Gifts Today had the pleasure to question Yarnton Home & Garden’s Marketing & Buying Manager, Bryony Fletcher. As an established and growing independent garden centre located in Yarnton Home & Garden’s, Oxon which is set within 12 acres they offer their customers a large shop space spanning across 80,000ft², which is roomy and spacious full of many marvellous gifting ideas. Here we find out more about this forward-thinking retailer.

Can you tell us about the history of Yarnton?

The Garden Centre has been in operation for over 50 years and was originally owned and run by twin brothers, Richard and Nigel. They sold it in 2018 and since then it has been run by a new management team, who have worked tirelessly to keep alive the family and community spirit.

How large are the premises you operate from?

The site is 12 acres, so the shop is large with 80,000ft² of floor space, so roomy to say the least!

2021 has been a turbulent time for many in the industry, with many challenges, how did you overcome challenges that were presented to you throughout this year?

Yes, wow what a couple of years it has been! Being independent helped us hugely as we remained agile and changed our business model when needed. During the first lockdown we changed our business to entirely Click and Collect & phone and collect. We also launched an ecommerce platform. This year we have seen a different set of challenges in stock and staff shortages. We have made sure we have ordered early and plenty of it and we have kept a close relationship with key suppliers. 

What sets your centre apart from your competition?

Perhaps that we don’t fear it, we believe it can only be a good thing if the sector is thriving. We have a very clear brand vision, that is very personal to our centre and staff, so we just do what we do as well as we possibly can and hope people enjoy the experience.

“Inside, there are lifestyle brands such as Bloomingville and Present Time. Because we are a large site, this works well for us. Having the interior brands elevates our offer and means we can support these suppliers in a more meaningful way.”

How does your location work for the business?

We are very blessed with a brilliant location, just north of Oxford and south of the Cotswolds. What more could you want! We have Blenheim Palace on our doorstep and fabulous parking. We aim to look after our surrounding demographic and create a great place customers can come and socialise, eat, shop and enjoy the experience.

You have a mixed retail space, with Yarnton being the lead brand. How does this work for you and your retail partners?

It’s still a work in progress with some concessions, brand partners and Yarnton being the lead brand. We try and work with companies that share our vision and that align with what we are trying to deliver in store. This has worked well for us and them, as our partners add a point of interest to customers and bring in their own footfall.

Can you tell us a little about the type of brands who have in-store concessions – how successful is this is to the business? 

We have a mix of more practical concessions, such as Pets Corner and Maidenhead Aquatics, who operate from their own stores external to the main part of the centre. Inside, there are lifestyle brands such as Bloomingville and Present Time. Because we are a large site, this works well for us. Having the interior brands elevates our offer and means we can support these suppliers in a more meaningful way.

“We try and work with companies that share our vision and that align with what we are trying to deliver in store.”

 Are you currently looking to expand this and looking to introduce new retail partners?

We are always open to the right opportunities.

How important is the gifting sector to the business?

Gifting is so important! The gift of giving is still a complete joy and more relevant than ever, especially in uncertain times. I believe gifting should delight, bring a smile, reassure and be personal. The gift area is a growing section of the business. Being able to browse beautiful gifts adds to the shopping experience.

What mix of gifts do you offer?

We plan for the big seasonal gifting moments in the year – Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas – to name a few. We then keep a core selection of fabulous finds in the store. Children’s gifting is also a big area for us: the unusual, eco-friendly, and fun.

My challenge as a buyer is to find a mix of brilliant gifts across a range of price points.

Is there a product category that performs exceptionally well for you within this?

Botanical & garden inspired gifts performs very well for us, and bath and body. We have seen a rise in faux bouquets as well. 

Have you experienced any difference in the way consumers now shop for gifts?

I think people are increasingly looking for products with a story. This may be local, sustainable, or hand crafted. I also think people are after the amusing. Card sales are stronger than ever, indicating that those moments of connection are being sought. 

What about trends when we look at gift purchases – how do you keep abreast of current trends?

For me, Instagram is 100% essential, just to see what is trending, new and popular. I keep an eye on interior design and fashion trends to see how this may impact the gift market. I am still a big advocate of offline fairs; nothing beats seeing things in real life. I also read magazines, both consumer and industry. 

Do you predict any new trends emerging in 2022?

I do think the move towards more ‘conscious’ buying will continue. Covid combined with a global shipping crisis has made people more aware of where products come from and the supply chain involved. People are looking ‘behind’ the product more. I think sustainability will continue as a very strong theme in 2022. I do believe sparking joy and bringing moments of luxury, wellbeing and pleasure will be paramount. There is a strong feeling that we all must live life to the full.

Sustainability, carbon footprint and eco-friendly are hot topics at present, how important is this to your business?

Incredibly. We were very proud to join up with Lifestyle Garden to be the first garden centre to launch the Dura Ocean garden furniture made entirely from sea plastic. We have also worked very closely with Ocean Plastic Pots, again being their first garden centre stockist. 

 We have invited The Village Refill into our fold, and they have launched a fully refill and sustainable shop within a shop. They also make refill deliveries in the local area in their electric vehicle.

Where we can, we always try and offer a plastic-free or sustainable alternative. Our children’s shop, for instance, sells toy trucks made from sugar cane and we have books you can plant and grow seeds from.

We challenge ourselves to find these more unusual products and to take a punt on them. We feel we owe this to our customers and to our planet. Admittedly, we still have a long way to go but this is something we are constantly reviewing.

What about British Made products, are these something you look to offer within your gifting ranges?

Yes, we are big advocates of British made products. We have lots in store across all areas, from food gifting to garden gifting. We have also recently launched a pop-up space for small businesses to use – free of charge – within our Award-Winning retail space, selling to our customers. This has been warmly received by small businesses and customers alike.

How important is your website to the business – have you experienced a growth in traffic to the site this year?

Our website has become a real digital focal point over the last two years. We have now launched an immersive ecommerce experience and increased our delivery capacity to nationwide. Our website is also a hub to find out information about what is going on in store and up and coming events. Please do visit it. www.yarntonhomegarden.co.uk

Do you offer the same products online as you do in-store?

We offer a hand-chosen selection rather than the whole range. Partly due to resource and partly just to simplify the end-user experience.

What about social media – is this also important to you?

Yes, social media is very important to us. We try to create a warm and friendly digital space and we do a lot of communication with customers via social. We have great fun with it.

Lastly, do you have any exciting news on the horizon you would like to share with GT readers?

In store, you will see our space changing, yet again, this time allowing for an increased area for women’s clothing and shoes. We also hope to expand our Café space, but that plan is under wraps so you will have to visit to see the changes unfold. 

We are hoping to be out and about again next year, with a stand at Blenheim Palace Flower Show and I am delighted to say, Celia Leeson-Cox (our Head of Visual Merchandising) and I will be speaking at Spring Fair on the Sunday. So please do pop along and show your support if you can.

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