Primrose bullish over results

Online garden centre expects to be double the size of Britain's largest bricks-and-mortar centre.

Ian Charles: range and price key
Ian Charles: range and price key

Online garden retailer Primrose says its next results will show the company as being double the size of Britain's largest bricks-and-mortar garden centre, Longacres.

Erica and Ian Charles established the Reading-based internet retailer a decade ago, and in 2012 the Business Growth Fund invested £4m for one-third of the business, which is set to reach turnover of £33m this year, up from £24m.

With other online garden retailers closing and more garden centre groups concentrating on their leisure offer, Ian Charles said Primrose could only benefit.

"Garden centres have done well to change their business model and some online players are disappearing, so maybe one day we'll be the only garden centre left in the country," he suggested.

He added that "range and price as well as presentation" are important for Primrose, while at traditional garden centres presentation is the only essential element.

"For garden furniture and barbecues it's all they have space for so you don't get the choice. We aim to give the ultimate choice." This includes 1,690 items of garden furniture, 1,118 water features and 1,420 plants. Charles said the company has been profitable every year since it began in 2003, with £3m accumulated profits.

The company also has 92,000 online reviews, which Charles said is a "huge difference" compared with bricks-and-mortar centres. "You know you're going to get a great quality product or see the risks," he added, and the reviews mean that he can quickly change the specification of products.

Primrose develops its own products as well as selling brands. One issue is that brands such as Weber will not allow Primrose to sell its products, which Charles said is "short-sighted", given 70 per cent of the public search online before buying and Primrose is top of the search engine home pages for most garden product searches.

Chris Webb is now head of plants and is seeking to expand the plant offer to 20 per cent of the business - some 3,000 lines.

Primrose has a "marketplace" online area for nurseries to sell plants without having to do the marketing and it aims to offer a wider and different range than garden centres. The aim is to offer garden centre service via advice on the website, he explained.

The company is also boosting its profile and it has been shortlisted for website of the year by the Garden Media Guild.

Erica Charles now runs Spirit Solar, which installs solar and biomass and is looking for nursery and garden centre clients.

Product innovations

- Easy-load wooden compost bin.

- Waterproof sail shade.

- Growhouse with self-contained insect mesh.

- Solar-powered cat repeller.

- Corten steel water features.

- Air vented garden furniture covers.

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