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Silvano Girelli, Flover: ” The Garden Center, experiential and aggregative”

Silvano Girelli, Flover
Silvano Girelli, Flover

This page is also available in: Italiano

The point about the market and the dynamics of the sector directly from the owner of Flover, the garden center sign with six outlets in Italy, and president of the Garden Team consortium. A dual and privileged point of view.

How is the gardening market changing? A question that was sought to be answered at a conference titled “25 years of greenup, stories of trade gardening between hobbies and green culture,” celebrating the anniversary of the trade magazine greenup. The event, organized in cooperation with TEN – diyandgarden.com, was an opportunity to chat with several personalities from the garden center and brico gds industry.

Opening the panel discussion, he thought about it Silvano Girelli, owner of Flover and president of the Garden Team consortium., who recounted from his dual perspective how the market fared in 2023, attempting to take stock of an industry that is constantly changing but seems to be able to keep up with the constant evolution of market needs.

Let’s start by taking stock of the market. How was 2023 for the garden industry and the garden center in general?
The question is not easy. Posse said, however, that it was a good year. We are living through a period of great change on so many levels-which we all know-and I must say that all these fears that are being conveyed to us ultimately conferred a fairly positive influence on the year, because it ended with growth. I would dwell on the fact that the garden world is healthy, it works, and last year proved it.

We are in a period of great change, as you have already mentioned. But what are the elements of change in practice? Instead, what advantages does the garden center have in dealing with these major changes?
We are the terminal of social change and must move within the needs of people and our clientele. The Covid period led to everyone staying at home, and in this situation we were helped because the people who became passionate about the green then stayed loyal and did not leave. This was not a given. I would say that compared to the past, today people with a passion for greenery do not miss it, do not think it is superfluous, even in times of crisis. It is a well-established hobby that people are enjoying more and more. Therefore, the garden is in a prime location because it is the gathering point for green enthusiasts.

This is an advantage. And the critical issues that a garden center has in dealing with change what are they?
One critical issue may be the climate issue. We have all been faced with borderline situations that make us think about how to have stronger and more robust structures for the future. Because climate events, indeed, have shaken us. Another difficulty, as with all, is finding trained resources, because in the store there is even more emphasis on contact with the public, and it is essential to find young people and staff who are passionate and can create a concrete relationship with the customer. Our stores are also experiential, so we are able to capture attention not only with staff but also with events, in-house activities, and visual merchandising. Without forgetting, that regulatory simplification would also be necessary: because if the garden sector is not growing in Italy, it is also because there are regulatory simplifications that we have been waiting for a long time and that would allow for greater development of the sector.

And where are we with these regulatory simplifications?
This is Italy. Abroad, garden centers can open by following a simpler process while here everything is complex. Even having an in-house bar or restaurant is complicated: few have them. I believe the legislation is currently being worked on briskly but the timeline is uncertain. There is currently no news.

Let’s change the subject. In recent years there has been an explosion of e-commerce, and people sell and buy everything via the Web. And Flover also has its own e-commerce. How is he doing? What did they buy you and what were the developments in your shop?
With the advent of e-commerce, the mode of sales has also changed. We, like many others, equipped ourselves with an e-commerce site, especially during Covid because we had to make deliveries and accelerated the construction of such shops. As far as we are concerned, the products that customers attribute to us as our specialty work best. For example: Christmas products or items from the garden or pet department. However, the complexity of shipping plants has also created a limitation to the proliferation of this type of tool in garden centers. Of course, there are some that are excellences because they specialize and have become real influencers promoting particular collectible plants. As for competition, we suffer it more on barbecue brands, swimming pools, and some brands related to the garden or pet. Often the customer does not buy from us because they are looking for these products at lower prices. This is a trend we are all getting used to a little bit but we have to respond to it through constant work on clerk training and our reputation that can justify a fair price, not low, but sustainable for us.

Why is it that in the garden world, compared to the brico world for example, individualism wins and not aggregations?
I hope no one gets upset, but I think the reason is the peasant culture from which many in the industry come. The other key element is the great unevenness of departments in stores: a garden in the south is not like one in central Italy or the north. I think it is the mismatch that brings this difficulty of aggregation: because if I aggregate, I aggregate to buy a basket of products however if, in the end, everyone has different items it is difficult.

Abroad, on the other hand, it is a tradition.
They are there and they work. Even one buying group has three different levels inside, even with different brands. I would like to say, however, that when we organized the International Garden Congress in Italy, foreign colleagues appreciated the diversity. They visited eleven stores in Italy and were amazed by the richness of the offerings. Over massification, it leads to a bit of a flattening out, and I think the richness of this world of ours is the fact that often behind a garden is a family and the taste of that family that was born there and produced plants. A beauty that would be better left, in a sense. So, yes aggregation is good, but this diversity that sets us apart would also be a shame to lose.”

One last question: how do you see 2024?
I see the world of plants very well: both indoor plants that populate homes and outdoor plants for garden life. The garden has become an extension of the home so I think our world is ready to meet these needs and we will have a lot of possibilities. It is clear that we must also strive to keep the passion alive in both the external customer and the internal customer who is our colleague, who must be motivated and passionate to continue to put forward the culture of green.

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