...the Garden Centre Association
The GCA has its origins in the very roots of the garden centre movement, which surprisingly has only been in existence for 40 years. The term ‘garden centre' was not coined until the early 1960s - before that, gardeners bought their plants from nurseries or by mail order.
Garden centres as such began to take off after the idea that plants could be sold in containers all the year round - an American development - was pioneered in the UK by a handful of forward-thinking nurserymen. This had the effect not only of spreading demand beyond the traditional planting ‘bottlenecks' of spring and, in particular, autumn (especially for roses), but also of making plants easy to transport and to handle as a retail commodity.
Stewarts, Russells, Wyevale and Notcutts (who coined the title Plantarea for their first cash and carry retail unit), were among those early “container revolutionaries” who helped to shape the garden centre industry we know today.
By 1966, the movement was sufficiently well developed to need specialist representation, so a Garden Centres Group was formed within the Horticultural Trades Association. One of its first decisions was to set up an inspection scheme for members, who were entitled to “Approved Centre” status and this continues today.
The following year, the group joined the European alliance which eventually become the International Garden Centre Association (IGCA), but it was not until 1979 that it became independent of the HTA and in 1986 the group finally adopted the name of The Garden Centre Association.
Today, the Garden Centre Association, with its dedicated head office team, represents over 200 garden centres - widely regarded as being among the UK 's most progressive. As the market has grown and the expectations of customers have increased, many have developed to become full scale ‘leisure destination' centres offering a rich and rewarding shopping experience based around plants and related products for the home and garden.
What does the GCA do?
The Association believes in sharing information and experiences at all levels, from senior management to the shop floor, and strives to achieve excellence in customer service, plant quality and reliability. Winter Conferences and summer workshops for garden centre proprietors, managers and staff are a crucial part of the work of the GCA to enhance good communication skills and advise members of the latest retail initiatives to encourage customers to visit garden centres.
Setting and Maintaining Standards
Ensuring customer satisfaction is a crucial aspect of GCA activity and every garden centre is subjected to a comprehensive annual inspection by independent consultants to satisfy the GCA expectation that members maintain and improve their customer service standards.
Another aspect of customer service and product reliability is the Association's Plant Guarantee Scheme, whereby members undertake to replace hardy plants that fail to grow in the customer's garden provided, of course, they have received reasonable care and are returned to the garden centre within one year of purchase. The scheme enhances the GCA's belief that customers should be assured that they can buy plants with confidence at any member garden centre.