Interview - Matthew Dixon, nursery manager, New Forest Plants

Hampshire grower New Forest Plants became a subsidiary of Roundstone Nurseries on 1 February 2011, after the grower went into administration in late 2010.

Matthew Dixon, nursery manager, New Forest Plants - image: HW
Matthew Dixon, nursery manager, New Forest Plants - image: HW

Former New Forest Plants general manager and director Matthew Dixon took on the role of nursery manager after the deal. Annual production was three-million plants and turnover was £3.7m before Roundstone took over.

Q. What have the developments been at Roundstone over the past year?

A. The remit from Roundstone when it took over at the beginning of February was to revive the business as efficiently as possible. We managed to retain a large proportion of our customers and meet the production schedule that was in place, enabling us to achieve 75 per cent of our planned sales turnover (excluding imports). The main difference from the old business is that we are no longer trading in imported plants in order to concentrate on the UK production of perennials, herbs and alpine plants.

Q. What were the problems in the business before Roundstone took over?

A. We borrowed a significant amount of money to build the new nursery just before the banking crisis. The business also suffered large losses due to currency fluctuations on the imported plants.

Q. How has Roundstone overcome these problems?

A. Roundstone is financially strong, with good cost control processes, which it has applied to the new business. Not trading in imported plants reduces the risks associated with currency fluctuations.

Q. How have you coped with the sudden death of sales manager Phil Walker last June?

A. The company was devastated - he was not just a close colleague but a good friend to many. Phil had great passion for his work and his knowledge and enthusiasm for our products were missed greatly. Going forward, we have expanded the team, which now includes an operations manager and our new sales manager, Rob Adamson.

Q. What new markets are you hoping to tap into?

A. We are targeting independent garden centres, retail nurseries and garden centre groups.

Q. What are you growing now that you were not before?

A. Our core ranges remain the same. However, we are continuously adding new and improved varieties within them so that they are better than ever. We specialise in perennials, alpines and herbs and also offer extensive seasonal ranges, which include bulbs, soft fruit, vegetables and wild flowers.

Q. What are you not growing anymore?

A. Our ranges remain the same - the most significant change is that we are not offering the selection of imported plants that we previously had in our range.

Q. What is now selling best and who is buying it?

A. Perennials represent more than fifty per cent of our sales. Our range is based on tissue culture and cutting-raised varieties. Because of the long lead times and high material costs, these plants are not readily available from other nurseries and we attract sales from a variety of sources - our biggest customer this year was a large garden centre chain that identified many difficult-to-source perennials. There is much interest in West Country lupins and the new elatum-type Highlander delphiniums. Heucheras are still proving very popular and hostas are making a comeback. Alpine and herb sales are still buoyant and we are planning to increase production of both for 2012.

Q. How have you managed to improve profitability?

A. Tighter cost controls, lowering wastage, reducing full-time staff, not servicing the debt burden and concentrating on home-grown production, which has better margins than trading in imported lines.

Q. What are the plans for the future?

A. We are building new offices and staff facilities, which are due to be completed in February 2012, and we will then extend the glasshouse despatch facility to cover the loading bays. To streamline the despatch process, we are purchasing new conveyor belts for the nursery and installing new computers to bring the whole operation up to date. We are also converting a 750sq m area of glasshouse into production facilities for our transplanter, tray filler, potting machine and hand-potting benches. This will assist us with our plans to grow the business within the next three years by focusing on our existing core lines and extending our customer profile, while concentrating on achieving first-class quality, value, service and innovation. Beyond this, we have plenty of scope for future expansion with a further 12 acres available to develop here in the New Forest.

CV

1985-2010: Rose to become director and general manager at Dixon family-founded New Forest Garden Plants (formerly New Forest Herbs)

2005: Moved to Solent Trees' former site in Beaulieu, Hampshire

2011: Roundstone took over after New Forest Plants went into administration

2011 to date: Nursery manager, New Forest Plants


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