Former Garden Centre Group chief executive Nicolas Marshall has spoken about his time in garden retail and the importance of good customer service.
Marshall told website My Retail Media: "My biggest regret is not being able to say goodbye to all the wonderful people who helped rebuild the business. I started County Gardens PLC in 1985 with £2, and by the time it was acquired by Wyevale in 2000 it was worth more than £110 million.
"The most important thing, if you are running a retail operation, is customer service. The key to good customer service is good morale on the shop floor. If the staff don’t like what they are doing, it’s apparent to the customer. If they enjoy what they are doing, it doesn’t matter whether they are 70 or 17, their enthusiasm comes across. Senior management often ignore the fact that the staff on the shop floor know and like the customers better than their own management.
When Marshall was invited to head up Wyevale 2009, he set about rebranding all of the businesses’ local garden centres.
"We had to start again really, and build morale. We took the business back to its roots. The reaction to this new direction at the head office was horror but out on the garden centres there was much rejoicing. Luckily there were a few people left who knew something about gardens."
"Fundamentally, I handed back the responsibility for approving the quality of plants to the garden centres and challenged the suppliers to step up to the plate. They did, and why wouldn’t they? Every nursery wants to produce something they are proud of and every member of staff wants to sell that plant with confidence to the customer.
"If you are running a group of one hundred and thirty six garden centres spread all over the country with one branch in Heighley Gate, in Northumberland, and one in Henley, in Berkshire, and another in Hastings, in Sussex, you can’t manage all those different businesses centrally. What you’ve got to do is make sure you’ve got good local management, backed up by very good regional management, and let them run their businesses. If you make a few mistakes, so what, better than one huge mistake from head office. So it was much more exciting to let people become entrepreneurs in their own business. And we took that concept down to the boys and girls on the tills making them feel they were part owners of the business and had responsibility for it.
Marshall told My Retail Media that he is working on a "number of very interesting retailing projects".
"I doubt if I shall leave retailing because it’s in my blood and I would miss the people too much. I’ve always believed in swimming in a different direction to everybody else. As more and more businesses are run by process driven management who have moved away from the shop floor and understanding their customers, I’m more and more interested in going the other way. Thankfully I’m in a business that I really love and my gardening leave has reinvigorated my passion for retailing."