Interview - Stan Green, managing director, Growforth

Stan Green runs Scotland's biggest garden centre plant supplier.

Stan Green, managing director, Growforth - image: Growforth
Stan Green, managing director, Growforth - image: Growforth

The 2ha site in Fife sells to centres and landscapers and Green now has retail plans for the business. He recently became vice-chairman of the HTA, where he is a member of the board and its ornamentals committee and has represented Scotland on council. He is a founder member of the Scottish Horticultural Initiative and is on the board of Green Business Fife.

Q: What is your new concept, the Green Garden Market?

A: This is a garden shop with a nursery behind it with elements of local growing and community involvement that are important for us as a retailer/wholesaler. We won planning permission earlier in the year for a combination of different elements of wholesaling and retailing in unique co-operation with a local community space. That's a thing that is in vogue that I have an interest in and it is incorporated into the business plan.

Q: Can you explain how it will work in practice?

A: As a trial we had a very soft opening on Saturdays to see what would happen and it was well-received. It needs careful management, having both retail and wholesale on site, to make sure that we keep them separate because we work strongly with the local trade. It is effectively a plant centre with an extra element of community involvement and a restaurant.

We will differentiate from garden centres because we will be a market with almost a warehouse feel. We want to match people's expectations so they know we're not stocking fluffy slippers and glass elephants. It will be plants, core gardening and a restaurant. We're trying to reinvent the retail nursery, but from the other end. We've learnt lessons from farm-shop development.

Q: What is the community involvement?

A: We involved the local community as in the council and local politicians and the business side to see what the opportunities might be. When the time is right we'll look to involve people directly, but in the short-term we asked: "Are we thinking along the right lines?"

Q: How much of your business might the market become?

A: We could have three or four businesses in one. At the moment they run as one and we break the figures down internally. I'm looking to wholesale to still continue with half our business turnover.

Q: What are your priorities within the HTA?

A: Listen and learn. Keep my head down with a listening brief to get into the role. There is a very dynamic phase going on at the HTA and I want to learn and gather information about what is going on.

Q: How important is it to have growers as well as retailers involved in the HTA?

A: It's really important, not just for growers, but for every element to be involved in as many stages as can be, otherwise a trade association can be accused of being led in different directions for different reasons, be they wholesalers, growers, cash and carries or retailers. They do go out and ensure that they are represented by as broad a range as possible within different areas of the supply chain.

Q: Plant import inspections costs are rising. What can be done?

A: Any responsible grower would say what has to be done has to be done. No one wants a hit to the bottom line at the moment. There is a slightly different system in Scotland and it's not too onerous at this juncture.

Q: How are cold winters changing how growers stock plants?

A: It's a challenge to keep hold of costs, which are significantly higher even for moving plants indoors before the winter. In the short-term it is a problem because lead times are committed in advance. Stock management in Scotland has been an issue since July/August. How much do we stock, when do we de-stock while keeping our offer credible and having the accessibility to supplies. We're honing the skills and it's a balancing act. But the less stock you have the less you sell. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Q: Is there a shorter plant sales season now?

A: Certainly within Scotland looking from North to South, the peaks are higher and shorter and that trend has been accentuated this year.

Q: Many garden retailers are concerned about the expansion plans of Dobbies? Should they be?

A: When a company supported by the likes of Tesco is spending money in our industry and it is very good at what it does, it helps define the market because those guys shape and create with their processes, products and offers. That helps define and refine the marketplace and is a good thing. It's unfair to single out Dobbies. Any one at the forefront of destination garden centres is refining their offer. Elements that can be worked on at other retailers' business.

1980-83: Agriculture degree, University of Aberdeen
1983-90: Nursery manager, Pinegrove Nurseries, Fife
1990: Set up Growforth
1990-date: managing director, Growforth
2011-13: Vice-president, HTA

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