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Large-scale retailing of sub-surface irrigation systems

Dider Bordat, South Area Director at Botanic
For subsurface irrigation, a technical knowledge of the product is required

Irrigazette – Could you define a sub-surface irrigation system in a few words?

Didier Bordat – As far as I am concerned, this is a complex matter. You need to have technical skills to install a subsurface irrigation system. For the consumer, I would say that this is an improvement in the use of water for a garden or a recreation area or leisure space, or even a way of optimising the irrigation system.


Irrigazette – Which distribution channels (Garden Centres, DIY and other specialised superstores) will be used for the subsurface irrigation systems?

Didier Bordat – Very little in the superstores, but certainly in the DIY stores to the detriment of the garden centres. Depending on the profitability of the sector, some garden centres offer subsurface irrigation products while others focus on spare parts. At Botanic, it is only on offer at 20% of our stores, mainly in the south of France (south-east and south-west). It is mainly the DIY stores (Leroy Merlin, Castorama) who dominate the market.


Irrigazette – Do you have shelf space for subsur­face irrigation products in the Botanic stores? Has this shelf space changed much over the last ten years?

Didier Bordat – Yes, it has changed and the space has become smaller and replaced by drip irrigation systems, which have become very popular. Previously, we used to sell the 20s, 25s and 32s. Nowadays we sell mainly the 25s and a few 32s.


Irrigazette – Do you offer automated devices on your shelves (control­lers, valves, moisture sensors, meteo­rological stations…)?

Didier Bordat – The very specialised subsurface irrigation control equipment is only offered as a special product range in our stores; otherwise, we offer a full range of programmers (drip irrigation) in all our shops.


Irrigazette – What is it that differentiates the pur­chase of a subsur­face irrigation system from that of other products?

Didier Bordat – For subsurface irrigation, you need to have a staff member nearby who has technical knowledge of the product. Someone who is capable of planning and responding to our customers. We have recently (since the autumn) set up a support service in our shops for subsurface irrigation. We use an outside provider (GAARDEN) for carrying out the installations for the customers. The customer can then have the whole project completed by us. This is a very new service and our customers have reacted rather well.


Irrigazette – Is there a seasonal tendency in the sale of this type of product?

Didier Bordat – Yes, it is very seasonal. The season begins in February and sales are at their highest in the spring, before the summer period, lasting until June-July. And that lasts all summer for the spare parts. And then sales pick up again in October.


Irrigazette – How many brands do you have on the shelves? Has this changed much over the last 15 years?

Didier Bordat – We only have two brands on the shelf, whereas we had four brands 15 years ago.

Nowadays, we are trying to respond to the clients’ needs and we have streamlined the number of players involved in the market.


Irrigazette – Could you name the main automatic irrigation brands that spring to mind?

Didier Bordat – Hunter, Toro, Rain Bird, Aqua Flo.


Irrigazette – Do the manufacturers have ranges that allow for the complete installation of a system?

Didier Bordat – Yes, they have all the tools required for a complete installation except in the case of the pumps (which is upstream of the irrigation system). However, Gardena is proposing to include them.


Irrigazette – Regarding your percentage sales, what is the breakdown for complete installations - replace­ment purchases (broken sprinklers, extension of an existing installation)? What has changed over these last 15 years?

Didier Bordat – At the present time, 80% of the purchases relate to repair items and 20% to new products, whereas it was the opposite previously. The customers are either giving up on subsurface irrigation or they are buying minimal quantities. New markets are opening up today, such as synthetic turf, Kikuyu turf or plants that are better adapted to the environment, with less water consumption. In the subsurface sector, sales have fallen by 30 to 40% over the last 15 years.


Irrigazette – Does the consumer have to be convinced or informed for this type of installation?

Didier Bordat – There is no convincing required for sub­surface irrigation. When a consumer goes through the act of purchasing then he or she must have a professional in front of him or her, to provide reassurance. We have to provide a quote and then the customer goes online to compare prices. The most important thing is to ensure that the cus­tomers are well-informed and not try and convince them.


Irrigazette – How would you define the type of buyer who purchases a subsurface irrigation system?

Didier Bordat – There are two types: the customer who has learned from the Internet. This is a clientele that is already reassured and who arrives with a certain knowledge about the product. And the customers who know nothing, who place their trust in us. This type of customer generally arriveswith a plan of his or her garden. The clientele is mainly male because a lot of work is involved with subsurface irrigation. More females are involved in drip irrigation.


Irrigazette – Do you have any particular merchandising for promoting and explaining the different products that make up a subsurface irrigation system?

Didier Bordat – No. We have the POS display information on the shelf but there is no actual merchandising as such.


Irrigazette – You have said previously that the customer arrives with a plan of his or her garden. Who draws up the layout plans for installing the sprinklers?

Didier Bordat – It would either be us or the outside provider. He or she will be sent a general outline plan of the garden where the installation will be carried out. This is done by hand.

Irrigazette – Do the manufacturers offer this service?

Didier Bordat – Yes, the manufacturers do offer it but we do not use their services for this. I believe that it is offered in the DIY stores. The client, therefore, carries out his or her own installation with the plan supplied by the manufacturer.


Irrigazette – Are the salespeople trained in this type of product? How are they trained?

Didier Bordat – They are trained in the shop by the transfer of knowledge and expertise. When a sales person arrives, he or she usually undergoes a 10-day training period.  I would say that he or she would then require another 6 months to become fully operational.


Irrigazette – Are the products guaranteed? For how long?

Didier Bordat – The products have a warranty that covers factory defects but there is no guarantee provided during installation.


Irrigazette – Have you anything you would like to add to terminate our interview?

Didier Bordat – In conclusion, I would say that the market is veering towards drip irrigation products. This product is rather technical but much more affordable and it addresses the desire to save water. There is less and less natural turf in the garden and we also have the emergence of drought-resistant species.