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Millbrook Garden Centre bosses lose more than £1million as DIY stores swipe profits

The boss of a Gravesend garden centre says her company has missed out on more than £1million in sales while DIY stores have been left free to profit during lockdown.

Tammy Woodhouse, managing director of Millbrook Garden Centre, said the garden centre has lost out on a "dream spring" as she called for more clarity on government imposed restrictions.

Earlier this month, Tammy explained how the garden centre - which has sites in Staplehurst and Southfleet - had lost around £150,000 over the first weekend it was forced to close as part of measures designed to stop the spread of coronavirus.

But while she says garden centres are keen to follow the rules, she says the contradictory rules allowing DIY stores to remain and sell garden products have stirred up ill-feeling.

"It's not a level playing field," she said. "You've got B&Q and Homebase that have reopened and they're allowed to sell garden equipment and plants. Supermarkets have got trolleys of compost and other things too.

"It's really galling. We want to do the right thing and as an industry we've stuck to the rules."

Meanwhile, grey areas surrounding the rules on farm shops had allowed smaller businesses to also keep trading.

Tammy Woodhouse of Millbrook Garden Centres
Tammy Woodhouse of Millbrook Garden Centres

"When is a farm shop not a farm shop?" she said. "It's a grey area. Everyone is looking for proper guidance and equal rules for all. So far we've lost between £1million and £1.5million of potential sales within the five weeks. It's the perfect weather - we pray for springs like this and then the worst happens. We're really hopeful we will be among the first businesses to reopen."

She said garden centres were able to implement social distancing relatively easily, and was hopeful mounting pressure on the government would lead to the rules being relaxed.

"We're hopeful it might happen after the May bank holiday, but I think they're not saying much because they don't want to get people's hopes up," she said.

"This is the time for making money, and it's going to be difficult to make it back," she added. "We'll survive as long as they let us open soon.

"I'm always optimistic - you've got to be."

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