Q What are Notcutts’ expansion plans?
A We’re looking to acquire 10 more centres over the next three years to push us up to 29. This is for two reasons. We’ve had a successful integration of the six centres bought from NWF in 2008. We were able to retain the identity of those centres because we didn’t change the names and they trade under their own brands, but benefit from being part of the bigger Notcutts family. We’ve been able to integrate colleagues in a sensitive way. Because we’re a family-run business, we’re able to make that sentiment. Two, we’ve performed well as a business, notwithstanding this spring and summer being a tricky time. Things I’ve been able to bring to the party are 30 years in retail across lots of businesses. I’ve taken everything I’ve learnt and combined it with all the excellent horticultural knowledge at Notcutts, so now we’re ready for the next stage of the expansion.
Q Where, what size and freehold or leasehold?
A South of broad line, south of the M62 from Liverpool to Leeds and east of Liverpool-Bristol, where we are at the moment. We’re interested in business doing £3m-£4m. I’m keen to acquire bigger businesses rather than lots of smaller ones because that’s where we want to be, so we can improve the quality of the business. Ideally freehold, but we do have leasehold sites so would consider leaseholds as well. The important thing is to get good centres and management.
Q How difficult was it to fit into garden retail coming from outside the sector?
A It took me a couple of years before I really understood how this business operates. Gardening is a really different sector because it is so seasonally-driven and weather-driven. For me, the weather is so much more of a factor than the economy in the past three years.
Q What opportunities are there to expand your business?
A This spring, the whole sector has been badly affected by the wet and cold. We’ve offset to a good degree by the success of the gift department and hospitality — as we call restaurants. We’ve invested in puzzles, games and books. With furniture and barbecues, we present in a visually appealing way. That has not totally compensated for plants and gardening’s poor performance, but has gone a long way to offsetting that. We plan to further develop that and the concession business is a really valuable asset, as long as we mimic our customer profile.
Q Do you have plans for more concessions?
A We’re looking to differentiate concessions from other centres. Our income per site over our competitors is bringing in more pounds per site than most. We know by our customer profile Sage loyalty programme exactly who is shopping in each centre. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. Our Victoria centre near Pontefract might not fit Bagshot or Cranleigh. They have a different customer profile and we tailor our range and concessions for the customer.
Q How is the Notcutts Sage loyalty club going?
A Extremely well. It’s different from most other garden centres as it costs £10 a year, every year. You get good benefits and we have a very high retention rate. They talk about what they like and don’t like and sit on panels looking at products, so they’re a source of customer research. We have 150,000 active members.
Q Will you have Christmas shops again this year and how are holiday sales?
A We have two signed up at Cambridge Grafton and Watford Harlequin and are looking for more. Christmas has started unbelievably well, including puzzles and games, clothing and Christmas food. It’s going to be a really strong Christmas and in the autumn gardening has come back. I’m pretty confident about Christmas, barring any snow.
Q How has the year to date been for you?
A Spring and summer were tough in plants and gardening, but we’ve offset that by good increases in indoor categories. We grew margins and controlled costs and stocks. Sales were hit, but profitability not as much. July and August started to pick up and September and October saw good trading. We are down on the year, but clawing a bit back every week. If you don’t make the business in spring and summer you won’t make the year, but given what we’ve been through, I’m pleased where we’re at.
Q What are your plans for next year?
A To further enhance the plant offer and to strengthen all indoor categories. We’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best. We will benefit because there is unlikely to be a hosepipe ban in spring 2013. We talk about new money and new business we’ve not had before, rather than money we get from doing things better. Cookshop has done that. And we’re looking closely at crafts.
1989-98 Marketing and business development roles, Boots
1998-2001 Marketing and business development director, WHSmith
2001-03 Global marketing director, online and international divisions, Mothercare
2003-07 Global marketing director, Body Shop
2007 to date Chief executive, Notcutts Garden Centres