Glendale targets faster integration

Propagation and robotics researched as part of 'reshape'.

Glendale Horticulture is seeking to accelerate the integration of its three nursery businesses and is researching adding propagation and robotics to its nurseries as part of a "reshape" to make it fit for the next 10 years.

The company acquired Coblands in Kent in 2006, RA Meredith & Son Nurseries in Fretherne, Gloucestershire, in July 2013 and Mahood Brothers in Lathom, Lancashire, in November 2014. It employs more than 250 people overall. The nurseries produce 18 million plants per annum including bedding, herbs, vegetables, trees, shrubs, perennials and herbaceous products for the amenity and retail market.

Parkwood Group executive director Tony Hewitt said the integration of Glendale Horticulture has not been as fast as he would like. "Some systems and processes have not been up to the mark," he said. "We're looking to improve and reshape the business for the future." The changes are "good news" but the "integration process has taken too long", he added.

Glendale has Freiston Associates' Simon Pearson as a non-executive director looking at technology and robotics. The company is also working on improving quality assurance schemes, processes and a propagation project. "We need to make sure our business is ready for the changes of the next 10 years," said Hewitt.

Glendale Horticulture is also re-costing all lines. "We grow 3,500-4,000 lines and we feel it has been necessary in some instances to put our prices up, which we are doing at the moment. The whole business is being given a thorough going over. We are looking at consolidating our nursery business. We have 11 sites and logistics costs servicing 11 sites are very high. We bought various businesses that had not had a lot of capital investment over many years."

Hewitt said investing in some sites rather than others would be "more efficient in terms of horticulture production", adding: "Some of the glass is getting a bit old. We could do with new glass, benches and robotics, but it's all expensive."

He has pledged that Glendale will remain in Kent, where Coblands is based. There is a council call for sites for housing on one site in Tonbridge, which "has always been the position but I have reassured the workforce whatever happens we'll retain a presence in Kent". The Kent base is important to service the London and South East designer market, he explained. Coblands' Lewis Normand supplied six gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show earlier this year.

On this season, Hewitt said 2016 "has not been as good a year as we'd have liked, though some months were better than others".

A poor April hit the bedding season, but he said: "Everyone in our sector always has to deal with the weather. I don't think any management should make weather an excuse for poor performance. We know it has an effect on our performance in our golf company, in horticulture, in grounds maintenance, but it shouldn't be used as an excuse. You should plan for the weather."

April had, however, created waste stock, some because of planning issues and "some because our clients have not taken the reserves they said they were going to take", Hewitt explained. "It's a difficult market - you take reserve orders, which are in fact not proper orders, and you rely on them to take them. Meanwhile, Glendale continues to look for opportunities to grow.

"We may wish to acquire and we're looking at one (an acquisition) at the moment, and looking at the shape of production," said Hewitt. "There will be some sites surplus to requirements. What's important is to be a successful, sustainable business. Ideally it needs to be bigger, but we need to get our product range and production processes right before we take the next leap forward."

A new sales team and a dedicated finance director are helping the process of integration. Lorraine Hartley is the new amenity sales manager and the group is recruiting 200 apprentices this year as well as a horticulture graduate for Glendale Horticulture.

In February, Glendale Horticulture centralised administration, finance, logistics and distribution operations at its nursery in Fretherne.

Key details: Facts and figures on Glendale Horticulture production

Glendale Horticulture includes three nurseries, Coblands, RA Meredith & Son and Mahood Brothers, over 11 sites. Its turnover is £8.9m a year. The firm is growing 350,000 cyclamen and 500,000 pansies and violas for autumn among the 18 million plants it produces each year.

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