Stores survive Dobbies impact

Impact of Dobbies Garden Centres opening near existing stores not as bad as feared, say centres.

Garden centres say there is life after Dobbies, even when the Tesco-owned giant moves in next door.

Dobbies has 32 stores and has recently been building close to existing garden centres.

In Ashford in Kent and in Aberdeen, Dobbies opened in early 2010 against local competition, with Carlisle opening in July 2011 in competition with Klondyke.

Klondyke chief executive Bob Hewitt said: "There will always be competition for all of us springing up from time to time. You have to stick to your principles and continue doing what you know you are doing well. In Carlisle, there are some differences between the way we operate and Dobbies. We have fared pretty well since they opened and we've not seen our sales affected as much as I expected."

Aberdeen-based Ben Reid Garden Centre managing director Simon Fraser added: "We took a three per cent hit but with our niche we are quite nicely aligned against Dobbies. We need Dobbies to do a good job because they are catching new gardeners.

"As a retail nursery plant specialist, people graduate to us from Dobbies. If Dobbies is successful, you can feed off them. It used to be B&Q but it's very much Dobbies now."

Bybrook Barn in Ashford, Kent, had a Dobbies open 500m away in 2010. Bybrook owner Terry Burch said: "Regarding Dobbies/Tesco's they did have a marked effect being so close. It did put an extra strain on us, considering the recession and poor trading season.
We had been warned it could effect us by anything between 40 to 70 per cent and whilst we tried to offset the damage by diversifying our product range it has been a difficult period.

"My biggest objection was the method Ashford Council used to give them planning consent. At our first planning meeting Dobbies were turned down and we assumed, no Dobbies. However the council then called in the application and a further planning meeting was fixed.  At the subsequent meeting the council produced a Pink Paper stating there could be no discussion or vote on the matter and the planning was already approved. So much for our democracy.

"We are progressing with further developments and are looking forward to a much improved trading position for the future, and by next season be back to normal."

Dobbies is planning another in Inverness, close to Simpsons and Klondyke. Simpsons is protesting that it will cause traffic problems.

Dobbies property director Stuart Wright said on Inverness: "We are delighted to work with the local authority to clarify any issues that need to be addressed."

Garden Futures - Dobbies comes under fire

At the HTA Garden Futures conference, there was disscussion of Dobbies' switch to a 30 per cent cheaper price policy.

Dobbies chief executive James Barnes said the industry is the most fragmented retail sector in the UK and will remain so. Differentiation, personalisation, simplification of offer and "unconditional giving"

- such as free coffee refills - are other ways Dobbies has beaten "what we've been through this year", he added.

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