Dobbies chief claims credit for sector growth contribution

Opening garden centres helps grow the market and create more demand, Dobbies chief executive James Barnes has said.

Barnes defended his chain during a panel discussion at this year's HTA Garden Futures conference. Consultant Malcolm Scott said supermarkets getting involved in the garden sector and larger chains expanding posed a threat to independent centres.

"We should celebrate the growth in the industry," said Barnes. "There were concerns when Tesco took over, but we have been part of the group for four years now and we have opened a number of new stores, establishing a leading UK brand. New garden centres create more demand."

Barnes added that the message has to be value. "We have to offer customers what they want at the right price. I don't see that pressure ending soon," he said.

Bransford Webbs Plant Company managing director Geoff Caesar agreed that Dobbies could expand the market. "I was in a Dobbies garden centre recently and there were a lot of people in there who don't normally go to garden centres. They were buying plants. They didn't strike me as gardeners but as shoppers.

"The traditional 60-plus enthusiasts who are reasonably knowledgeable gardeners are not going there but Dobbies is still busy."

He added that a continued focus on plants was key for the independent sector. "That's the point of difference from other retailers and, thankfully, it's difficult."

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