The Rising Stars Programme, run by Westland Horticulture and supported by the Garden Centre Association (GCA) has been running since 2009. Its aim is to develop the best new talent in the garden centre industry through a year-long training course facilitated by Ian Boardman, IBBIS director.
The course helps the Rising Stars understand the importance of merchandising and Boardman works with each candidate to show what they could implement at their own garden centres and how to measure results.
The training programme included three merchandising masterclasses. One of which demanded Liebthal to undertake a project at Coolings. She said: "I implemented the techniques I had learned on one of our masterclasses to completely overhaul our fencing and timber area and merchandise our products in a different way. The change created instant results to our sales and I am now completely responsible for the running, sales and purchasing of that area".
The six finalists out of the initial 31 Rising Stars were announced in October 2015. Their final challenge took place on 25 January at the GCA Conference in Brighton. Each finalist made a presentation to an audience of 300 in the ballroom of the Grand Hotel, covering their achievements over the past year and how they have worked to improve sales figures and customer experiences within their department. Conference delegates were given the casting vote for an overall winner which was announced at the Conference Gala dinner.
Coolings managing director Gary Carvosso said: "The Rising Stars programme gives promising individuals in the industry a great opportunity to develop their merchandising and leadership skills. We are very proud of Sophie, it is a wonderful achievement. Sophie joined us in 2010 and resonates with me in that I also joined Coolings straight from school. Sophie is a credit to our company, and was in fact the youngest finalist. We look forward to supporting her on a long and successful career. We are very aware of the need to attract talented people into the industry which has so many varied opportunities. This initiative, if supported by even more businesses, will have a very positive effect on the industry in years to come. Sophie’s talent has been further recognised as she has now been invited to join the judging panel for the GIMA industry awards. We look forward to nominating more of our team in the future for the Rising Stars programme and would like to express our thanks to Westland Horticulture, the GCA and of course, her mentor Ian Boardman."
Liebthal added: "The past year on the programme has been fantastic. I’ve grown my product and sales knowledge considerably and have enjoyed setting goals to achieve. I love a challenge and the programme is a great opportunity for me to develop my skills. Most of all, I’ve grown in confidence and can’t wait for some new challenges in the year ahead."