A month is a long time in politics and the nursery industry. This time last month we were getting ready for an election and settling into the normal winter conditions. It was expected that LNP would be returned to power with a decent but reduced majority. 30 days later and the LNP has scraped back into power whilst we still don’t know the final results. This time we see a whole new group of minority parties and a shift back to the middle in the overall voting. Britain was voted on their EU membership and the odds were high on them staying. No-one really expected the exit and the following turmoil in the financial markets and the UK government. Will this lead to a breakup of the UK or the balance of the EU?
The winter has been harder than usual across most of the southern part of the country with some record cold days and lots of rain. Victorian water storages are the lowest for five years but still well above the pre-2010 drought years. NSW and Queensland have had significant non-seasonal rains while Tasmania has recovered a bit from a very dry late summer/autumn. Going forward most of Australia is looking to above average rainfall except for Perth and southern WA. This all good for our industry going into what is hoped to be a busy spring.
However the cold wet June and July have meant a significant slowdown in retail sales. Add to this the election, new financial year and Brexit for a very unsure financial market place. When the market is unsure funds are tightened and business slows. I am never quite sure why as it is unlikely any of these will affect the short term need for landscape development in either the commercial or retail sector. Most of these jobs have been on the table for months if not years and are the final part of most developments.
On the retail side there is the Masters sale. It is more than just the large Masters stores as it includes the smaller but more widely spread Home Timber and Hardware chain. This network runs parallel to Mitre 10 and is the ‘local’ hardware bloke who is often a key part of the local community. Everyone seems to have a ‘friend in the know’ and will pass on the ‘truth’ about what is happening. Most of these truths have little base in fact. What is real is the expectation that Masters – either alone of with HTH, will be bought by a foreign investor. What is also real is that Australian Hardware is dominated by Bunnings which means there is room for another player with money to invest.
A new Masters will excite the industry and also juggle up the spread of market share between the large chains and the small specialist garden centres. I suspect this will come with a deal of marketing dollars which should build the total market place. There will be some full blown campaigns which might draw non-gardeners into buying plants and encourage the part time plant people to get in and buy more.
It is now August and the worst of winter is gone. We can expect to have lots of those warm sunny days that will trigger bursts of growth and the formation of young flower buds. Wattle are coming into flower and footy finals are round the corner. We are all ramping up production for spring summer sales and trying to guess what demand there will be. After thirty odd years I have learned that it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen with demand but do know that if it is not on the ground you can’t sell it.
Perennials and edibles are still the main drivers of plant purchases and I can’t see this changing over the next year or two. This is good as they tend to be short lived, have varieties for each season and easy to grow. August is perfect time to pot up the quick growing, spring flowering perennials like Gaura, Sutera and Dianthus as well as the summer flowering Penstemon.
For those in the south, stay warm and get ready for a busy spring and for those in the north and west I hope spring has started with a bang.