In the spotlight: First Franchise

Garden centres look set to bring in increasing numbers of short- and long-term franchises this year to guarantee income.

FF Promotions, which covers short-term deals, was launched by First Franchise at Glee 2008 and is set to bring in businesses promoting their services and products on a weekend or longer-term basis.

Director Ian Silverton said after launching FF Promotions, short-term concessions are taking off. He said his role is to put documentation together to take the risk from the garden centre. An example is N Power. Silverton said: "Multinational companies come to us and we organise promotions."

The advantage for centres is short-term income and additional interest to customers, which enhances the shopping experience.

First Franchise is developing its FF Promotions website to show potential concessions what garden centres are on offer, complete with images. Some centres have websites that link directly to FF Promotions so potential concessions can apply direct.

Director Keith McIntyre has a horticultural background and started his working life at the family rose nursery in Worcester Park, Surrey.

He said: "Concessions generate income, footfall and interest for garden centres. They are no longer seen as a necessary evil but rather as business partners." Big companies such as The Works, Maidenhead Aquatics and Cotton Traders - which has 15 new outlets, including 10 in Wyevale centres, to add to its existing 37 outlets at garden centres - are on the radar for many centres.

"We are assisting Wyevale to arrange dozens of concessions to move into the chain's centres. In 12 to 18 months there will be a significant number of new concessions within the group. They are looking to maximise their profit and use of the floor space. In a market where everything is contracting, there are concessions looking to expand and Wyevale is keen to work with complementary firms."

Silverton said that although it was terrible to see Craft Central and Hot Spring Spas cease trading, "as long as accounts are right when they vacated, this has created opportunities for other companies". He added that he foresaw "some scaling back, but I don't see anyone within our stable susceptible to the economy".

One criticism of concessions is that they water down the core garden offering at centres. However, Silverton said: "A lot of it is down to planning - some sites have a wide scope, but synergy is important."

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