Digital Growth…How Irish Growers and Retailers Responding to New Technology


Horticulture Connected is delighted to feature perspectives on technology use in the Irish sector by two of our most highly regarded early adaptors, Roy Rentes of Rentes Nursery and Jim Clarke of Johnstown Garden Centre.



In my time with Rentes Plants, which is fast approaching a decade, I’ve witnessed firsthand the breakneck pace of change occurring in the industry as people become more tech savvy with more devices being internet-ready and younger generations stepping up and going digital/online. Far from replacing old buying habits, these changes haven’t aŸffected the foot traffic to the nursery. People still want to see and feel the plants prior to purchase.

At Rentes Plants we have been pushing tech improvements as much as we can, ranging from new administration processes and websites, to taking delivery of an entire suite of new computers and networking equipment to allow us to improve efficiency in an era where time is scarce. We’ve also seen massive improvements out of the office. Top-spec grow houses, new potting equipment, grow space heating, cooling facilities and more have enabled us to vastly broaden the range of what we can oŸer with cost savings and quality improvements.

But it won’t stop there. Nurserymen who have witnessed the automated mega-nurseries in Holland and Germany know the huge gains in efficiency and productivity that such technology can deliver. Being able to instruct a machine to ‘water these, spray that, move those from A to B’ and for the system to do it all with a push of a button is an enticing prospect, and one we should all be marching towards.

“There needs to be a much greater desire for adopting technological change within the industry.”

Previous attempts to bring this in, such as the now stalled Growtrade platform, oŸffered huge benefits but now lie dusty on a shelf from a lack of uptake because of fear of the unknown. I can see a revamped Growtrade being launched in the near future, and we should all be getting on board.

Adapting to new technology is slower in the nursery sector than in other industries in Ireland, which is understandable as horticulturists work with their hands, and modern technology is something many people have only a passing knowledge of.

I am going to lengths to stay in touch with technology, enrolling in a part-time higher diploma in computer science with the aim of eventually developing new web content and android/Apple apps in-house. Colleges are screaming out for students, and there has never been a more urgent need for people to develop IT skills than now.

Rentes Plants has seen a sudden shift to web sales with 1% usage two years ago now pushing past 15%+ for our webshop. More customers access our webshop through their smartphones than through their PC’s, prompting us to develop a dedicated mobile version – coming soon to a hand held device near you.

There is an urgent need for retailers and nurseries to rapidly adapt to the upcoming Celtic Tiger Mark II. A near decade of stagnant house purchases, coupled with the bottoming out of house prices and a loosening of credit is going to result in a second boom for landscapers, garden centres and nurseries alike. This new wave of first-time home buyers is going to be more tech savvy than anything we have seen before, being the first generation of home buyers exposed to digital technology from birth. These technophile youngsters will expect digital content to be the norm, rather than an added bonus as it is often treated now. The challenge to meet this demand will require a new set of skills within the industry. We should all be embracing the new technology with open arms.

For more information on Roy and how he and the Rentes team are utilising technology todevelop their nursery business visit



From a retailer’s perspective, the internet and e-commerce particularly have had a revolutionary
effŸect on how business is done in recent times and we are just at the start of where we can go.

The internet is just 20 years old. More change has occurred in the last three years than in the previous 17, hastened along by the iPad and the smartphone which made the internet easy to use and accessible for everyone, from the very young to the very old without the fear of pressing a button and deleting everything or breaking the computer.

“Without a webshop, to compete today, nurseries have to call around with samples on a weekly basis to give the same idea of their stock”

From a procurement point of view, almost all we buy now is done online through webshops and email lists. Nurseries that have a webshop have seen their sales grow very rapidly as the client can see how the plant looks today, price and quantities available to buy and how full the plant trollies are for economic delivery. Barcode and pre price information is included automatically.

This is available 24/7. Without a webshop, to compete today, nurseries have to call around with samples on a weekly basis to give the same idea of their stock. This is just not sustainable. As soon as trollies are filled they are ready for dispatch using hired transport rather than own transport, enabling more frequent deliveries per week. Paperwork is seamlessly integrated with accounting systems, eliminating much duplication and making label printing easier.

At the consumer end, a retail webshop is our shop window to the world. Consumers now have the power in their hands to research anything they require whenever they choose – no more queueing up to speak to an ‘expert’. All our advertising eŸfforts are now directed online, using social media, email, adwords, websites, QR codes, product videos, etc to interact with our customers directly – compare this to the information held on a plant label up until now. The label and packaging just cannot compete. Labels going forward will all have to have a QR code (or its successor whatever that may be), so that it can link directly.

Future labels will all need a QR code, so they can link directly to the web by scan, wireless link or smart chip – linking to product production videos, images, background information on the plant, ideas on how to use it and care for it, close up images of the flowers, foliage, stems, berries, fruits, pollination, soil types, feeding, propagation , fragrance, etc, and images of the plants in use in garden settings. Information will be the key in the future. Soon we will have apps for plant identification, pest and disease identification and links to controls and where to buy them. Knowledge is power and our customers are embracing it, very fast. With technology advancing so quickly now and new products like Google Glass and Apple Watch, 4G and fast broadband availability rolling out, the products that link up with these technologies and embrace them will be the winners of the future. Not everything will catch on and not everything will be successful but we need to keep adapting all the time. Remember when the fax machine was the new great invention?

Jim Clarke is a Director at Johnstown Garden Centre. For more information on how he is exploiting new technology in his business visit