art and cosy café and design shopping centre Stockist are two examples of shops with an appealing concept. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill shops and wouldn’t look out of place in any of the cities mentioned above.

Vibrant Garden Centres

When it comes to garden centres, the Czech Republic is also vibrant. The shops are young, fresh and don’t have a long history, since the concept of ‘garden centre’ didn’t appear here until 1989. This means that garden centres are fully embracing innovation and change, as can be seen clearly. Sure, we’re not talking about Polhill or Frosts, but they are looking at what’s happening around them and visiting many other garden centres and congresses. Almost every shop will surprise or amaze you.

A few examples: 

  • Garden Centre Lisy has created an incredible design garden which hosts around 25 parties and weddings a year.
  • Chladek Garden Centre, right in the middle of Prague, has a fantastic outdoor section and, following earlier IGCA trips, they have added a great restaurant, which has been a huge success since its opening. 
  • Libeznice Garden Centre, which sold over 2,500 pot & plant combinations on their website this spring at €40 a piece.

So yes, I was sceptical beforehand, but every visit gave me more than enough to think about. Truly inspiring.

Prague shops online

We also visited Starkl, one of Central Europe’s largest online shops for gardening items and greenery. We were taken on an enjoyable tour through their logistical centre which showed clearly that online shopping is also on the rise in Prague and its surroundings. This online shop sells a lot of plants: so yes, it is possible, as long as you put your heart into it.

Prague inspires

But the real source of inspiration still lies in discussions with colleagues from abroad. On the Interactive Tour, every day has set themes for discussion.

Of course, good old John Stanley had more than enough to talk about, and under the leadership of “our” Ronald Brand we spent hours discussing e-commerce and online marketing. It was very instructive to hear how the Chinese participants manage to run a web shop, which by now has 80 employees in its online department.

The German entrepreneurs shared their experiences with the collective online shop set up by the German Centre Association (spoiler: it doesn’t work at all). The English were very open in discussing their problems, profits and challenges surrounding e-commerce.

I’ve also come along to share knowledge, so I speak openly about the things that are or aren’t working, and share useful tools and information. The atmosphere encourages opening up and is unique, as everyone participates in the conversations or shares their experiences. And, you know, it’s kind of fun to talk about your profession!

Guy Topping also had a special story to share: he built an indoor amusement park next to his garden centre Barton Grange (UK) with indoor golf, bowling alleys, a hotel and whatnot. A true entrepreneur everyone can learn from.

Why go?

It may seem a bit odd for a supplier to attend the IGCA, but it’s more than worthwhile. It’s great if it brings you clients, but for me, what matters more is knowing what’s going on and what entrepreneurs are doing. The better I know them, the better I can help our clients. I genuinely didn’t hand out a single business card. 

The first result? In the next months, two (young) entrepreneurs from England and Germany will come to our office in Zwanenburg for a one-day internship. We’ll share our knowledge with them and they’ll discuss the problems they encounter in their companies. Of course, this immensely helps my team and I, as there is no better source from which to learn what we can do better. We’ll also visit a few garden centres to tag along for a day, to get practical experience of what we can improve.

Next stop: Windsor, UK in September 2019.

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