Horticulture Week Interview: Norman Hambrook, managing director, Hambrooks

After four decades in business, it would not be unusual for someone to say it's time to take their foot off the accelerator.

Norman Hambrook.  Image: Hambrook Landscapes
Norman Hambrook. Image: Hambrook Landscapes

And in a couple of weeks, it will be 40 years since Hambrook Landscapes was founded in Hampshire, but landscaping stalwart Norman Hambrook is showing no signs of slowing down.

He has big plans for the firm's 40th year - the most significant being a £250,000 investment project to create a destination centre at Hambrooks current retail site in Titchfield.

Twelve show gardens are being created around the site, through which a "Yellow Brick Road" will snake, allowing customers to see exactly how they could transform their own spaces.

The centre already boasted seven show gardens but the project will, according to Hambrook, update and improve the site.

"I thought of the idea in 1996 but it has only been recently that I have plucked up the courage to do it," he laughs. "It is all part of our expansion plan and I hope that it will add another £1m in turnover during the next two to three years. I want it to end up like a mini Chelsea Flower show, but one that happens all year round."

Plants and hard landscaping materials will be displayed in a central area, as well as in glasshouses, and there are plans to add a small cafe.

Hambrook adds: "I imagine some customers are upset that we have demolished the current show gardens, but you can't make omelettes without breaking eggs."

The 63-year-old keeps a firm hold on the Hambrooks rudder, and is adamant that strong organisation is key to ensuring the success of both the garden centre site, and the trade-facing landscape centre in nearby Curdridge.

"We have got a lot of staff who have been here for more than 20 years," explains Hambrook, who recently organised a 40th anniversary celebration day for all his 85 staff.

"People either love it or hate it - I am quite regimental and structured, but you have to be. If staff stay for a year then they are here forever more.

"If you find a job you love, then you will never do a day's work in your life."

A passion for the firm's philosophy of providing a quality, individual service has meant ongoing growth, despite the opening of a B&Q just yards from the garden centre in 1983.

"Customers want to be talking to people who have got the passion and interest for it," he explains. Another three centres are being planned around the region, which will help expand the reach of the business. And a special 40th anniversary-themed show garden is on the cards for Hampton Court Flower Show in July.

In addition, a further six apprentices are expected to be joining Hambrooks this year. "We must train people," Hambrook emphasises. "It must be a continuous thing."

The firm has set up its own in-house training centre - and even provides skills training to some other businesses in the area.

Hambrook's business savvy also means that every one of the three recessions he has weathered have been a period of growth for him.

"During slow times, you have got time to think and plan, and you can pick up some bargains," he reveals. "There is more labour available, and products are cheaper."

The keen walker - who also breeds pheasants that roam the fields around the landscaping centre - is equally eager to ensure that the industry retains its high standards, and plays a key role in its trade bodies.

As well as being on the Association of Professional Landscapers committee - and a founder member - next month Hambrook will be taking on the chairmanship of the BALI south west region for two years.

"I have got real faith in people such as (the Association of Professional Landscapers leaders) Adam Frost, Mark Gregory and Jason Lock," he reveals. "And I am not one for belonging to just one body or another - if anyone is interested in the industry, then I will be interested in them."

Although still very much at the helm of the business, Hambrook says he does have plans to reduce his working time to three days a week within the next couple of years.

"It will be very hard for me," says Hambrook, who last year won HW's Landscape and Amenity Lifetime Achievement Award. "But it is all about succession planning and a team of directors will take over - it is too much for one person."

In the meantime, he will continue to raise money for his chosen charity, the Alzheimer's Society, for which he recently undertook a gruelling 350km cycle ride in Cuba.

He'll be taking part in the London to Brighton bike ride in June, and then a month later - just after his 64th birthday - Hambrook will trek along Hadrian's Wall from Newcastle to Bowness, in Cumbria.

"You have to focus fully on everything you do, but even then you can make mistakes," Hambrook says.

"It has taken me 40 years to realise that. But it is about enjoying what you do. You have got to think big and see the bigger picture."

CV

  • 1970: Sets up Hambrook Landscapes
  • 1976: Opens landscape garden centre in Titchfield
  • 1976: Joins the HTA
  • 1979: Joins BALI
  • 1983: Opens Landscape Yard & Nursery in Curdridge
  • 1995: Becomes founder member of Association of Professional Landscapers
  • 2008: Treks Himalayas for charity
  • 2010: Does charity cycle ride in Cuba and celebrates Hambrooks 40th
  • anniversary
  • 2010: Will become chair of BALI South West

 


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