2 minute read

Guaranteeing British plant supply

In the space of just 10 weeks, two garden centregroups announced they had purchased nurseries. GTNfinds why this is good for the centres and for consumers.

Atthe end of 2022, Squires Garden Centres, with 16 stores, announced it had acquired Barnsfold Nurseries in West Sussex. A shorttime later in mid-March of this year, British Garden Centrestook the keys to asitefromHawkesmill Nurseries in Warwickshireunder alease agreement. Between them, these twolarge groups sell millions of plants ayear and in the case of BGC,the 8million plants it sells account for nearly 30% of its business.

Boyd JDouglas-Davies, BGC’sPlants

&PRDirector, says the Hawkesmill site, to be renamedTemple Nursery, will be thegroup’sthird production site adding to Woodthorpe NurseryinLincolnshire and Fretherne Nursery, Gloucestershire. “While this additional unit will giveus the potential to produceanother 2 million retail readyplantsayear, it won't takeawayanything from our other UK suppliers as our rate of growth, combined with our planned move towards moreBritish plants, will absorb these plants and more." Boyd can easily see atime when BGC will be selling more than 10 million plants.

Forthe Squires centres, which began as anurserybusinessin1936, the acquisition of Barnsfold Nurseries marks awelcomed return to offering more home-grownplants. It is anticipated that supply from Barnsfold to Squire’s Garden Centreswill remain broadly as it has been the same for the last few years. It supplies core beddingplant lines and has worked with Squires to createthe centre’s own‘added value’ range including primula arrangements, known to customers as ‘Rustic’, ‘Cheerful’ and ‘Harmony’. It also supplies ranges including patio plants, begonia, cosmos, erysimum, osteospurmum, primrose and ranunculus.

“Atleast 85%ofthe plants we sell areUKgrown, with many grownvery locally to our garden centre locations,” says Sarah Squire, Chairman of Squires Garden Centre.“Theopportunity to acquireBarnsfold fits well with that commitment, supports the local economy and reduces plant miles.”

BGC’sTemple Nursery, with 100,000sqft of glass, multispan tunnels and outdoor beds will be run by ateam of fiveand thefirst plants to be grown therearrived in earlys of April. It will produceperennials, shrubs, herbs, veg plants. “Essentially,” says Boyd,“our nurseries havejustthree customers –our plant buyers –orwhatwehavenow called ‘plant hunters’.”These work with nurserymanagers to decide what can be grownwhere, when and howmuch. A keyistomakesureall theplants retail, so Boyd says if the plan is to sell 3,000 plants then the nurseries will grow 2,5000.“This way we makesure100%of the plants havegone out,”headds.

Squires has aslightly different approach in that Barnsfold Nurseries will continue to serve itsother customers. Sarah explains: “Barnsfold will continue to supply their existing customer base for the foreseeable futureand hopefully some newcustomers too. TheBarnsfold team takes pride in producing superb quality plants for all their customers and will continue to do so.Itisverymuch businessasusual.”

Logistics is relatively straightforward for the Barnsfold. Its closest Squires centreis13miles, the furthest being 40miles. ForBGC however, getting plants to its60plus garden centresismoreof achallenge but its transporthub on the M40,near Stratford-upon-Avonismaking things easier.Plants from acrossthe countryarriveheretobeconsolidated and reloaded ontoanother lorrytobe takentotheir final destination. This helps the centresasitallows them to receive orders ‘little and often’ but has other benefits allowing BGC to securesmall orders from specialist nurseries around the country. “Werealisedweneeded to engage morewith smaller growers but were conscious of the logistical challenges. Our transportnetwork means we can takejustone trolly at atime,” says Boyd.It’sthisability to develop relationships with smaller growers that leads to the opportunity for certain centres to offer consumers exclusive lines such as Hydrangea ‘Red Butterfly’ introduced last summer

Being able to haveacertain amount of controloverplant supply is certainly abenefit especially in this eraofpostBrexit trade. It is also helps reduce biosecurity risks and brings retailers a step closer to managing the reduction of peat theyuse. Customers arealsokeen to see and buy morehome-grownplants on the shelves knowing theysupport the UK economy

“With 51% of the plants we sell coming from British nurseries, we aremoving in the right direction,”says Boyd SarahSquiresays: “Together we will meet the challenges that all horticultural businesses face, from the weathertothe economic outlook, with acollaborative approach and huge respect for the knowledge and experiencewithin both businesses.”