Interview - Gez Smith, managing director, Lead the Good Life

Lead the Good Life (LTGL) launched in 2008 selling live plants by website and mail order.

Gez Smith, managing director, Lead the Good Life - image: LGL
Gez Smith, managing director, Lead the Good Life - image: LGL

It was bought by Ideal Shopping Direct (ISD) for £5m in January 2010 and founder Peter McDermott left in April. ISD was in turn bought by private-equity firm Inflexion for £78m in May, which brought in former Focus gardening trading controller Gez Smith as LTGL managing director in July.

Q: What attracted you to Lead the Good Life (LTGL)?

A: I was familiar with the business before I joined because it supplied Focus's home-delivered plant offer. I went to see Ideal Shopping Direct chief executive Mike Hancox and was impressed with his vision for LTGL and for gardening in general. Being in the multi-channel arena, I believe that it sits in arguably one of the biggest areas for potential growth in horticulture.

Q: How do you intend to grow the company?

A: Innovation. A key strength of LTGL is that it operates a different business model from most of our competitors. We source products that are deemed unusual for home delivery, such as Mediterranean plants and nursery stock. We will look to capitalise on this. Opportunities also lie in partnerships with other retailers. We essentially develop white label and catalogue solutions without cannibalising existing sales. This is achieved by offering a marketing and fulfilment service, without the need for stock investment. For range extension, there is a proposition to include more bedding and seeds and to widen our hard goods offer.

Q: You brought a number of people in with you. Tell us more.

A: I've been very fortunate. Dave Andrews is an extremely knowledgeable nurseryman with great pan-European contacts. We have Andy Schofield, who was a buyer at Focus and has run a garden centre in Yorkshire, so can provide valuable insight into a different customer base. We also have Nasim Valli from Focus, who has the marketing expertise to build a brand strategy. A new graduate is managing our club revamp.

Q: How will you attract new audiences?

A: First, we are looking to expand our gardening club, which has 15,000 members. We provide seasonal tips, a magazine and offers. Second, we have the benefits of the TV channel owned by parent business Ideal World. This allows us a gardening show twice a week in the off-season and seven to ten times in season. Our show is Garden Bargains, presented by Angela Noghani. We have a big opportunity with the digital switchover, which will give us access to 23 million households via Sky, Freeview and Virgin. And because we are linked to Ideal World, we benefit from leading-edge technology putting us at the forefront of developments with social media and apps for smartphones.

Q: Are you looking for more suppliers?

A: I am reviewing the supply base. It will be a mix of retaining our better suppliers and introducing some of the guys I worked with over the years at Focus. I would like to get away from a purely buy-sell culture and start nurturing long-term partnerships.

Q: Who are your big suppliers currently?

A: Delamore is our biggest and we get superb support. We also do good business through Hargreaves, JR Jersey, Plant Bureau and Landgard.

Q: What areas are growing the most?

A: Web sales are growing nicely. We are looking at extending the transactional website so it is a one-stop shop for gardening. We're talking to companies in the growing media, fertilisers and chemicals, garden building, garden power and garden hand tool arenas to offer the full product spectrum that a garden retailer provides.

Q: How do you think you compare to QVC?

A: We operate on different business models. QVC is particularly strong with its TV format. We arguably focus on a multimedia approach. We have a website, catalogue, call centre and gardening club. So, if anything, TV is another area of opportunity.

Q: How does your Focus experience help?

A: One way is in implementing a structure supported by robust procedures to take off from where the previous team left it. The second is knowing what sells well, what is a fair price and the best suppliers or growers/manufacturers.

Q: Where is the position for Focus now?

A: Sadly, it is well and truly gone. A number of stores were snapped up, but not the majority. People wise, most of my old team are now in work with other retailers.

Q: How would you sum up your ambitions?

A: In a single word, I would say they are massive.

CV

2011: Managing director, Lead the Good Life

1997: Focus

1995: Homebase

1991: Lancaster University.


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