Blue Diamond's managing director eyes potential demographic gap

The Garden Centre Group's move away from 'elderly affluent' will help Blue Diamond, says managing director Alan Roper.

Roper: better audience appeal - image: HW
Roper: better audience appeal - image: HW

Blue Diamond managing director Alan Roper has said the Garden Centre Group's (TGCG) plan to move away from richer older customers will help his 15-centre group.

TGCG chief executive Kevin Bradshaw said he wants to appeal to a broader range of customers, away from "the elderly affluent" (HW, 27 September).

Commenting on TGCG's move, Roper said: "That makes my job a lot easier. For me that's good news because we trade for the ABC1 market.

"Given that I try to ensure Blue Diamond's retail areas, product and restaurants trade on a point of difference, their policies will hopefully make our appeal to our target audience that much stronger."

He added: "It is already apparent that Dobbies are becoming increasingly value driven given the recent changes to their management structure."

Roper believes that TGCG is planning to concession all non-gardening stock and this may move to restaurants. "I understand their approach as concessions deliver a guaranteed revenue and this increases the value of the business quickly and efficiently - a priority for private equity," he said.

TGCG has brought in former Spirit Group and PepsiCo manager Frank Hayes as its commercial concessions manager and he is currently looking to concession cafes.

Roper said: "If they don't want a point of difference and they get high street coffee chains then people will tire of that and go somewhere else. People who have money want choice. Most branded coffee houses are operated and used by people as a convenience. Garden centres should operate as a destination experience."

Roper, who announced the acquisition of Fermoy's last week and will re-open the rebuilt Redfields in Hampshire on 19 November, said he became interested in Fermoy's when he heard the centre was applying for planning permission for a rebuild.

Roper explained that Redfields would have many "quirky" features with new concepts in indoor living restaurant and planteria.

The company will now turnover £70m a year, up from £6m when Roper joined the firm 15 years ago.

Sales and leasebacks - Industry expects option to be considered

The Garden Centre Group (TGCG) will look at sales and leasebacks at some of its 139 garden centres, according to industry experts.

Gilbert Evans director Mike Gilbert set up Garden & Leisure's two leasebacks to La Salle in 2006. TGCG bought Garden & Leisure's seven centres last month for £18m.

"It would make sense and I suspect they probably will at some point," said Gilbert. "It's all about timing. Often you can generate a higher value than straightforward buy and sell because of the strong investment market. It's one of the options private equity always considers. But it's not a blanket approach because some centres suit better than others."

Quinton Edwards director Simon Quinton Smith added: "Sale and leasebacks can devalue the deal when you want to sell it on as we saw with Garden & Leisure."

Meanwhile, TGCG purchasing director Steve Pitcher and home and garden head Andrew West have left and some 13 regional managers remain under threat of redundancy from 1 November.

Former Eat retail director Colin Hughes has been in charge of offering the 13 regional managers five regional director roles. There are a further nine area manager roles, beneath the former regional scale, available.

Chris Brannigan, David Longmore and Melanie Evans are believed to have been given regional director roles.

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