Hampshire garden centre hybrid Rosebourne opened in October, with industry veterans Neville Prest, Jon Kitching, Salim Sajid, David Brown, Hugh Jackson and Charles Good behind the venture.
Kitching and Brown founded Beckworth Emporium in Northamptonshire, which has a food-led model similar to Rosebourne and is a new take on traditional garden centre offerings. Kitching is an industry veteran from Jardinerie and Blooms, while Prest was Garden & Leisure managing director before Wyevale bought the chain. Using his expertise, Kitching is advising on food and horticulture.
The purpose-built Rosebourne centre, on the site of the old Weyhill Nursery near Thruxton, focuses on four areas - dining with table service, locally-sourced produce, gifts and traditional plants.
The group is seeking more sites for new centres south of Birmingham. Rosebourne calls itself a "fresh approach" with table service restaurants serving locally or farm shop-supplied food, a local food offer including a delicatessen, fruit and vegetables, plus plants and gifts. There is a cookware section linking the shop and the restaurant. Rosebourne has more gardening and 50 per cent more covered space than Kitching's Beckworth Emporium in Northamptonshire.
The site has taken 18 months to get through planning and building and is the first of three or four in the Rosebourne group planned for the next five or six years. Television gardener David Domoney officially opened the store on 21 October.
The centre has 70 staff, many recruited through Facebook. The manager is Val Kempster, formerly of Endsleigh Garden Centre, now owned by Wyevale. The directors include Jon Kitching, Salim Sajid, David Brown and managing director Neville Prest. The centre was a £4m build and shop fit from Thermoflor and HPW. Planned turnover is £6m-£7m, with restaurant reaping £2m, a butcher £800,000 and food aiming to be a £1.5m turnover.
Garden Park Investments gained planning permission from Test Valley Borough Council for a garden centre on the site in 2009, but no garden centre took it up. Rosebourne is funded by an Enterprise Investment Scheme that offers investors one-third tax relief. After building three or four sites in five or six years, the group will float or sell so private investors can get their money out. Horticulture Week spoke to director Jon Kitching:
The store looks more like a traditional centre than your garden centre hybrid Beckworth Emporium. Why is that?
It's a new build so it's going to look very different to Beckworth, which has grown organically. You walk into a polythene tunnel there. This is purpose-built, so it feels much more modern from that point of view. But the restaurant and food offer is exactly the same as Beckworth. What's different about Beckworth is there we don't have a very strong horticulture offer, but this site is 50 per cent bigger than Beckworth in covered area so we're able to do Christmas, gifts and gardening in a bigger way.
- There is no play area for children. What is your target market?
We're not targeting children. The aim is for ladies that lunch. We're very much food-driven. That and the restaurant are the main draw, then when they are here they like to relax and pick impulse products for the garden and home. We have a new kitchen range, which is a nice link between food and restaurant, for instance.
- What is the demographic?
We like to offer good value across ABC demographics. We want quality and good value. We're not trying to be elitist - we're not trying to be Daylesford. We have to be affordable for the everyday customer. We want to offer a weekly shop and we'd like to feel we have everything for customers to do their weekly shop - the basics like fruit and veg, milk, eggs, bread and butchery. But we differentiate from supermarkets so we don't have big brands. As much as possible they are local suppliers.
- Are Brexit and exchange rates hitting your pricing?
If you buy local, you buy British. But we are starting to see increases in prices and we will have to put up prices. It will be next spring when the consumer feels it. We do have a choice where we buy from, particularly on plants. Retailers are going to have to accept that they will have to pay more. Regardless of what they say, in time prices will go up. They are kidding themselves if they think suppliers will drop margins by 10 per cent. You're not going to as a retailer, so why should the supplier? But who knows? It may settle down.
- What do you consider to be the biggest areas of growth for garden centres?
Food and restaurant, and then gifts - non-gardening. Gardening is not growing. It's steady. There is a job to do there. Garden centres have been doing it for a long time now and are good at it. Where they are not so good is the other areas.
- How can they improve?
We use a waitress service in the restaurant, which improves presentation, and the quality of food and service.
- How are you funded?
An Enterprise Investment Scheme, which businessmen use for one-third tax relief. After three or four sites in five or six years we will float on the stock market or sell privately so investors can get their money out. There will be a change but the centres will still be Rosebourne.
- What is the future for Rosebourne?
Rosebourne will be part of a group. We're looking at other sites but they are becoming more difficult to get hold of. A lot of smaller places have been gobbled up, though I don't see a massive amount of movement in the short term. We're looking for greenfield sites as much as anything. We're looking at two or three at the moment and options on one or two. We'll know in the next three months.
Then it will be six months for planning permission and a year's build. If you have to apply it's a long way down the line before you know if you have got it. It may be a disused nursery and you can tweak planning up to a garden centre or maybe some farm buildings. We're looking south of Birmingham in the M4 corridor. We already had planning here for a garden centre, though we had to put in a new application and change the look of the building and position of the site. In five or six years we'd like three or four sites.
Store build cost: £4m
Staff: 70 full and part-time
Store manager: Valerie Kempster
Buyers: Adam Dorber (horticulture), Valerie Kempster (leisure)
Chairman: Charles Good
Non-executive directors: Jon Kitching, David Brown
Managing director: Neville Prest
Concessions: Owton's Butchers, Cook, Field Fare
Designer: HPW Architecture
Suppliers: Fatherson, Hambletons and Real Pie Co (cakes); Andwell Brewery (beers); Yarty's (cordials); Hill Valley Juices (juices); Catch (fish cakes)