The Garden Centre Group (TGCG) is set to install WHSmith outlets into a tranche of branches and is setting up tertiary branded coffee outlets as a trial.
WHSmith is already in the TGCG store in Bicester and is planned for centres including Blooms, Sanders and Garden & Leisure's seven sites in a first for garden centres.
Garden & Leisure acting managing director Dave Murray, who is overseeing integration into TGCG after the chain bought Garden & Leisure in 2013, said: "TGCG have been quite open about their desire to look at retail in a different way and they are continuing to explore and try things out with a range of different partners."
Some WHSmith products overlap existing garden centre products and Murray admitted the Smith's range is a "fairly wide, diverse offer".
He added: "WHSmiths have been around for ever. What TGCG is looking at is how to bring in different types of customer."
Murray is currently working on integrating Garden & Leisure and TGCG by April. "IT systems are a big challenge," he pointed out. "We're very comfortable with ours."
On the possibility that TGCG will sell-off small stores, he said: "They present some challenges. Turnover from £0.5m to £12m is quite a spread. There's a genuine desire to make sure we maintain what's good about the destination stores but there are challenges ahead to make sure that works."
Murray said Garden & Leisure "does Christmas a lot better than them and they do plants and sundries better than we do".
Meanwhile, Costa Coffee national account manager Luke Rutter shed some light on TGCG's future catering plans. He said Costa offers either a full franchise or a "crowd to serve" wholesale supply. Haskins has crowd to serve. Costa has been in TGCG's Northampton branch since August and is trialing in others.
Rutter said: "I'm not in a position to say we're doing loads - that's down to incremental sales. TGCG is looking at franchise opportunities - corporate franchise deals, sites run as Costa that they own." Murray said: "They're looking at multi-siting food and beverage offer on site."
TGCG food and beverage director Jason Danciger will speak on in-house restaurant offers, particularly artisan food, at the HTA Catering Conference on 12 February.
TGCG is closing at 5pm rather than 6pm throughout February and March.
Staff assessment Managers' strengths and weaknesses
The Garden Centre Group (TGCG) is reassessing all its 139 managers to test their strengths and weaknesses. Staff will attend half-day programmes with a third-party organisation.
A TGCG representative said: "The group is committed to developing and supporting our talent and in light of significant investment in our individual and group-wide development programmes for 2014-15 we are using assessment for development to best understand current strengths and development areas. This opportunity does not involve any psychometric testing."
TGCG suppliers will meet managers at Malvern on 11-13 February, with the last day of the get-together devoted to selected garden club members.