Interview - Marc Mahood, managing director, Mahood Brothers

Flexibility and maintaining good customer service have kept North West-based Mahood Brothers in business for more than 100 years, says managing director Marc Mahood.

Marc Mahood, managing director, Mahood Brothers
Marc Mahood, managing director, Mahood Brothers

Looking ahead to the next century of trading, he says he is keen to revive the nursery's hedging prestige while continuing to diversify the business through continued sales to garden centres as well as the amenity trade.

Reflecting on the history of the nursery, which celebrated its centenary in 2010, he says: "It was first started by my grandmother and then Mahood Brothers was created by her two sons. They bought 18 acres in the village of Burscough and had a retail shop where they grew a lot of what they sold.

"When my father came out of the RAF, in about 1955, he went into the business full time and honed it into the wholesale nursery it has become. There was a lot of road development going on at the time and the M1 and the M6 were contracts for the company."

He adds: "I'm proud of what we are growing and what we have achieved over the years. I like to see what we have sold, and over a hundred years we must have left our mark on the countryside, so when I drive down the M6 I am seeing stock grown by my father."

The nursery has expanded its original customer base, now selling one-third of its stock to garden centres with the remaining two-thirds going to the amenity sector. When asked what has been the nursery's secret to surviving for so long, he says: "The key to success is being big enough to cope with the large schemes but small enough to provide a personal service - it gives a nice touch because everyone knows they can phone up and talk directly to me."

Although Mahood believes maintaining good relationships with customers on a personal level is important, he attributes the nursery's ability to diversify to meet customers' needs and the demands of the market as a key factor in its success. The firm moved from supplying field-grown stock for the amenity sector to container-grown and field-grown stock for amenity and retail.

"We bought the Hesketh Bank site in 1989, just before my late partner Denis Donn came in, and until then we had never grown container stock," explains Mahood. "So we decided to move into containers and do it properly with a bespoke site with existing glasshouses and land for expansion. We probably did about 250,000 containers in the first few years and then we extended in 2007 and bought an extra three acres. We now grow one-million container plants a year."

With most of the nursery's trade going to the amenity sector, it would be fair to say the comprehensive spending review is likely to affect sales. However, Mahood is upbeat and believes there are opportunities in the market.

"I'm not scared because we are still maintaining our market share of what is out there and you never know how things will change. Going back to my father's time in the 1970s, when Margaret Thatcher slashed the councils in the area, he went and looked for more business and the next year he managed to do more trade than in the previous year.

"There will always be cuts, but you just have to work hard to develop other customers and keep those relationships going. People are a lot more focused on their leisure time and when money is tight people spend more on their house, which includes the garden."

He is keen to interact more with the local community and to mark the nursery's centenary last year he ran an initiative called 100 Trees for 100 Years in which local children were asked to bid for trees and 10 schools were awarded 100 trees each. "The kids are our future and they are our future customers and, hopefully, employees if some get interested in the business," he adds.

For the future, he says he is keen to continue sales to garden centres with a focus on promoting the nursery's container-grown hedging stock. "Because we were historically a hedging nursery, it should be something we look at, and at the moment we are working with our point-of-sale people to try and increase hedging plant sales with the garden centres."

He is also keen to build on the success of the nursery's cash and carry, which opened in 2000: "I'd like to open another in the next few years in another area with the same format. We put the same mark-up on everything so we give the benefit back to the customer and we want them to know they are going to get that product at a fair price."

On advice to other nurseries, he says flexibility and gradual growth are the key to success, while remaining a local business at heart. "The key is not to try and grow too quickly," he says. "You have to make sure you get your product right, which is what we have done at every stage, and then sell it.

"We have focused more on marketing over the years and we are now a bit more prominent doing things with the local community - it's more important to be a local business because all the best publicity is word of mouth."

1977-82: Part-time nursery work, Mahood Brothers
1982-84: Firma D Van Teijlingen Export Nurseries, Boskoop, Netherlands
1984-87: National diploma in amenity horticulture, Myerscough College of
1987-90: Container plant production, Mahood Brothers
1990-2000: Sales director, Mahood Brothers
2000 to date: Managing director, Mahood Brothers

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