Dobbies CEO John Cleland reveals vision at Garden Retail Summit

Best for plants and gardening, and a restaurant for all, are two key priorities for Dobbies, delegates at the Horticulture Week Garden Retail Summit heard.

Dobbies CEO John Cleland at the 2017 Garden Retail Summit - image: HW
Dobbies CEO John Cleland at the 2017 Garden Retail Summit - image: HW

In an honest and inspiring address Cleland told delegates to the Summit that "gardening is the critical factor and is forgotten at our peril".

He described Dobbies' three-year plan and progress since he joined the business in summer 2016. The plan involves building core sales by 20% and profit by 50% over three years.

Cleland said his philosophy was to "listen, act, then listen some more" and using this he said he had started to reverse lost footfall and market share caused by previous cost-cutting and price increases.

"Gardening needs to be the priority focus area," he said, with plant ranging, availability, quality, first impressions and pricing being focusses.

Cleland said year one was about retail basics, year two was generating growth and year three differentiation through service.

He said Dobbies had spent £3.5m on its Atherstone centre, hoping to drive turnover from £5.5m to £9m at the 80,000sqft store.  

For more highlights from the Garden Retail Summit, click here.

The changes had "enlivened the store", said Cleland with Monday sales up 55%, even before changing the restaurant.

Cleland said Dobbies had "opened up" the centre, saying "it looks supermarket-y - but I've spent 30 years in supermarkets." 

He said the changes would roll out from the second half of 2017.

The aim is to be first choice all year round for gardening and as a destination.

Online, is a "future traffic essential" that "allows the store proposition to be visible 24 hours a day". But he added that pure play online retailers will find it harder to operate in the next 10 years than bricks and clicks retail.

In reply to questions, Cleland said redeployment of working hours from "crazy stuff" like back door receiving and gun pricing gave staff more hours to give sales advice in the planteria and on areas such as chemicals.

Cleland said data was the most important benefit of loyalty cards. Dobbies has 250,000 members at £10 a year each but plans a free scheme to target 3m customers.

The company has 900 suppliers.

Dobbies now allows dogs in and the move brought 359,000 social media likes in a week.

A new price match scheme copies "the way a good independent would take - not the way a big business would take."

For more highlights from the Garden Retail Summit, click here.


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