Oliver Mathys, former commercial director of Javado, market explorer and trendsetter in the cultivation of ornamental products and now also with his own company, in which he brings together the various links in the chain, participated in the Wintertagung (study trip) organised by the German garden centre association. The trip featured visits to various leading garden centres in the surroundings of Aachen, for example in Heerlen, Maastricht and Hasselt. Read Oliver Mathys’s exclusive report on his experiences here.
“I’ve been a member of the VDG (German association of garden centres) for ten years now. Every year, German colleagues meet up to visit various garden centres together. I visit the garden centres as a member of the VDG, but also in my capacity as inspector for a quality mark.
This year, 160 members, suppliers and guests visited the imperial city of Aachen for the annual congress. The programme also included a study trip to garden centres in the Netherlands and Belgium: Praxis in Heerlen (NL), Bloemen Thomas in Hasselt (Belgium) and the Intratuin branch in Maastricht (NL). We were of course all curious to find out how Peter Stox realised the switch from the Intratuin to the new Praxis chain of garden centres, and were impressed to find that they have managed to do that successfully within a year. The layout and routing were already quite well organised, but so were the range and look and the visualisation of themes such as sustainability via the use of colours and materials. The central places where customers can obtain information and where plants are potted to enhance their value clearly differ from other formulas in the Netherlands.
The second garden centre we visited was Bloemen Thomas in Hasselt. That shop stands out in an architectural respect, with a surprising use of different levels, and an impressive range of lifestyle articles. Among the highlights here were the flower shop with its extremely wide range and the traditional café serving homemade cakes, clearly visible on a top floor. My German colleagues did have some points of criticism regarding the plants and the shop’s structure. What I found a positive aspect of this garden centre is that they clearly know their customers very well, so they know precisely what to offer them and how to make them feel at ease in their shop.
Our next stop was the Intratuin branch in Maastricht – in terms of the Intratuin concept one of the strongest garden centres in Europe. Interesting is that what got my colleagues talking here was not the quality of the plants, the range of products or their prices, but the general implementation of concepts. We all greatly appreciated the fact that members of the Intratuin management team were present, especially as that gave us an opportunity to discuss thoughts on new departments and on cross selling in the interior decoration and food segments.
On day two of our tour we visited some cultural highlights of Aachen and two garden centres of the two Sagaflor concept groups.
We first visited the Grün Erleben garden centre Crumbach near Aachen. Besides its remarkably impressive houseplant section this garden centre happened to be hosting an orchid exhibition. As at all the Sagaflor garden centres, the retail concept is loosely inspired by that of the Dutch Intratuin group, but then more focused on the German market and German consumers.
Next on our programme was the impressive Bellandris garden centre Höppener in Aachen, which has undergone several refurbishments the past few years and may now definitely be classed as large in terms of space and routing. This shop likewise clearly betrays Dutch influences, with special offers such as three houseplants for the price of two. The café serving regional cakes stood out in a positive respect. And as with many of our German colleagues, the plants themselves are still indisputably the garden centre’s USP.
The third and last day of our study trip focused on the annual congress with a new record number of participants (280). Evidently ever more garden centres are enthusiastic about joining the German association of garden centres.
Resumé: although I was already familiar with the garden centres in question, visiting them together with colleagues like this made me take a different view of them. By listening to and discussing each other’s views and perceptions you learn an awful lot of useful things from which you can all benefit in your everyday work.
And this brings me to a word of advice to all colleagues in Germany and other countries: visit the international conference of the IGCA in Switzerland this August. The International Garden Centre Association brings together garden centre entrepreneurs from all over the world, from Japan to South Africa and from China to the Czech Republic. As the ambassador of the IGCC for 2016 I would very much enjoy showing you the country in which I grew up and in which I have managed various garden centres. I’m certain that you will be as enthusiastic about it as I am.”
For more information go to www.igcc2016.ch.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me: Oliver Mathys – ‘I green You’ email@example.com or call me at +21 (0)6 50 821 673.