Horticulture Week Business Award - High-Growth Business of the Year

Winner - Tong Garden Centre

Image: Tong Garden Centre
Image: Tong Garden Centre

Mark Farnsworth and Tom Megginson acquired the 14-acre Tong site in May 2015, with a mission is to re-establish the business as an iconic garden centre in the heart of Yorkshire and to reposition it as a destination outlet. Their commitment to realising Tong’s potential has been underpinned by investment of more than £2m and a customer-centric vision.

On acquisition, they projected an £8.2m turnover by 2022. The centre will achieve this by the end of the 2018 financial year. This success has been achieved with an ambitious strategy to create a strong retail offer with five clearly defined areas —garden centre, food hall, restaurant, Grass Hoppers and concessions — investment in both the site and its building and appointing an experienced team to deliver the objectives.

The strategy focused on and continues to prioritise the customer experience. The key to success has been Tong’s positioning as a retail experience for all the family, so buying, range planning, merchandising and promotions are fundamental. For example, the newly refitted food hall’s retail offer aims to drive footfall to the family-friendly restaurant.

Investment in infrastructure reaps rewards. Tong has replaced flooring, installed new lighting and solar panels, improved staff facilities, asphalted the car park, added an electronic point-of-sale system and introduced e-commerce. A restaurant refit has more than doubled the number of catering covers to 320.

To appeal to the family market, Tong created its Grass Hoppers outdoor adventure playground, which attracted 20,000 visitors in the first six weeks of opening and has already been extended. Investment in people and the business has resulted in rapid growth that prompted the recruitment of 100 staff in under two years. There are now 147 staff and a plan to recruit a further 16 before the end of 2018. A training manager instils a "can do" attitude and delivers a "customer-first" culture.

A fully integrated seasonal marketing campaign includes TV, radio, outdoor, press and digital advertising as well as social media, print and electronic newsletters plus PR to raise brand awareness, strengthen the core message and drive footfall.

Specialist events include Matthew Wilson’s Gardening School and masterclasses with Katie Rushworth. There are 12,000 subscribers for online newsletters, 5,000 Evergreens loyalty card scheme members and 25,000 followers across the Tong and Grass Hoppers Facebook pages.

Highly commended

  • Kew Retail, RBG Kew Enterprises



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