Greenfingers up for sale as owner plans to retire

Cash and carry Greenfingers is a rare example of a successful nursery that is selling not because it has to but because the owner plans to retire, says Alan Beaumont, who has run the Warwickshire grower for more than 30 years.

Greenfingers: freehold sale through Quinton Edwards
Greenfingers: freehold sale through Quinton Edwards

The 2ha site is for sale freehold through Quinton Edwards. The business began in 1980-81 and moved onto the site in 1982. A fifth of the plants sold are grown on the site. Turnover in 2015 totalled £736,258. Greenfingers sells plants to landscapers, designers and retailers, collection and cash only.

Beaumont said there has been a "lot of interest and second viewings" and "we're getting close to an offer". He added: "One of the difficult things is people have struggled with accepting this is a good, profitable business. Most businesses for sale in our trade are not. We're in the fortunate position where we don't have to sell."

He added that the biggest changes he has seen in the industry over the past three decades are in globalisation and communications, mechanisation and a "compete change in 30 years of the make-up of the industry".

On communications, Beaumont said Greenfingers used to send out one catalogue a year and visit people once a year for orders and get orders by post in between. "That's changed with mobiles and computers to the extent where everything now is much more global in the sense that if you look back 30 years ago plants from Holland came over once or twice a year. Now it's several deliveries a week."

Beaumont said he has seen great growth in garden centre groups along with a reduction in the number of independents and retail nurseries. He predicted a "short-term bumpy ride because of Brexit - we all rely on public sentiment driving demand", but "a long-term healthy future".

"Growers tend to be a lot better now. They have got to be good or they would go out of business. I don't see imports stopping because of Brexit. There's not enough UK industry to keep up with demand and it couldn't gear up quickly enough. We'll still import and they will still want to export."

But he said importing is getting more expensive, with the pound worth EUR1.40 this time last year and now being worth EUR1.10, which means a "20 per cent increase on your costs. You can't do anything about exchange rates. We hedged some and staged but going forward we have to price based on costs. Customers generally understand the reasons behind it."

In recent years new builds have had smaller and smaller plots, which means the type of plant material going in is smaller, he added, but he still has clients who want instant gardening.

Beaumont said there is no single garden fashion at the moment, following styles such as cottage garden or avant-garde Diarmuid Gavin-style, which makes it harder to predict demand. But the top sellers remain box, lavender, leylandii and photinia. He said ilex has not replaced box, which has had pest and disease issues, because "you don't get the quality in the topiary and it's double the price - and it comes back to price".

Beaumont said he tells customers: "You spray rose bushes with fungicide so why not spray box?" He added that he hopes chemical controls will still be available in the future.

He pointed out that the top 20 per cent of plants equal 80 per cent of sales. A riser is pittisporum, grasses are fairly static this year after increasing last year and clematis has reduced as customers choose more adventurous options.

Beaumont called for more to be done to attract capable young people into the industry, with the demise of several local colleges' horticulture courses. He plans to walk the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in retirement and is likely to stay at Greenfingers for a time to help the new owners.

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