Changing with the times - Jane Lawler, marketing director, Gardman

Jane Lawler has headed up marketing at Gardman for five years. In the past 12 months, the £80m-turnover garden centre supplier has been refinanced, appointed a new chief executive officer (Stewart Hainsworth) and commercial director (Justin Young), and introduced a business strategy focusing on value.

Jane Lawler
Jane Lawler

What changes have you made to business strategy?

In the difficult trading environment, businesses such as Gardman have to evolve and adapt. Fifteen years ago we were about competitive pricing and promotions, and over the past few years we’ve diversified to add value and include more branding. This year, we’ve looked at the business and taken it back. Our focus on price is one of the strands of the new strategy. For instance, in bird care, we’ve reduced prices in 53 Known Value Item (KVI) products, such as 50 Fat Snax, and added 30 new sales boosters. We’ve returned to our roots. We will relaunch our gardening range in September.

And on promotions?

We’ve always done autumn deals and started spring deals a couple of years ago. Now we’ve added monthly promotions, which were big in May, June and July. That’s driven extra volume and value. The merchandising strategy has taken a scientific approach to space planning, using grocery multiples to drive return on space employed. That’s work-in-progress and will impact on things such as case size. This month we will introduce a new trade message to encompass this strategy: "Trust us to deliver". In terms of new products, we’ll now introduce 100 to 200 a year, instead of 200 to 300.

Talk us through your leadership changes.

Leadership changes coincided with the change in the financial structure of the business. Gardman was previously funded by Barclays Private Equity [which bought Gardman in a deal valued at £85m in 2007], but at the end of last year that ended. Goldman Sachs and TPG took over in a joint equity/debt partnership and wanted a new direction for the business. While Mark Pearson did a fantastic job taking us through refinancing, he agreed with the new owners that he had done the job and it was time to leave and bring in a new CEO. As for [commercial director] Tim Stainton, the new approach was not what he wanted for the business.

What do you think of the rush of management changes at major retailers?

In a turbulent economy and a weather-driven business, inevitably there’s going to be changes. But nothing gives us deep concern. We potentially see opportunities. We have good relations with the Garden Centre Group, Notcutts and Garden & Leisure. Dobbies is not a key customer at the moment, but there’s a possibility there.

How would you summarise the 2013 season?

Late. That’s more to do with the weather than economic conditions, but there’s been some basket-size changes showing the economy’s influence, so we changed focus on price and promotions. Garden centre customers are looking for deals; consumer behaviour has shifted.

How has the garden business performed?

Garden has dragged on later. Last year they finished by the end of April. This year they have made us much closer to being back on plan. We’ve had buoyant business on garden living and solar. Independent garden centre business is on plan, with double-digit growth on wild bird care. May was 16 per cent up in independent garden centres. June was up on last year, but not by as much. July was a smaller month, but we did well. The next thing is the August bird care sell-in.

Have you had more showroom visitors this year?

Since our bird care launch we’ve had double the number of customers. We’ve had double-digit growth with bird care this year, even before the launch of new season product. We average three garden centre visitors a day, so that’s 15 a week from late May to mid-August. And again from the week after Glee.

Why are independents doing best for you?

It’s down to our sales and marketing, and promotions and focus on deals. Independents have a personal relationship with the customer because they’re integrated with their communities. They’re good at marketing at a local level.

What do you think about Glee moving halls at the NEC?

I’m excited by the idea of shaking up the layout. The [new from 2014] indoor-outdoor space may attract plant people back, though I know it’s a challenge at that time of year. I wish Glee well. We all love to complain about it, but it’s the one industry annual meeting point.

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