Steve Rodell reckons horticulture is in a very good place right now. The chair of the retail division of property agent Christie & Co is handling the sale Wyevale’s garden centres — all 145 shops, ranging from small horticultural centres to big leisure destination venues. Confidence in the sector is crucial if his company is to secure a portfolio sale or series of smaller sales.
"And the signs are all there," he explains. "The industry is enjoying growth and the demographics are in favour of garden centres — baby boomers and millennials have both cash to spend and a desire for good leisure time experiences. This is not just about buying a trowel or plant, but staying at the garden centre for lunch or coffee, allowing the children to play and learning how to grow beans."
If garden centres "can pick up the reins" and win the leisure pound, then despite the retail chaos being caused by the internet, garden centres and other horticultural leisure businesses can thrive, he insists. Talent, however, is everything — and few yardsticks gauge talent in this sector better than business awards, according to Rodell, who is big on achievement and expects as much from his team.
As a chartered surveyor, Christie & Co operates strict standards of professionalism and integrity laid down by charter by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). While not every colleague is a surveyor by profession, everyone bar none at Christie & Co is encouraged to work to RICS ethics. The customer, after all, is always right, be it a Wyevale shopper or a property tycoon.
Not only are business awards great for checking out ideas, innovation and rising stars across the entire retail and growing supply chain, but they are good for networking and cementing relationships, says Rodell. "Clearly this is a huge opportunity to build relationships. It is one of our absolute core values to create and maintain good relationships with our client base."
That client base could get bigger as interest hots up for part, or maybe all, of Wyevale, which has a pedigree that mirrors Rodell’s company. Like Wyevale Garden Centres, Christie & Co was set up in the 1930s. Like Wyevale, Christie & Co is a leader in its field. Like Wyevale’s sector, Christie & Co’s reach is broad, advising a range of markets from retail and hotels to medical and childcare.
"This is an opportunity to represent ourselves at one of the horticulture industry’s biggest events and put ourselves in front of a lot of people who may be interested to learn more about us," he explains. "We pride ourselves on professional excellence, so it is quite right and understandable that people in the horticulture sector should want to look at us, prod us and ask us questions.
"We welcome that scrutiny and it seems perfectly fitting they should want to check out the excellence we bring to the property sector at an event that rewards excellence in the horticulture sector. For our part, everyone wants to be recognised for what they do and this is a showcase for others, including ourselves, to learn from the excellent ideas, businesses and best practice."
Wyevale Garden Centres is the sale of the century for the horticulture sector and selling is likely to run for several months. Deals could involve individual outlets, groups of centres or one big job-lot portfolio sale of all 145 garden centres in England, Scotland and Wales, ranging from one acre to 100 acres in size and most also including restaurants, cafés and children’s play areas.
Rodell has no doubt garden centres are an important part of British culture and will remain so, even in this age of Amazon and the internet of things. Christie & Co will be looking to continue and increase its involvement in the industry regardless of the outcome of the Wyevale sale because the growth potential of the sector remains strong.
"The habitual need of humans is to want to spend more time at leisure, so garden centres are right on cue. Meanwhile, the expression ‘Britain is a nation of shopkeepers’ is very true — they have helped drive our economy for decades if not centuries. The internet is changing everything, but garden centres provide a hands-on experience, and you can’t get that through the internet."
As the sale of Wyevale draws closer and in the run-up to the Horticulture Week Business Awards 2018, Rodell’s timing could be perfect. "We are very, very pleased to be involved in the awards this year," he says.
"It is a prestigious event for professionals and aspiring young people. But it is an opportunity for those running a business on a day-to-day basis to put their head above the parapet and be appreciated for what they are doing — and to show their appreciation for what others are doing."