Urban Garden Centre of the Year - Camden Garden centre

Camden Garden Centre is an unusual garden centre faced with extra challenges which few, if any, other centres have been able to overcome.

Urban Garden Centre of the Year - Camden Garden centre - image: Camden GC
Urban Garden Centre of the Year - Camden Garden centre - image: Camden GC

Firstly, Camden is owned by a registered charity, Camden Garden Centre Charitable Trust, and has a social purpose. The centre exists to help people from a disadvantaged background with multiple barriers to gaining long-term employment to become more employable. Camden's role is even more important now than when it was founded in 1983 as unemployment levels continue to grow, particularly for young people.

The centre is based in inner London, on a one-way street, off the beaten track on a small site of 1,916sq m, with only 20 car parking spaces. Because of this, Camden has to work hard on its marketing, providing a range of products that need to appeal to Londoners and on providing excellent customer service, as well as ease of shopping in a confined space with low stock levels.

Camden's biggest challenge is not only to operate a successful garden centre, but also to fulfil its charitable purpose. It employees disadvantaged people no one else would employ to train for two years in a real business.

Strong sales increases were eroded in May, June and July 2011. Overall, turnover was 0.8 per cent down on the previous year, but profit before tax was up 38 per cent. The centre made a donation of £12,000 to its charity owners, trained five staff and became part of the National Leadership team on the Government's Employees Reference Forum on reducing re-offending through employment. Camden Garden Centre was Social Enterprise of the Year in the Camden and Islington Business Awards 2011.

The performance was achieved through improving gross profit margin and average sales and sales per square meter by using the mantra 'what is this worth' to customers.

Margin has increased from 46 per cent for the year ending July 2000 to 54.6 per cent, with an increase of three per cent over the past year.

Average sale of £35.67 excluding VAT has more than doubled since July 2000 and sales per square meter are £745 excluding VAT.

New marketing initiatives include developing the loyalty scheme by introducing incentives to staff on sign-ups, having volunteer greeters at the entrance who also recruited new members to the scheme, and having more customer offers on mailings to introduce a friend to the scheme. Membership increased by 1,400.

Promotional emails to 4,500 people monthly - nearly double the number of the previous year - have an open rate of 35 per cent against an industry average of 18 per cent.

Facebook and Twitter accounts also communicate the business.

- Judge's comment

"Admirable commitment to social as well as commercial goals" - Gavin McEwan

Mr Fothergill's is one of the best recognised brands of seeds for the hobby gardener, offering retailers an all-encompassing range selected to suit any size and style of business.

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