‘Our nurseries are filled to the rim’

Martin Hogenboom of Vireõ plant sales in De Kwakel has noticed that nurseries are starting to struggle. Customers in several European countries are postponing their orders due to lockdowns. Meanwhile, the deliveries of import materials for tropical plants continue as normal. “Our nurseries are filled to the rim, but we find a place for everything that arrives.”

What are your current sales figures like?

“We’re still distributing to countries that aren’t in lockdown, but the sales to countries that closed their borders were hit hard. We normally sell lots of campaign products between week 51 and week 2 but this year, customers have been postponing their orders. Most IKEA stores are closed. In the United Kingdom, the last few garden centres and DIY stores that are still open, might have to close their doors as well. Many garden centres in Germany are closed already, and there are rumours that they won’t be allowed to open again until Easter. We’re still shipping produce to Poland, but not to any other Eastern European countries. Customers aren’t cancelling their orders, but they don’t know when they’ll be able to receive plants again. It’s hard for them too, because they don’t want to have empty shelves when they’re allowed to open again, either.”

What does that mean for you?

“It means that we need to do everything we can to get the plants delivered on time. We can’t bring too many plants to the auction clock, that would make prices go down too much. But with fewer plants leaving the premises, our nurseries are under pressure. At Hedera Plant for example, production has fallen behind due to a lack of space. That’s a shame. Meanwhile, the deliveries of import materials for tropical plants continue as normal. We can’t leave the materials for April and May orders lying around. Our nurseries are filled to the rim, but we find a place for everything that arrives.”

Have there been many changes since Brexit?

“Our distribution in England hasn’t been affected too much. We’re still shipping over a few product lines. The same day orders and the more speculative actions have gone down, though. Our trade with Germany has been hit the hardest; our German customers have been buying too little, or nothing at all, for three weeks now.”

What about the retail segment?

“We’re really happy that we started selling more to the retail sector during the past few years. That trade is continuing as normal now. We always keep a close eye on our customer base to check if it’s well balanced. It can be dangerous when the share of one distribution channel gets too large. So many distribution channels are closed now. At the moment, you’re lucky if all your customers are in the retail segment.”

What do you expect for the coming months?

“What do you think? They’ve just started mass testing in four Dutch towns. It looks to me that we’ll soon be told that the British variant has reached our country. And if that’s the case, the government will probably introduce a curfew next week. Not an encouraging situation in terms of reopening the shops. People need a distraction. So, they’re all flocking to the supermarkets. As more and more shops must close their doors, there are more people visiting fewer shops. What’s the harm in keeping the garden centres open? As long as you implement strict measures, it should be possible.”

Is the situation harder for you now than in the spring of 2020?

“No, it doesn’t feel like that so far. Back then, literally everything came to a halt. Nothing happened for three entire weeks. At the moment, at least some countries are open. And supermarkets are better equipped for plant sales now, so there’s more going on in that segment. It’s important to realise that there’s less produce available at this time of year, which reduces the pressure on price. But it doesn’t feel nice to start the year like this. Especially if we fall so far behind that we can’t make up for it anymore later on. That would put me in a bad mood.”

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