Interview: Mark Taylor, business development manager, Kernock Park Plants

This week marks the fourth anniversary of Mark Taylor's tenure at Kernock Park Plants, the longest he has ever stayed at one company.

But it seems unlikely that references have ever been a problem for the highly personable business development manager. While it would be easy to characterise Taylor by his people skills, a look at his CV reveals they are accompanied by a wealth of horticultural experience.

Starting out as a trainee horticulturist for Barclays, working on its estate, he has since held nine jobs in a wide range of companies.

But, says Taylor, it doesn't matter what you are doing, you need to have the right approach.

"Horticulture is a simple industry," he explains. "You have got to be a people person, you have got to get on with people and you have got to be customer-focused."

Which, he says, is exactly what he gets from Kernock.

"The reason I wanted to join Kernock is because it is an inventive company; it has always been seen that way. Bruce [Harnett] is a young managing director and he still has a real vision for the company. That was one of the biggest draws — there is a professionalism about them."

And it would appear to be a good match. Taylor says he is settled and thinking of moving his family closer to the Plymouth-based company, which is a bold statement of his intention to remain at the business in the long term.

His start at Kernock coincided with its involvement with the Wollemi pine and throughout the project Taylor was heavily involved.

"The Wollemi experience was a fantastic opportunity; I would never have been able to make some of the contacts we made. The timing was perfect and for my first two years here I would say that took up about 80 per cent of my time."

It was a big project for a company that had no experience of retail Although the pine did not sell as well as hoped, ?Taylor says it was a valuable learning curve that helped raise Kernock's profile.

"Not only are we better-known now but we have learnt a lot about the supply chain so we have a better understanding of what our customers are trying to do. We had always been one step removed from the actual retailer, so it gave us a good insight into the marketing of a product through every medium."

Another side effect of the experience was to put the company in touch with garden centre buyers, whom Taylor says are now happy to speak to Kernock.

This is fundamental to what he hopes to achieve — namely better collaboration throughout the industry.

"Collaboration is the buzzword. We would like to be included in discussions right through the supply chain — it's no good us just talking to the grower. I think that there is a long way to go with it and I would like to see much more in the supply chain.

"I would like to see more between us and retailers and much more exchange of knowledge. We are a very small, fragmented industry with family-run businesses that have traditionally been very protective of their secrets. The retail side finds it quite difficult to collaborate, exchange ideas and take them forward because, more often than not, you need more than one person to be on board to get something going forward."

Beyond the sort of collaboration already going on between Kernock and other liner growers, which Taylor says is small-scale, he would like to see bigger projects taking shape, specifically collaboration on transport.

"It is the major issue because that's quite a high cost. I know [consultancy] Andersons already has a scheme but we need more of that. And projects that bring together companies throughout the industry. There is nothing to say a young plant dealer can't collaborate with the retailer. I think sometimes people worry about taking a project forward because the trust isn't there."

One of the symptoms of this big-tent mentality is an acute awareness of the industry's concerns.

And according to Taylor, a fundamental issue at the moment is the demand for "ready meal" gardening.

He points to Jamie Oliver's attempts to transform the nation's approach to food and cooking, saying the industry must act to break down the fear of the garden and get people growing.

"We have talked to garden centres about the consumer wanting 'ready meal' gardening and, as a supplier, we need to develop that. We have done it with products that haven't really worked. But even though there is a market for 'ready meal' gardening, it would be remiss of us to just target that.

"I think it is just important to get people realising that horticulture isn't as frightening as it seems. There is a lot of myth and mystery about plants; more often than not plants are far more robust than people give them credit for. You can abuse a plant and it will still grow."

The onus, he says, is on the media and the retailer to educate the public.

In doing so, grow-your-own beginners can be converted to seasoned gardeners, unafraid to take on the challenges of growing ornamentals — or even prehistoric pine trees.

 

CV

1979-1982 Trainee horticulturist, Barclays Bank Group Management Training Centre

1982-1985 Amenity landscape and forestry operative, English Woodlands

1985-1987 Garden centre manager, B&Q

1987-1990 Area salesman, R Sankey

1990-1993 Technical sales representative, Fisons

1993-1997 Area sales manager, Avoncrop

1997-2002 Technical product/sales manager, Vapogro/Avoncrop

2002-2005 Product manager, Vapogro

2005-present Business development manager, Kernock Park Plants


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