Garden Centre Outlet of the Year: turnover over £5m

Winner: Longacres Garden Centre, Bagshot

Longacres Bagshot has been the number one garden centre by turnover for the past seven years (as per published figures in Horticulture Week).

Increasing turnover by up to six per cent year on year is not a simple task given the already high numbers it does - £17m in 2013, £18m in 2014. Six per cent will put Longacres over £19m for 2015.

Longacres online offering (on both its own website and various marketplaces) grew by a large amount in 2014 and has grown still further in 2015. This has been achieved in the main through an increased product listing, growing the email marketing list and use of social media.

Longacres never rests on its laurels. This philosophy comes straight from the top. Managing director Nigel Long is constantly looking for ways to improve the centre, be it products, prices, services or facilities, and he always looks to benefit one person the most - the customer.

One of Longacres' key strengths is its ability to innovate. Over the past year it has introduced an in-store bakery and a customer car wash. It has been running a drive-through since 2004, at first simply for events such as Mother's Day. But as demand and awareness increased it ran every Saturday, then every weekend and eventually became a seven-day, 52-weeks-a-year operation.

Picking up on the increased customer desire for click-and-collect, Longacres invested in a combined drive-through/click-and-collect area in 2014, utilising a touchscreen kiosk and software developed by former Tesco and Asda associates.

In the time Longacres rebuilt a portion of a car park, developed the software and implemented the solution, other prospective clients were still discussing feasibility. This area has proved so successful that in 2016 Longacres is expanding out to a larger area of the car park. Customer feedback on convenience and time-saving has been positive.

Longacres encourages customers to leave feedback, good or bad using its website, Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Trustpilot. Seven days after every online order is placed, an automated email is sent by Trustpilot to the customer asking for feedback. Reviews are available for all to see at Shop customers can also leave feedback on their experience. This is then used for customer-service training.

The garden centre supports hundreds of local charities, schools and clubs with donations of plants, products and vouchers for raffles as well as offering discounts on flowers, shrubs and seeds every year. The nominated spring charity is now Greenfingers.

Longacres has embraced most forms of social media, with 1,650 followers on Twitter and 6,000 fans on Facebook. It publishes its own product and promotional videos on YouTube and runs various online competitions and promotions throughout the year.

Aside from feedback, use of social media generates awareness and direct sales. Participation in the Star Wars "Force Friday" event reached 12,000 people on Facebook during the day - very handy when you're selling the new Star Wars Lego advent calendar.

Longacres' staff have been with the company since it opened 36 years ago. Long-serving employees get to keep their 15 per cent discount card after they leave. Staff who have worked at the centre for more than 10 years gain an extra day's holiday each year and Longacres offers an extra day's holiday for those with perfect attendance.

It works with local schools, taking on work-experience students and placing them in all areas of the business. It has supported the YoungHort society, created by one of Longacres' original apprentices, Jack Shilley.

Last year, the company relaunched its apprenticeship scheme, taking on six apprentices in retail, floristry and horticulture, utilising the Government's apprentice website and training authority.

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Award sponsor

Bord na Mona is Ireland's leading environmentally responsible utility provider encompassing resource recovery, power, water and horticulture. It trades the Vital Earth peat-free growing media and soil improver brand, the Growise peat-reduced brand and a summer/winter fuels range.

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