Top growers look to the future

Butters Group and David Austin Roses call on growers and garden centres to 'hold their nerve'.

Two leading growers have urged fellow UK growers and garden centres to hold their nerve in the wake of two years' poor weather.

Buoyed by the recent pick-up in retail plant sales, Butters Group and David Austin Roses, both of whom are in the process of streamlining their businesses and consulting on a small number of redundancies in the wake of this year's spring washout, said they remain very confident about the UK market.

Both companies are expanding their cut-flower trade so they do not rely on garden plants and both are cutting overheads following lower-than-expected sales.

But Butters managing director Andy Coaten said 2013 will be better than 2012, while David Austin Roses managing director David JC Austin believes there should be a late-season pick-up for his product.

"We've grown every year in the last four in turnover and profits, but this weather for the first time has had an impact," said Austin. "We're set up for continued growth and had to reduce some people in the growing and dispatch side.

"We're doing very well in cut flowers, which are doing fantastically in the US where we hope to sell five-million stems next year. We do a lot in Japan where business is strong and Europe is pretty good too.

"The only problem market is the UK, simply because of the weather. It's been unprecedented - the worst in 100 years. We had a bad summer in 2012 but didn't factor in a bad winter and spring 2013. The recession had not affected us at all.

"We've invested in IT systems and got more efficiency, and because of that we have lost a few people in the mail-order side. This late season means garden centre sales have not fully started yet. We'll easily beat figures from last year in the next few weeks, but the dilemma for garden centres is that roses flower a month later than garden centres' peak sales and maybe the garden centres are risk-reluctant to take more stock in, but it is our opinion that they need to hold their nerve."

He added that by "exciting the customer and innovating", after two or three years the poor season "will be forgotten. There are opportunities everywhere. In the UK we're growing market share. But the rose industry worldwide is probably not growing because breeders have not done a good enough job."

Coaten said: "It's been a difficult two years of gardening sales but I'm still very confident in the market. The Verde Horticulture business has found the last two years extremely difficult with sales lower than forecast and therefore, for the business to be fit for the future, the business structure needs reviewing, which once concluded will make the business stronger - we will be looking at all aspects of the business including the possibility of growing more of our products ourselves to ensure that we stay competitive."

Jim Floor, commercial director of Verde, which Butters took over earlier this year, continues as commercial director.

Coaten said the way forward is to sell more added-value products and to "control the supply chain as much as we can and de-risk where we can". He added: "Our business has a more balanced portfolio with indoor plants, and the cut-flower business is growing quite quickly, so it's not just garden plants that we depend on."

Business profiles - Leading growers

Butters Group

Founded: 1973.

Supplies supermarkets, DIY outlets and online retailers. Owner since 2007: private-equity firm Advantage Capital, with the management team.

David Austin Roses

Founded: 1969.

Family-owned. Supplies garden centres and mail-order customers, has a plant centre, breeds roses and holds a National Collection.


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