Richards sold the Golden Acres garden centre group to Wyevale at the end of 2014 but Badger Nurseries in Warwickshire was not part of the sale.
Richards said: "I wanted to keep the site and complete the redevelopment. I’ve always been confident the right type of development would work here. I am really pleased with the results and see this as a model for a new garden centre group".
A new ‘cool retail’ greenhouse had been built to house the retail horticultural offer but the rest of the site was derelict. Richard’s master plan to create a destination garden centre was delayed by infrastructure issues such as high voltage cables running over the proposed new building site and lack of time to manage the project.
In January Tim Mason of Sea Pop and formerly of Hillier was brought in to project manage the development. Mason had previously built Hillier Nurseries flagship Eastbourne garden centre.
The ‘Cool retail’ area remains prominent and is the seasonal gardening space all visitors first enter into. The building and layout are designed to take customers on a circular route around the centre.
Customers can cut through the centre to get back to the exit without going through the plant area at the far side of the centre.
Views through large picture windows are designed to be be "always enticing you out into the plant area". Once there, a timber pergola creates a circular route and the structure to allow signage and irrigation to be unobtrusively installed. As a former nursery, plant sales are strong and the new layout allows them to grow further with the rest of the business.
The Gardener’s Kitchen is the new coffee shop restaurant on site. With 150 inside covers, and more seating in the covered area and outside, this facility is already driving footfall, says Richards. To encourage families there are small indoor and outdoor play areas. The inside play area is only seven square metres of floor space "but it is enough to keep pre-school kids occupied while mum has a morning coffee and cake".
The coffee shop seating is split into seven areas with different tables and chairs in each. Patrons can choose their favourite area from fine dining in laminated oak chairs to lounging in one of the two sofa areas, with all looking out onto the plant area.
Between The Gardener’s Kitchen and the exits is a retail area featuring a fine food department and expanded gift shop.
Concession partners are Brantano and Klass. Mason said: "Adding retail brands strengthens the shopping psychology and means customers know they are supposed to be buying from us."
The development took six months to change from a dilapidated greenhouse to an air conditioned restaurant and shop.
Centre manager James White: "We worked till two in the morning to get the shop open on schedule. It was worth it and regular customers could not believe how fast it was changing in the weeks before we opened."
The project was managed by Richards and Mason with no main builder. Local companies were favoured when awarding contracts and this has had a positive knock-on effect as their friends and families are now becoming supporters of the business.