GIMA business meeting hears Wyevale past and present and votes on Glee

The Garden Industry Manufacturers Association (GIMA) meeting on 7 October heard past and present Wyevale garden centre chiefs Bob Hewitt and Nicholas Marshall court suppliers while talking up successful trading years.

GIMA director Neil Gow said suppliers had had a good 2010 and had generally been paid on time. He said it was "critical we develop the momentum of the grow it yourself boom into a sustainable market".
Hewitt said the boom would continue in 2010 before fading after 2011. He said Glee was so full of new grow your own products that buyer Alan Wilson was still catching up with leads.

GIMA members were asked to decide between next year's Glee and Garden Expo show at the meeting.

Hewitt and Marshall said he was a lot more optimistic than he was 12 months ago ahead of Glee. He said new grow your own products available at the show were impressive. Hewitt added: "I suspect some people will have wished he was there in 2009 and will go back in 2010."
Hewitt said turnover had risen to £43m from £38m this year at 24-centre group Klondyke. He said latest pre-tax profits were £3.39m, staff costs to turnover were 26.5 per cent (going down to 24 per cent this year), gross margin was 48.9 per cent and concessions made £590,000.



MonthMonthly Sales Percentage


SectorSales split percentages
General gardening13
Christmas Wild
Furnature and barbecues 
Clothing 3
Pets/water gardening2


SectorAnnual Sales Rises
Edible Plants28
Vegetable seeds18
Farm Shop13


SectorPercentage sales decline

Hewitt blamed competition from DIY stores and supermarkets, with their huge footfall, for those declines.
He said he would stock a wider range of tools, chemical and accessory products than Wyevale did if he was CEO now.
Hewitt added that garden centres must carry "a comprehensive range of products" so they could differentiate themselves from B&Q.
Marshall said that B&Q managers had taken away responsibility from Wyevale store managers and that "we don't want to offer the same as every DIY store-I want to be different. DIY stores will drop you [the suppliers] like a hot potato whenever they feel like it. GIMA should be backing the garden centre industry."
Hewitt said he had spoken out at the Garden Retail top 100 garden centres seminar at Glee about garden centres "letting themselves down" with poor quality plants and presentation-yet we say we're experts against B&Q. Some of the standards in our industry are very bad."
He advocated planagrams for presentation and stock control but said most garden centre groups were too small and diverse to benefit from Epos.
Hewitt said he wanted suppliers to be consistent, develop innovative products and provide product/price/presentation packages-supplier-led price-marked promotions.
He said he has permission to upgrade High Legh (extension), Leeds (rebuild), Northallerton (extension), Inverness (extensions), Wilmslow (new coffee shop) and had permssion for a greenfield newbuild at Stockton.
Hewitt said Klondyke was in the market for new centres but that Wyevale had inflated prices "ridiculously", adding that a £10m build or purchase would need at least £8m annual turnover for a return on capital.
He said Klondyke planned to reduce plant waste and improve standards, sales and margins.
Hewitt said: "Independent garden centres will always have a place in the industry." He repeated his maxim from the Garden Retail interview last June that more than 40 centres in a group was too many to manage because regional managers let you down.

Nicholas Marshall said he was seen as a loose cannon when on the Stock Exchange council in the 1990s with Country Gardens. He said Wyevale "took away my baby" in an unwanted buy-out and left him "very sad" but scheming for revenge.  This came last year when CEO Jim Hodkinson asked him to breakfast and said garden centre owners were "hillbillies". This "miffed" Marshall but after he "got the call up from the shareholders and banks" took over last September. It took until February to sort out the £500m debt with Hbos, which the bank halved and gave hime £30 to spend on doing up stores.

Marshall said: "People go to garden centres to see plants" but "it was not what they [the previous Wyevale management] thought.

Marshall said the company was "bust", the accounts system was a "shambles" and staff morale was low, with four CEOs, three FDs, four ops directors and three chairmen in five years.

Marshall said he dropped the Wyevale name because it was what customers and staff wanted to change to the Garden Centre Group name with individual local centres renamed this summer.

He said the new 700,000 gardening club was a "powerful tool" for marketing with a 27 per cent sales rise after the group sent memebrs a new catalogue in September. He said Wyevale had 25-30 per cent of members' emails and hoped to build that number and membership (to 1m) next year.

Marshall said he had asked chefs to cook rather than buy in food, had sorted out 3,500 health and safety issues in stores, had reverted to a management team of garden centre people including Steve Pitcher, Lorrie Robertson, Andrew West, Louise Barr and Tim Clapp and had grown plant sales this year, including this autumn. He said changing customer flow so customers entered to plants had helped this. He said one million invoices a year had overwhelmed accounts staff before Antonia Jenkinson stepped in. He said: "We do want to pay when we say we're going to pay. What has happened in the past was because of that shambles, not because we didn't want to pay. If I'm trying to screw you you will probably try and screw me. And neither us will walk away very satisfied."

Marshall attacked critics of new sales and conditions which say suppliers must carry on supplying even if Wyevale does not pay and that suppliers cannot pick up goods if Wyevale does not pay. He said only 30 out of 3,000 suppliers had complained about the new conditions and threatened that "sniping was not a good thing". He added: "I have mates in the industry I can trust and that was just as well in the dark days of last year."

Marshall said he gave garden centre managers opportunity to run their businesses and held a garden furniture show this week in Sussex for managers to choose their own ranges from the range Wyevale had bought.

He added: "There is a lot more to do and I have got the team in place to do that now. We are giving our manager back the ability to manage the business. When I came in managers were not allowed to change a lightbulb. A van came round for an hour once a month for that. Lawns were being cut centrally. Everything had to be done centrally. We can use economies of scale but managers can use their own abilities to slect their products."
The third speaker at the event, held at Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire in front of 70 people, was David Herbert, former Country Gardens manager and Homebase trainee, is now head of buying at Mole Valley Farmers and Scats. He said the £236m turnover farm cooperative business was on target to turnover £280m this year. MVF, aimed at the country dweller, has nine sites in the South West and Scats has 19 in the South and East, with "goodlifers", grow-your-owners and landowners target markets. He said that because agriculture is not growing the group is concentrating on hobbies such as equestrianism, gardening and smallholding, and that suppliers should look at country stores as alternative garden sales markets.


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