Whitehall Garden Centre, founded in 1969 by the Self family, launched its mail-order website in May 2008. It cost £5,000 to create.
The range of products available to buy includes: garden buildings, garden and home furniture, barbecues, chimineas, garden sundries, giftware, outdoor wear, pet and wild bird products, conservatory furniture, footwear, selected plants and pond accessories. West-country food items from the garden centre's farm shop are also available. IT manager Adam Simpkins built the site, beginning in 2006.
Online retail objectives for 2008/09 included to contribute to overall garden centre sales by 10 per cent per month, offer shoppers countrywide the chance to buy the products and plants Whitehall stocks, extend the Whitehall experience online so people can buy from the comfort of their own homes and to meet the steadily growing customer demand for an online service.
Challenges faced were stock control and real-time uploading of information, maintaining the centre's eco-credentials, the time and resource to collect all the product photos for the site, the time to get the system up and running and how to provide an additional means of communication with customers who cannot visit the centre.
Solutions were to build a programme that links to the garden centre's EPoS system so products load from EPoS onto the website automatically. The system is self-maintaining. The system was running in January 2008 but Whitehall did not launch it until May 2008 because it wanted it to develop organically. Simpkins spends just an hour a week looking after the site because stock control and information uploading is instant. Two part-time staff work 2.5 days a week picking, packing and sending online orders.
Whitehall asked for suppliers to supply photos and pledged 80 native trees a year to offset the miles travelled by delivery vehicles.
Staff write the latest news from the centre on the blog as well as hints, tips, information and advice. Readers can ask questions and chat to staff.
Sales have tripled since the launch in May 2008, when sales were £5,000. In June 2009 it had 48,000 hits, with 98 per cent new visitors.
The Internet Gardener
Shackletons Garden & Lifestyle Centre