Interview - Doug Reade, Wyevale Nurseries

As Doug Reade steps down as sales and marketing director at Wyevale Nurseries after 27 years at the company, he reveals his thoughts on the current state of the industry to Horticulture Week and offers his predictions on how he thinks it may move forward.

Doug Reade, Wyevale Nurseries. Image: HW
Doug Reade, Wyevale Nurseries. Image: HW

Reade has been in the horticulture industry for 44 years, having begun his career in a local authority parks department and later holding teaching roles at the Isle of Ely College, Wisbech and Pershore College.

Q: How did you get started in the industry?

A: I started an apprenticeship with the Birmingham Parks Department at the age of 16. The decision to go there had been inspired by my father, who was a brilliant gardener. It was a five-year apprenticeship and every year there were 20-30 new recruits, so at any one time there were about 150 apprentices.

The apprenticeship was brilliant - we didn't just cover parks work, it covered the whole of horticulture. I think we have to be careful of this nowadays because the challenge now for the industry is in getting youngsters into the business in the first place. Then, when we do get youngsters into the industry, they become pigeon-holed quickly, which is a shame.

Q: What have been the biggest changes to the industry over the past 30 years?

A: The improvement in the quality of the product that is grown now compared with what was being grown 30 years ago is staggering. There has obviously been a massive move to container production, but the quality of the plants now has improved out of all recognition.

Technical knowledge these days is better, too - we must not lose sight of the importance of good horticultural research and development because it's fundamental to the whole industry.

Another thing that has changed over the years is the dynamics of the business and the speed at which things now happen.

Q: Aside from attracting new blood into the industry, what are the other main challenges facing horticulture?

A: Costs are the main challenge, but all businesses have got that worry. The biggest cost, of course, is transport and, because we have got a bulky product, it takes up a lot of space in a lorry. This makes me think that local regional supply has got to be something for the future.

We have also got to look at more intuitive ways of servicing accounts. The traditional route for selling to retail is to travel in a car to a garden centre carrying samples of plants, but it's an expensive way of servicing accounts.

We, at Wyevale, are now looking at putting short video clips on the websites because we have got to start looking at different ways of presenting the product to potential buyers.

Q: What advice would you give to your fellow growers?

A: Look at your costs. There are always cost savings to be made in every business, but you cannot make these cost savings year on year. You have to go back and regularly look at different costs within the business.

Another thing is to work with clients that respect the price that you are charging for the product. Make sure you have got brilliant salesmen and deal with customers who respect you as people and as a business.

Q: How do you see the industry changing in the future?

A: A big challenge is that I know we are not getting a true reflection of the price of the product. In the landscape side of the business we are probably still charging the same prices as we did 10-15 years ago. I think ring-fencing money for landscape projects is surely a good way to protect the environment, because it's the bit that always gets chopped.

Q: What has been the highlight of your career?

A: I have huge respect for Peter Williamson - the owner of Wyevale - and the highlight of my career has been working for someone who has given me the opportunity and freedom to do what I wanted to do in the best interests of the business. He is a fantastic ideas man - he sows the seeds and we help these seeds to germinate. The highlight has been having a free hand at Wyevale to do what I wanted to do. It's a fantastic industry and there have been some fantastic people along the way.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: Early retirement was always something that I planned to do. I'm being retained as a non-executive director for Wyevale, so I will still be doing part-time work. My brief will be to oversee the continued development and improvement in the company's two cash-and-carry outlets because, in a way, they have been my two babies.

               CV

  • 1967-72: Apprenticeship, Birmingham parks department
  • 1972-74: Diploma/degree, Pershore and Writtle Colleges
  • 1974-75: Production manager, Webbs Nurseries
  • 1975-78: Teaching, Isle of Ely College, Wisbech
  • 1978-81: Sales manager, Economic Forestry Group
  • 1981-84: Teaching, Pershore College
  • 1984-2011: Sales and marketing director, Wyevale Nurseries

 


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