Landgard UK managing director Richard Egerton reports that all his company's growth has come in the recession. The former B&Q nursery stock buyer, who set up the UK arm of the EUR1.6bn turnover cooperative of 3,000 German growers in 2007, says organic growth rather than acquisitions will lead to a £50m turnover by 2013 and the West Sussex business will be in profit by 2011.
He explains that "retailers don't want to be so reliant on single growers because anything can happen to growers at the moment", Kinglea Plants being a case in point. Egerton looked at the Essex grower's site after the business went into administration, but rejected it.
Landgard, which bought the marketing business of Chessum Roses in 2010 and Brinkmans in 2009 (where it is now based), services most UK supermarkets, DIY multiples and many garden centres, large and small.
But Egerton wants to find new contract growers rather than to buy nurseries. He wants the garden centre industry to know what Landgard is about - a service where delivery is quick and garden centres do not have to hold stock.
His background at B&Q in the supply chain gives him the skills to set up the servicing of the retail trade with plants. He moved to Landgard because of the challenge after hearing of the company in early 2007, when it was involved with a B&Q supplier. "The size and scale was huge," he says. "I was blown away and then I found out they wanted to set up a UK subsidiary."
The German business has its own clock system for cut flowers and pot plants - as well as cash and carries throughout Europe where garden centres buy its stock. This differs from UK cash and carries, which concentrate on serving florists and landscapers.
The company also varies from the German model because it is not a cooperative. "Landgard needs local market knowledge to find out what the customer really wants. We're about adding value to plants for the retailer and the consumer, product development, technical work (trials of growing in Vital Earth compost, for instance) and quick turnaround from order to receipt. We've been pretty well received so far."
Not everyone is happy that the Germans "are buying up British horticulture", however. For instance, Tillington Group plant buyer Andy Bunker claims that Landgard works on low profits, which is "not necessarily good for garden centres".
Egerton counters that it is the multiples that have low margins and that growers get a fair price, without the hassle of marketing, delivery, returns and cancellations from retailers. He says: "We genuinely don't devalue because we work for growers and we're not a charity."
Egerton describes the business as a "one-stop shop." He adds: "We don't have to buy from any cooperative. We can buy from whoever we want. Although we are German-owned, our environmental policy says we should source locally wherever possible.
"It would be easy to be tarnished because we are German-owned and deal with multiples, but by offering English grown roses, fruit trees and bedding to our customers, we are showing how Landgard hopes to develop the industry and not take away from other growers and wholesalers."
He adds that Landgard aims to expand the UK market for growers and increase the 50 per cent of plants that it sources from the UK. "We have good demand for UK-grown product. We want to be in the position of not having to source a lot of lines from Holland or Germany," he explains.
"Our policy is to source from the UK and grower partnerships in the UK work very well. We're about adding value to the retailer and consumer. We're happy with the customer listing we have. It's about developing within these markets to offer year-round business of offers, promotions and ranges. We want to work 12 months of the year, not just March, April, May."
Egerton says he is looking for bedding growers, grow-your-own suppliers, pot bedding, pack bedding and vegetable plants. And houseplants are an area that he thinks cannot fall any further.
He believes that grow your own has "another couple of years" and he wants to move towards more added value in bedding. Planted containers, hanging baskets as well as fruit and ornamental trees are all potential areas of growth that he sees.
Landgard has spent a lot of money setting up its infrastructure, with two acquisitions in 18 months, but the business aims to turn a profit by 2011 and have a £50m turnover by 2013, twice what it has now.
- Landgard will be at the Four Oaks Trade Show in Cheshire on 7-8 September to promote its business.