GTN July 2021 - Garden Trade News, UK

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peat-free – an area that Nicholas believes that customers are ahead of suppliers on. “Concerning peat-free all the suppliers are working on this and they have to. It has been a huge learning curve for the whole industry and some, like us, are moving forward with this. It is the same with plastics and we are doing what we can to reduce the use of plastics – this is challenging for products like hosepipes. It is criminal the amounts of plastic that we are throwing away. Customers expect us to be at the forefront. We are moving forward as much and as quickly as we can do things the right way. It is the customers’ choice but wherever possible we want to give them the choice of doing it the right way. I think that most people identify with that. If somebody gives me a sensible alternative I will use that – and I think most of us are like that.”

A really attractive and pleasant retail environment aimed at creating a different experience, inside and outside with carefully curated product ranges.

as a nice place to go. And so that is what we are aiming to do, with Windlesham as our first site and others in the pipeline.”

Supporting British Made and Grown “We are aiming to sell all British products. Fifteen years ago we all used to be proud of buying British and then along came the EEC and we didn’t mention that anymore. There is going to be a massive reaction to us leaving Europe, which is why we are going to start buying British, supporting British companies, British nurseries and buying less from abroad. During my time at Wyevale, we got to the stage where 8590% of our plants were British. We were proud of this and our customers loved it – plants with locally grown or British grown always sold first. “We grill every supplier to make sure they are aware of our very stringent guidelines. Some have been surprised but on the whole, they get it. Each time we find something British – it’s a moment to celebrate. If we feel like that I am damn certain the customer will feel like that too. Of course, some people don’t give a damn where products are from but I’m sure there are many of those customers visiting garden centres. On the whole, this will suit some people that will like the concept.”

I would like to ensure that as a sector as a whole we start to understand the importance of growing stock in recyclable pots – why wouldn’t you? I am amazed having come back into the sector after a period away to see how far behind the curve the entire sector is – it’s shocking. It is a sadness. I am on a crusade to support the movement to reduce single-use plastic in our sector.”

Team spirit

Nicholas has pulled together an experienced team, including Chief Operating Officer Lorrie Roberston and Retail Operations Director Martin Andrews – who he has worked with throughout his garden centre industry career. “We all know what we think, and between us, we have worked with over 5,000 people across the sector – a really strong network. We all get Brand values begin at home calls from old colleagues asking us to remember them Country House Group has a clear picture of their when we come to their region”, he says. brand for customers and staff alike. Chief Operating The team have always placed great importance Officer, Lorrie Robertson explains, on training and career opportunities “Our brand values are all about what for the staff they take on. Martin We grill Andrews says, “When I first joined the customer wants at the end of the day. We are very clear on the sort every supplier Country Gardens 28 years ago I was of customer that our plant centre to make sure overwhelmed by the morale and appeals to. Those that appreciate camaraderie of the group. This hasn’t they are aware changed to this day – there was a quality and range, and also want to come and enjoy a really attractive and unique pulling together and team of our very pleasant retail environment. But it is spirit. Ten weeks into operations at stringent more than a retail environment, it’s Windlesham I feel we have the same an experience. attitude – it is all about everyone sharing and being part of it.” “The engagement with the brand starts with the staff. You have to ensure that people Nicholas adds, “We’ve always supported young that you employ, especially the young people, that people and given them career opportunities. At you invite to become part of your team, really share the Garden Centre Group and Wyevale, we worked your values and understand your values. We are very through Pershore College and Leiths to ensure not much moving in a direction that is quite different, I only useful, interesting and engaging staff training assume, to other garden centres. but also it was career building, which is incredibly “Having run a few garden centres myself, their important. Good horticulturalists are like hen’s direction of travel hasn’t really changed a great teeth. We like to give people opportunities in our deal which is interesting. And nor has the appetite team – we need 100% commitment and hard work. to address issues such as sustainability and the We encourage our team to share their ideas - if it environment. These are things dear to all of our goes wrong we can talk about it and when it goes hearts and so we are actively promoting organic right we celebrate it.” garden care, peat-free gardening, we are 100% You can’t underestimate the value of listening behind UK grown plant stock and wherever possible Nicholas says, “Listening to customers is much


A sustainable journey As well as the buying British route the Country Homes Group are stocking products that are sustainable,

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