Online retail co-operative plans to double sales

A year after going live, an online "garden centre co-operative" is planning to double sales in 2008.

Set up by business partners Gerard Humble and Steve Easton, offers smaller garden centres without an online purchasing facility the option to use an umbrella system that enables customers to buy products from their nearest centre online.

Easton said it launched on 31 March 2007 with five garden centres signed up and has expanded to 12 stores. It took 1,250 orders last year, above what was expected.

He said: "Our initial intention was to do £50,000 in the first year but we did that in the first five months. We're hoping to do at least double that this year."

He added that the site started well with the huge spring demand and, although sales slowed during the summer, they showed strong interest prior to Christmas.

"We're seeing 400 to 500 visitors on the site per day, and that should treble once spring arrives."

The key to the site's success has been the service that local centres are able to offer. "We compete on local services rather than price. Where we have a local service we're seeing good sales of heavy products such as compost. The local presence is what we're pushing as our unique selling point."

The site is looking for new members. "We're able to cover the country with couriers but it's always nice to have local centres," Easton said.

Easton was positive about the site's potential. "If we look back out how far we've come in just a year and the lessons we've learned, it's just amazing. We should be in a much better position this year."

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