By John Stanley In the last few weeks a number of events have caused me to focus on 2026. Twenty years into the future. Firstly, Linda and I became grand parents for the first time and this inevitably causes you to look at the future. While we awaited the great event, the ï¿½Australianï¿½ our national newspaper ran a 13 edition colour supplement forecasting what life will be like in 2026. This was also timed with the release of Alfonso Cuaronï¿½s film ï¿½Children of Menï¿½ which takes a more pessimistic view of the world in 2026 / 2027. To cap that I then had an email from the UK magazine ï¿½Garden Trade Newsï¿½ asking for my ten predictions on how the garden centre industry will look in twenty years time. All those events have forced me to focus on what will the garden centre industry be like in 2026. Iï¿½m fully aware that my crystal ball will be way out in some areas, but right on target with others. A similar article to this one was produced twenty years ago in Australia. In 1986, a consultancy company called Grey Marketing predicted how we would be living in 2006. It mentioned that we would be working less hours (we are working more), gardening would be our favourite pastime (we are gardening less), we would join local service clubs (membership numbers are declining) and we would be investing in our grand children (Linda and I scoffed at that one in 1986, how wrong we were). What will the independent garden centre look like in 2026? If we have a vision, we can plan for the future. Here goes, here are my predictions. 1. Cocooning will be the norm Faith Popcorn predicted cocooning will be the big trend in the Popcorn Report written in 1991. In the latest research coming out of Australia, we are spending more time at home and less time shopping. With the combined forces of increasing fuel costs and terrorism, I believe by 2026 we will be fully cocooned. Landscape designers are already talking about developing your garden into a ï¿½resortï¿½. This will be good for our industry. The consumer will want to venture out to their local garden centre to furnish their ï¿½resortï¿½ garden which will be a place of entertainment and relaxation. 2. Garden Centres will be the Retail Iconï¿½s Al Gore has focused our attention on what we are doing to the planet. Nearly every industry in the world will have had to have changed its business practices by 2026 and will need to work hard to show the consumer they are genuinely ï¿½greenï¿½. The garden centre is already perceived as ï¿½greenï¿½ in the consumerï¿½s eyes. We will still need to work on our trading practices and improve recycling of waste, water management and so on, but by 2026 we will be recognised as the ï¿½keyï¿½ green business locally, the ï¿½iconï¿½ other retail business are judged on. 3. You will not recognise Garden Care Take a look at all that space allocated to chemicals to maintain a garden. Will you have that same amount of space allocated to garden care? I doubt it. I believe it will be a small area of your store and with a limited range of organic products. During the next twenty years public pressure will encourage the garden care suppliers to provide organic products to maintain consumerï¿½s gardens. 4. The Plant Range will change Climate change has already had a dramatic affect on the way we garden. In my garden in Perth, Western Australia, I planted Petuniaï¿½s ten years ago. Today, I would be looked on as being a bad citizen if I planted such a plant in my garden. Succulents and native plants have replaced high water needing exotics. In the UK when I was a horticultural student, you would never see olive trees for sale as they would not survive. Now the UK is planting olive trees and enjoying their Mediterranean look gardens. Invasive plants that damage the environment will have long been banned from being sold to the public. The garden will be a low maintenance garden using native plants and low maintenance exotics. We will be more concerned with plants that create habitats for local fauna. The Prairie Garden will be very much in vogue. 5. Plants, Fruit and Vegetables The name Garden Centre, will I expect, be a real outdated term and we will be calling our business new ï¿½sexyï¿½ names. I also think the trend that started in the UK will go global. Garden Centres being combined with Farmers Markets. It seems logical that the two key local ï¿½perishableï¿½ retailers will join forces. Iï¿½m finding discussions in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and mainland Europe are already starting to focus on this combination. Fresh fruit and vegetables; encourages our existing garden centre consumer to visit the site 52 times a year rather than their existing four or six times a year. A recent ï¿½futuristicï¿½ documentary program in Australia suggested that such units will have ï¿½pick your ownï¿½ units on site. The farm market retailing will have gone full cycle. 6. Independent Local Businesses will be the heroï¿½s Globalisation has been the issue of the turn of the century. I have just been working in Japan and found Starbuckï¿½s. Macdonaldï¿½s, KFC and Subway were as common in Tokyo as any other major city in the world. I believe by 2026 that will have all changed. The local, independently owned business will become the hero again. Consumers will be supporting the local businesses who are supporting local suppliers. Time will tell if my predictions are the right ones. We need to start considering how the long term picture will change. Iï¿½m positive about the future of independent garden centres. The future is theirs as long as they have vision and planned strategies.