Incoming Fargro chief details business plans

The new managing director of Fargro has used the official opening of a purpose-built distribution and administration centre in West Sussex to lay out his plans for the business.

Hopkins: focus on improving Fargro’s customer service
Hopkins: focus on improving Fargro’s customer service

Richard Hopkins, who replaces Jim McAlpine, said: "Things do need to change because the company is evolving and there are areas we can do better. But Fargro is already successful, so we have to be very careful about what we change."

The 70-year-old business started as a co-operative and is now a private limited company owned by 315 shareholders, mostly growers. It has increased sales from £15m to £20m in six years. Hopkins underwent a five-month selection process that started with more than 100 applicants.

"Areas of change are all pretty much focused on improving customer service and the customer experience," he said. "If we get them right we can retain and build the customer base. We will be working on how the website works and focusing on digital marketing - all the things that have not been the primary focus up to now."

He would not be drawn on specific growth areas or plans. "It's too soon, but there are definite opportunities for growth and we have some really good products coming on line that will be announced in the next few months. There is room for growth already and we need to develop that. Over the next few months we will set objectives to push the business in perhaps new directions."

The "differentiator" is that apart from being well-established Fargro is strong on technical ability and has excellent products, especially in areas such as bio-pest control. "One of Fargro's strengths is the diversity of its product range. As well as excellent chemical and biocontrols, we have exclusive deals on equipment, wicker and pots. We will always be looking for opportunities and will make sure we have a broad business so it will never be too dependent on any one part of the sector."

Challenges facing horticulture are the same as for many other industries, he added. "We are seeing consolidation of customers. Meanwhile, companies are moving abroad for cheaper labour and productivity. Closer to home, in the South East there are building pressures so people coming up for retirement often find their business is worth more as a building site, which is sad but inevitable.

"What we want is to encourage more young people into the industry because horticulture is here to stay - it will not disappear. We need to engage with schools, universities and agricultural colleges to try and make people aware there are careers in the sector that they might not have been immediately aware of."

The new Fargro headquarters, housing 65 staff, is near the village of Poling in West Sussex - a mile-and-a-half from the old Fargro base.

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