In a socially distanced world, it’s never been more vital to harness the power of technology to keep communication flowing

A blog by GIMA director Vicky Nuttall

As we all get to grips with the new world of ‘virtual meetings’, often carried out from the comfort of our homes, it begs the question of how suppliers are going to effectively present their new season’s offerings to retail buyers. Technology such as Zoom may have saved the day when it comes to keeping in touch, but garden retail and its supply chain has always been a sociable industry, and the inevitable cancellation of last month’s Glee because of the Covid-19 pandemic deprived the sector of an established, prime opportunity to meet face-to-face and do business.

 The popular current substitute to exhibitions – online meetings – still makes it tricky to market innovation at its very best. After all, how do you convey the close-up look and feel of a fabric, for example, through a computer screen? That’s why an increasing number of ‘showroom meetings’ are being held at suppliers’ premises this autumn. However, the essential limiting of visitor numbers by appointments, constant attention to maintaining social distancing, regular hand sanitising and possible wearing of face coverings doesn’t make for a relaxed atmosphere in which to network and forge new business relationships.

With coronavirus cases on the rise again in certain regions of Europe, ever changing quarantine regulations are throwing travel plans for suppliers and buyers based on the Continent into chaos, limiting opportunities for showroom tours. It’s fair to say that UK suppliers are having to jump over numerous hurdles and constantly re-evaluate the situation, simply to be able to get the message out about their new offering for 2021.

 For suppliers, making contact with the right buyers outside of Glee and securing that all-important meeting has always been a challenge – and that’s where GIMA can help. Our Buyer Connect sessions, a business matchmaking service that puts suppliers directly in front of key buyers from garden retailers across the UK, has opened countless doors and helped suppliers to strike new deals. Now, in a recovering post-Covid economy, these 20-minute speed networking sessions are playing a more critical role than ever before.

Our ‘virtual’ Buyer Connect session with Homebase in June secured 32 appointments for suppliers, allowing them to showcase their spring and summer 2021 portfolios to the DIY and garden retailer’s gardening buying teams. A second online Buyer Connect event with British Garden Centres – the second biggest garden chain in the UK, having secured Wyevale dispersals and expanded to 57 stores – resulted in 47 appointments where suppliers presented their gift, gardening, Christmas, furniture and barbecue offerings to key decision makers within the group’s buying department.

Across the sector, suppliers are having to resolve issues in order to bring new product development to fruition. Staffing must first be addressed, because team members involved in new product development may have been furloughed earlier in the season, setting projects back. Throwing resources at bringing new products to market hasn’t been easy, especially as the retail sector was still experiencing strong demand in early autumn, leading businesses to divert manpower into getting orders out of the doors. There is no doubt that the sector will still present some real winners in terms of quality when it comes to new products for 2021, but innovation is likely to be on a smaller scale than in previous years.

I remain optimistic that retailers will display loyalty to suppliers that supported them throughout this year’s turbulent season, because there is now a greater industry-wide understanding of the problems that everyone has had to get to grips with during the pandemic. Uncertainty still reigns over the course that pre-season orders will take as we head towards 2021, as some retailers are determined to secure more pre-season stock in anticipation of another strong gardening season in 2021, and as a precaution due to the ongoing risk of regional lockdowns.

However, others – including retail outlets that found themselves with no online or home delivery service at the start of lockdown and were left sitting on considerable levels of stock – may be more cautious about buying in quantity upfront. The decisions that retailers take about pre-season orders will shape the cashflow situation throughout the supply chain, but only time will tell when it comes to seeing how the situation pans out.

At present, retailers are focused on how to overcome the challenges of operating in a socially distanced environment to make Christmas a success, but once festive departments are primed and ready to go, thoughts will turn to spring, and the trends that will shape retail next season. Anyone who visited Glee 2019 will know that innovation was driven by sustainability, and all indicators suggest that this trend will develop significantly as we head into 2021. Lockdown brought about environmental benefits on a scale that we have never witnessed during our lifetime and this will only serve to focus consumers’ minds on eco-friendly and ethical products that set new benchmarks for leaving the planet in a better state for the next generation.

GIMA is leading the way in cutting dependency on single-use plastics and, via our Plastic Packaging Pledge, members have agreed to ambitious goals that aim to ensure that 100% of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. I am confident that GIMA and its members will embrace this challenge and turn the Plastic Packaging Pledge into reality.


For further information please contact GIMA on (01959) 564947 or