Employee of the Year - Darren Sanders, Garden King

Garden King at Swadlincote is a small 0.4ha site rented from the neighbouring builders' merchant. It includes a 300sq m greenhouse, a 300sq m wooden shop and 1,200sq m canopied planteria along with parking for 40 cars.

Employee of the Year - Darren Sanders, Garden King - image: Garden King
Employee of the Year - Darren Sanders, Garden King - image: Garden King

Garden King competes against larger centres Byrkley Park, Derby Garden Centre, Shenstone and sister centres Planters at Bretby and Tamworth.

Manager Darren Sanders has created a personality for Garden King that is unique in the trade. It is cheeky, upfront and loud. The centre's advertising made national headlines in The Sun, Star and Sport newspapers. It shouts price and good value, but is achieved by good buying, which maintains good margins.

As a short lease, capital expenditure is not on the agenda, so Darren works with what he has. He has taken turnover form £650,000 to over £1m as manager of the site and runs the centre on 16 per cent wages to sales, the lowest in the group. Yet Garden King had a low staff turnover because it is a fun place to work.

In 2011, the group looked for a new centre to brand Garden King at Bradley. They found a rundown centre that had turned over £1.5m, but had been in decline and turnover had fallen to £700,000 as the shop fell into disrepair.

In 2011-12, Darren has recruited a new supervisor to run Swadlincote, recruited a marketing manager to deal with promotions for Garden King and Planters. He has acquired a new car park for Swanlincote and organised a stock take with the vendor at Bradley to buy the stock. He has integrated new staff into the company, made changes to working procedures and changed the layout of the store.

He has organised Christmas displays at short notice at Bradley and built up relationships with suppliers including his speciality, solar lights. He has sold triple the number of the larger Planters centres, including 22 pallets of glazing balls, bought on clearance.

He had to cut staff hours in the dismal spring of 2012, but he managed this without losing any staff.

- Judge's comment

"Darren's daring approach works - a great range of achievements" - Marc Rosenberg

Finalists
Brechin Garden Centre: Ben Blackstock, Stuart Baillie, Christina
Sturrock

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