Horticulture Week Business Award - Garden Centre Outlet of the Year (large/destination)

Winner - Tong Garden Centre

Image: Tong Garden Centre
Image: Tong Garden Centre

One of Yorkshire’s largest independent garden centres, Tong occupies a 14-acre site near Tong village, between Bradford and Leeds. It was acquired by childhood friends Mark Farnsworth and Tom Megginson in May 2015. They set out to re-establish Tong and to reposition it as a destination garden centre for all of the family.

The commitment to realising Tong’s potential has been underpinned by an investment of more than £2m and is on target for a projected £8m-plus 2018 turnover with an increase in operating profit. The turnover on acquisition was just £3.3m — an overall growth of 151% in three years of trading.

An exceptional customer experience is central to Tong’s strategy. Reinforcing a "customer-first" culture through service, range, training, reward and recognition has been implemented and will continue to be important for the centre.

Tong prides itself on being at the heart of the community and supports nearby gardening projects and good causes, such as local childhood cancer charity Candlelighters. The garden centre also champions local produce and buys goods and services locally where possible. Some 75% of Tong’s £2m investment in improvements has benefitted the Yorkshire economy.

There are 147 local people employed at the centre, with plans to recruit a further 16 before the end of 2018. Thanks to investment in staff training, and a reward and recognition scheme, Tong is now a great place to work. New ranging, e-commerce and marketing are other ­priorities, while gardening remains core to the business. There are new themed display gardens, with television’s Katie Rushworth involved in them as well as in gardening masterclasses. Gardeners’ Question Time’s Matthew Wilson has also opened a gardening school at Tong.

Over the past 18 months, Tong has improved the centre and the customer experience by investing in a restaurant refit, a food hall refurbishment, replacement flooring, new lighting and solar panels, staff facilities and resurfacing the car park.

A blueprint for future expansion includes, in the short term, adding a new plant canopy, increasing the indoor retail area by 1,500sq m, bringing catering capacity up to 500 with an additional 180 covers and launching an indoor soft-play area. In the longer-term, over the next 15 years, the plan is to grow to a multi-site operation with turnover in excess of £30m.

Sponsored by: Bord na Mona

Highly commended

  • Old Railway Line Garden Centre

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