GTN March/April 2022 - Garden Trade News, UK

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Interview At the moment each can receive a dividend of up to £3,600 before having to pay tax. “But we’ve had to be very clear with the staff – just because you can earn it, doesn’t mean you will. It would have to be a very, very good year to get that much!” says Paul. This then gives each employee a stake in the business and a real reason to help the company be a success. Another important point is that employees are given a certain amount of job security which is particularly pertinent in a world where smaller, family run garden centre businesses are in the eye of larger companies looking to add to their portfolio. Paul explains this was bought home to him customer base. “If you’d seen it the week we following a recent substantial offer for the company took over and compared it with what it looks like way over the current market value and what he now, you wouldn’t say it was the same business,” describes as ‘phenomenal’. “We had a discussion but says Paul. “The staff are loving it as it’s more like I went back and said ‘no’. If we had gone down this the garden centre it used to be and I’ve done route I wouldn’t have been able to look any of the a number of talks to WI and local horticultural employees in the eye. I would have to move because groups letting them know the business is now a lot of people live locally [and rely on Coolings for back in family hands and with people who care their livelihood]. It became very emotional. Within about plants. We’ve got quite a few customers six months there would have been a chunk of people returning who haven’t visited in years.” As Coolings is known for its plants it’s without a job. For example the accounts department important they are the first thing customers see would be gone and our garden maintenance section when they visit. “When people come in, you’re wouldn’t fit in. Just the thought of what we’ve done straight into houseplants, so you’ve got a bit of a and achieved in all those years being disassembled horticultural feel.” There is still a lot do at Wych - it hadn’t really dawned on me how significant a Cross and more investment to be made but Paul change that would be.” is excited about its future. The EOT covers four sites including Wych Cross Garden Centre in Forest Row, East Sussex, a former Wyyevale Garden Centre site,, which became part of the Coolings family as recently at 2019. Now refurbished, and even considering the turmoil of national lockdowns, turnover has more than doubled. Its former nursery growing roses is now back up and running, seating in the café has been doubled and the stock selection adjusted Wych Cross Garden to better fit its horticultural Centre, where horticulture and plants are now firmly back on the agenda

6 March/April 2022

Celebrating the new business model with some of the team at an event at the Houses of Parliament

Coolings has been in the nursery business since 1913 and this new chapter will add to its history as the ‘gardeners garden centre’. The EOT has given Paul the opportunity to become its Vice Chairman and take on a less active dayto-day role in the company while Gary Carvosso becomes Chairman, with Dyane Ross as its Managing Director and Ian Hazon becoming Ops and Production Director. It has also ensured the family ethos of growing and selling high quality plants and sundries, offering sound gardening advice and looking after its staff and customers is protected for the future. Indeed the company continues to develop with the possibility of investing in new sites and the creation of a separate share scheme on the table. “It’s been a roller coaster and certainlyy we have been out of our comfort zone because it’s all been a bit of an unknow,” says Paul. “But it’s reassuring that some quite big, well-known family names are already EOT’s and it will give far greater stability to the business than for it to remain in the hands of one or two individuals. And it gives me a good feelgood factor as an owner too.”