Rival Lancashire nurseries battle over garden-centre customers

Whiterigg Alpines, which came out of administration this month, has to cope with competition for its 550 garden-centre customers from Lovania Nurseries, which is also based near Preston, Lancashire.

"Disillusioned" former Whiterigg Alpines key account managers Rick McKeever and Lee Chambers have moved to Lovania - along with 12 other ex-Whiterigg staff - and are aiming to sign up 70 per cent of Whiterigg's 550 garden-centre customers.

They have been on the road since the start of August, visiting garden centres including the Garden Centre Group, Dobbies and Hillier, and have had "no knock-backs" according to sister company LS Systems financial controller David Scott.

He added: "We were trying to buy Whiterigg when it went into administration but there were all sorts of hurdles. So we cobbled together a deal to buy some land and there, added to our own 50 acres (20ha), we're potting up alpines as we speak. Lee and Rick had the Whiterigg database and we have had a great response from the garden centres we approached."

LS Systems, which supplied Whiterigg with compost, pots and trays, was owed money after Whiterigg went into administration on 6 April.

Scott said some garden centres may use both suppliers. He said Lovania would operate a similar shuttle tray and merchandising system as Whiterigg but hoped to avoid the £3 per tray deposit that Whiterigg has charged since 2008.

Bulbs will go out to garden centres in mid-December and alpines in mid-February.

Whiterigg Alpines UK director Lee Wrigley said: "They are a bedding plant grower - I think they do Aldi. The feedback we're getting from garden centres is, 'why fix what's not broken?' I'm not worried at all about this. The general consensus from customers I've spoken to is that they're not going anywhere else."

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