The business case for celebrating garden centre anniversaries

As garden centres come of age they are increasingly seeing opportunities to celebrate anniversaries and gain a business advantage as a by-product of doing so.

Matthew and Ron Bent
Matthew and Ron Bent

From 80th events down to more modest numbers, an anniversary is a great chance to show your authority, experience and wisdom, while creating a positive vibe for staff and customers.

Bents Garden & Home in Cheshire is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year with a celebration. In 1937, Alfred and Margaret Bent started to sell roses in the front garden of their terraced house on Warrington Road in Glazebury.

The summer weekend’s entertainment (8-9 July) centres on Bents’ indoor beach with the addition of a temporary grass area where visitors can take part in giant garden games while enjoying a summer barbecue.

There will also be a celebratory photo booth, which will provide the chance to win £80 of Bents’ vouchers. Visitors are invited to post their photos on social media with the hashtag #Bents80th.

There will be face painting, a treasure hunt, balloons, DJ, a caricaturist and a children’s entertainer. The centre is selling 80th anniversary gifts such as cushions, mugs, gloves, fudge and marmalade.

Bents anniversary celebrations:

  • Indoor beach
  • Giant garden games
  • Summer barbecue
  • Photo booth
  • Children's entertainment

Managing director Matthew Bent, a third-generation family member, says he wants "as many people as possible, customers young and old, new visitors and those who have been with us along the way, to join in for a fantastic celebration of Bents 80th year".

He adds that the celebration will give the chance to invite customers, suppliers and supporters in general to the centre and to thank them for their help over the years. 

A lot of what customers look for now is "trust and experience". He says there are many reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor but what customers really value is the trust that a long-established family brand gives them. Many internet businesses have sprung up and have no provenance, he adds. Bents' pedigree as a family-owned company with family values means it can differentiate itself from a faceless PLC, using an anniversary to push that message home.

Squire’s, the 15-garden centre group based in the South East, reached its 80th anniversary in 2016. Group marketing manager Karen Smith says the anniversary gave the chance to reinforce Squire’s as experienced experts and to boost staff morale with a series of events.

Squire’s displayed an RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show garden with an anniversary theme. Designed by Catherine MacDonald from Landform Consultants, the garden used red, whites, oranges and yellows as a nod to the colours in Squire’s logo. Hampton Court is central to Squire’s catchment area and very close to its Twickenham and Shepperton centres.

Smith says the celebrations gave an internal feel-good factor and acted as a positive for all its staff. An internal competition at all the centres to create an 80th garden proved popular, as did a big staff party at Twickenham, Squire’s first garden centre.

She adds: "Celebrating the 80th showed the expertise that Squire's been around 80 years and is still going strong and expanding. It is reinforcing to customers that we are a family business and that the Squire’s family is still very much involved." Chair Colin Squire, who also turned 80 in 2016, gave talks to customers.

Smith says the anniversary was a great opportunity for new and long-standing customers to hear the story behind Squire's "and how we got where we are today".

Throughout 2017, Notcutts will be celebrating its 120th birthday with events for customers and colleagues. Vice-chair Caroline Notcutt says 120 years "is such a wonderful milestone and it’s fantastic to see how Notcutts has grown and developed since my great-grandfather established it in 1897.

"More than anything a passion for gardening has always been at the heart of the company and I’m so proud that our values of passion, inspiration and expertise still shine through today. We have big and exciting plans going forward so here’s to another fantastic 120 years."

Garden Centre Association (GCA) chief executive Iain Wylie says the number of anniversaries coming around are "an indication that garden centres have been around for a period of time when more and more are finding an anniversary to celebrate of note".

The GCA itself celebrated its 50th in 2016 with a gathering of its previous chairmen and chairwomen at its annual conference.

"They are a good hook to hang your year’s events on," says Wylie. "Bents, for instance, have been around for 80 years and that says a lot about your business. It gives customers confidence. It is something you would want to tell your customers about. Even if the garden centre has been around 50-60 years, it's worth celebrating the date of foundation."

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