Garden centres should use volunteer staff suggests bookshop owner

"Pay them with a few pots" was the suggestion from a speaker at the recent HTA conference, when a bookshop owner advocated a free labour model for retailers.

Big Green Bookshop co-owner Tim West suggested at HTA Garden Futures conference that garden centres should use volunteers as staff to save money. West said he uses five or six volunteers at his shop.

He said the way he differentiates his Wood Green, north London independent bookshop from online giant Amazon is by events such as book signings, gig and book reading and writing groups.

West said the shop is only staffed by himself and his business partner. They both worked at a nearby Waterstones until it closed in 2007.

He said he rented shelf space to self-published authors for £1.50, giving all sales proceeds to authors. Other stock is hand-picked and sold at full price only.

West said: "Ask customers to work in your them with a few pots."

Former Fulham Palace Garden Centre manager Chris Webb said he had volunteers working at the charity-run centre, which has since closed, with the advantages being they can "become local ambassadors" for the business and they could improve their own plant knowledge but negatives were that they can pick up on staff gossip. He said offering discounts or letting volunteers run gardening clubs were good ideas but added that a larger commercial business rather than a charity would have more difficulty attracting volunteers.

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