Tough trading forces rethink at John Woods Nurseries as it seeks creditors' approval for CVA

John Woods Nurseries director John Lord seeking a 'fair way out of difficulties in a business that is inherently profitable'.

John Woods: 'Upwardly Mobile' show garden was featured at Chelsea
John Woods: 'Upwardly Mobile' show garden was featured at Chelsea

Recent "gruesome" years have hit growers and are forcing a rethink in business practices, on issues from staffing to when and how much to produce, says John Woods Nurseries director John Lord.

John Woods Nurseries, formerly Notcutts Nurseries, is seeking approval from creditors to go into a CVA to offer 49p in the pound over five years. Lord said he arranged the legal process to try and find a "fair way out of difficulties in a business that is inherently profitable and could have a great opportunity for the future".

He added: "We are a profitable business but the last gruesome few years have created a lot of difficulty for the industry. We are trying to find an equitable way forward that's hopefully fair to all parties and will give the business an opportunity to exploit its profitability."

Lord said he is looking to change recognised staffing and growing practices to meet the changing market. Garden centre and nursery consolidation as well as nurseries making roles redundant are happening across the sector, he added.

"I think restructuring is key. We have to recognise the acute seasonality of the industry we're trying to trade in and I think garden centres and the public are becoming more fair-weather gardeners than ever before. Garden centres are understandably reflecting what the public seem to want."

Lord added: "The days of flat 39-hour 52-week working I don't think are there anymore. It needs supportive staff, which my team are." He added that the nursery has cut out speculative production over the past three years.

Turnover dropped to £5.26m in the last full year of accounts in 2012, from £5.67m in 2011. Liabilities are more than £1m. The number of plants grown stands at 1.1 million a year.

Lord's fellow director John Kirkum resigned in 2013. John Woods also has the Mattocks roses and Waterers ericaceous brands.

Notcutts Nurseries was bought by John Woods Nurseries through a management buyout from Notcutts with Lord as chairman/managing director and Kirkum as company secretary/finance director in 2007. Charles Notcutt was invited to take up the position of president of the new nursery.

Notcutts Garden Centres said at least 40 per cent of its plants are sown and grown at John Woods Nurseries, which was originally founded in 1837. Today, the nursery grows 1,500 different plants on a 39ha site, including shrubs, perennials, roses, ericaceous plants, climbers, trees and fruit.

John Woods exhibited at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2010 with a Sunflower Street garden called "Upwardly Mobile".

Seasonal plant producers faring better than those producing hardy garden plants

Neville Stein, Consultant

"My initial reaction is sadness because I worked there and because of the stress on the managers and staff. It's so difficult for the creditors too, who might be losing a lot of money.

"Anecdotally, seasonal plant producers have done well this season and those producing hardy garden plants have favoured less well. Seasonality has become more acute, creating cash-flow problems for a business that might be profitable but that depends on the debt they're servicing.

"The seasonal plant boys have done well with packaging, promotions and selling colour. The comment is people are decorating and not gardening, but with seasonal plants and not forsythias. Hardy plant producers could chance their arm and promote plants as decor, as is happening with all the heucheras that we're seeing coming out.

"Tastes are changing and the core knowledgeable gardener who buys A-Z is decreasing, and I'm not sure that marginal gardeners are being converted."


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