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How can landscapers drive up business over the Christmas season?

on Wednesday, 03 January 2018. Posted in Latest News

This article first appeared in Horticulture Week, 29 November 2017

The festive fit-out market has never been better for business, according to Indoor Garden Design (IGD) managing director Ian Drummond, who has been a landscape designer for 30 Christmases.

St Pancras IGD

Christmas landscaping by Indoor Garden Design. Image: Indoor Garden Design

Drummond, ex-chair of the European Federation of Interior Landscape Groups (eFIG), has been overseeing installations for corporations and some of our biggest high-street names. Hundreds of trees are going up right now in offices across London as well as hotels, museums and shops such as Harrods.

The average hotel will spend about £70,000 on bespoke baubles, trees and lights, and this kind of work accounts for around 8% of his total turnover. It might be 10% in two years, but more likely 12%. This year, he insists, will be "by far the biggest Christmas" for IGD.

"Even through the recession the market continued to grow," he adds. "With other things we do such as contract work, people were nervous to commit. But Christmas is always good. This is partly because it's a one-off investment. But it also really lifts people, so clients are prepared to spend."

It also helps that his company has some plum jobs, such as Elton John's winter fundraising ball, which has lifted the IGD brand to help it secure more work. But for the entire sector Christmas is merrier, and more lucrative, by the year thanks to the charity/celebrity effect.

"Big names, corporations and hotels are putting a charity spin on their Christmas creativity and hosting events for people in need. Our displays are therefore no longer just about visual tricks. There is much more social significance to what we do and that is helping push the market."

Popular award category

This growing social stature is reflected at an industry level. The "Christmas design and installation" category was added to the eFIG annual awards around 2013, but has already become one of the most popular and hotly contested prizes, says marketing co-ordinator Coll Smith.

Winners this year included IGD, Frosts Landscape Construction, Mitie Landscapes, Enterprise Plants, Plant Designs and Urban Planters Oxford. Meanwhile, a corporate who's who of big-spending clients such as USB, M&C Saatchi, Grosvenor House Hotel, Sky and Mercedes-Benz World gives credence to the notion of how powerful the pull of the Christmas display has become.

National franchise operation Urban Planters is also dreaming of a great Christmas. North West sales manager Carole Milligan says the brand installs 700 trees, up to 25ft tall, and 2,000 garlands from Crewe to the Lake District and Yuletide business has grown 35% on last year.

Like Drummond, she is a seasoned operator but noticed big-time transformation in the market as few as five years ago. Then trees were gold and decorations blue and silver to match stark, generic office interiors of the time. Now displays are bespoke, free-form, fun-loving and contemporary.

As Christmas business has boomed at Urban Planters, so has promotional activity targeting corporations, shopping centres, hotels, football clubs and residential management agents. Social media has helped the promotional onslaught, being an ideal medium to show off lavish displays.

Growing challenges

Urban Planters is big on Facebook and Twitter, but if the market is growing, so too are the challenges. Landscape businesses are using more seasonal staff, overheads are creeping up and landscapers are having to tailor services more. Where others tie in clients to three-year deals, Urban Planters' are for one year and contractual flexibility means clients can go bigger or smaller each Christmas.

People such as Milligan are also starting to "sell Christmas" as early as January to chime with hotels booking turkey menus. For her, it is a good time to call existing and prospective clients because the season is still fresh in the mind. Throughout the year she is ordering trees, the largest ones earliest.

Christmas has therefore become less seasonal, more annual, which reflects the size and significance of jobs, says Flora-Tech marketing co-ordinator Jake Newman. His firm has a nationwide reach, jobs can go from £65,000 to £100,000 and this year's market is bigger than last year, he adds.

"The market has been growing for quite a few years, certainly the last decade. With growth comes the need for more innovation and creativity, so companies need to offer more bespoke, less off-the-peg services that tie into corporate colour schemes, for example.

"With this growth also come operational challenges. One of the hardest things is selling all the orders and co-ordinating design, delivery and installation services and then ensuring their maintenance."

But not even the biggest of all challenges, Brexit, is putting the mockers on the seasonal swing, say Drummond and Milligan. The latter points out: "The economy is still uncertain, Brexit is causing further anxiety and people are cautious. But it seems they are still happy to invest in Christmas displays, so for now the market shows no sign of slowing down or losing its cheer."

eFIG Awards 2017: Christmas design and installation

Gold Leafs

Indoor Garden Design — UBS, M&C Saatchi, Grosvenor House Hotel
Frosts Landscape Construction — The Landmark London
Mitie Landscapes — Sky UK
Enterprise Plants — Mercedes-Benz World
Plant Designs — Broadgate Estates, Ropemaker Place

Silver Leafs

Plant Designs — Central St Giles
Frosts Landscape Construction — Christmas Story

Bronze Leafs

Plant Designs — 55 Mark Lane
Urban Planters Oxford — Jurys Inn Cheltenham

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