Garden centre groups have continued to consolidate over the past few months and are looking to develop restaurants and leisure across their existing portfolios. Millbrook, now at three centres, is developing its restaurant at Gravesend in Kent in a mill-style, with Geo Hodges the builder.
Hodges' Graeme Jones says projects such as this are typical now, with the restaurant at Garsons in Esher, Surrey, a prime example of how a centre can reach a seven-figure catering income by creating an "interesting" building.
Planning consultancy Pleydell Smithyman's Paul Pleydell is working at Squire's and Knights in Surrey as well as on an extension at Coolings in Kent. Two typical projects are a 350-seat restaurant at Henry Street Garden Centre in Reading, which is tendering at the moment, and a restaurant extension at Pacific Nurseries in the Midlands, which has planning permission.
Pleydell points to a restaurant/farm shop focus to development but with diversification, particularly into soft play, which is good for gross and net trading margin and does not cost a lot to fit out. But retailers must be aware of how this type of project fits within their centre, he adds. Projects are not just about retail but also about leisure and services, such as vets. Bents is an example with ideas for health spas and mini golf.
"There's optimism out there," says Pleydell. "People are being quite strategic. Rather than just putting something up and selling out of it, they now understand what their customers are doing and the vision and objectives of their business."
In the past month Caulders Garden Centres has bought Cupar Garden Centre in Fife to add to its centres at Milngavie, Kirkintilloch, Newton Mearns and Erskine. Berwick upon Tweed Garden Centre has bought Plants Plus in Newcastle and now has three centres.
Hillview has bought Shipley Garden Centre in Derbyshire, to make it 11-strong. Blue Diamond is set to move to 20, after making it 19 with Polhill's Coton Orchard Garden Centre in Cambridge in December. Its Fermoys centre in Devon has a Victorian glasshouse-style rebuild planned. Stewarts in Dorset now has three centres after buying Abbey. Broomhill and Abbey will be refurbished.
The biggest groups have remained at the same size, other than Blue Diamond. Many larger retailers are concentrating on redevelopment, including Klondyke in Leeds and Squire's in Chertsey and Hersham. Woking could be next for Squire's. Notcutts has a £45m development plan, while Dobbies has new management, as does Wyevale, which has developed its transactional website. At Homebase, the new Bunnings-branded St Albans centre opened on 2 February.
Expansion - Numbers of garden centres owned by leading players
Blue Diamond 19
British Garden Centres 10
Cherry Lane 10
Home & Garden 9
Berwick upon Tweed 3
J Parker 3
Van Hage 3
Capital Gardens 3
Creative Gardens 3
Gardens Group 3
Gordon Rigg 2
North One/West Six 2
Stephen H Smith 2
Adrian Hall 2
Chelsea Gardener 2
- Alan Roper will be speakng at this month's Garden Retail Summit 2017 - the leading independent knowledge and networking event for executives. Taking place in London on 23 February, this year's event will focus on growth, and include the opportunities and challenges of 'Brexit', learnings from the latest garden centre developments - and will be opened with a keynote address from John Cleland, CEO, Dobbies. For more details and tickets go to: www.gardenretailawards.com/summit