the big interview What’s in store for Squire’s?

Chairman of Squire’s Garden Centres, Sarah Squire, shares her plans for the family-owned horticultural business.

Tell us a bit about your company. Squire’s is very much a family business with 15 garden centres in Surrey, Sussex, north and west London. My grandfather D.J. Squire started the company in 1936, initially as a landscape gardening business, which then developed into one of the first garden centre businesses in the UK when my father, Colin Squire OBE opened Squire’s in Twickenham in 1964. My father has been the company chairman for the past 30 years or so, and it is now my great privilege to have this role.

What’s your background?

I was immersed in Squire’s from an early age, working as a Saturday girl whilst still at school and then in the university holidays. My parents had been expected to join their respective family businesses and were keen to ensure their children had other opportunities. They encouraged me to gain a qualification and a skill to bring back into the family business.

I qualified as a solicitor, spending six years in

private practice specialising in commercial property, and then returned to Squire’s in 1995. I have worked in various roles across the company and was appointed chairman in February.

What’s your working week like? Our group office is at Badshot Lea in Surrey, so I spend some time there and also at our registered office in Twickenham. I also try to visit each of our garden centres as much as possible, although it’s all too easy to become more office bound than I would like. The best part of the job is visiting our centres and talking with colleagues and customers. In addition, I’m always tempted to buy plants on my travels - returning home to the customary refrain from my husband: ‘Where are we going to put that?’

My favourite day of the year is our plant show at West Horsley Nurseries each February,

when we are treated to a preview of some of the lovely plants coming our way later in the season. Our business is very seasonal and highly weather-dependent. That keeps us grounded! But it also means that no two days are ever the same. No year is the same. Sometimes it can be something of a white- knuckle ride just waiting for the spring to arrive and customers to start gardening. It’s always a relief when the sun comes out and we realise, once again, that the great British public still want to enjoy their gardens.

What’s on your agenda?

We want to continue to grow our business in two ways. Firstly, we are committed to reinvesting profit back into our garden centres to keep upgrading them for staff and customers alike. Secondly, we would like to continue to expand and acquire new centres. However, we remain rooted in our locality.

We don’t have national aspirations. We want to be able to get to each of our centres regularly and know as many of our colleagues as possible. We don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we are a family business and that our extended family includes our teams and our customers.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I feel very fortunate indeed to work in this industry. It’s very friendly and we have wonderful staff and customers alike. We work with beautiful plants and lovely products and get to meet really interesting people within the horticultural world and wider community. So the most rewarding aspect of my job is twofold: working with people and plants.

What are the biggest challenges facing garden centre retailers?

Some challenges we can control and others we cannot, such as the weather and the wider economy. I believe we should focus on the things within our control and do them well. There is nothing we can do to influence the outcome of Brexit but we can do our utmost to make sure we are prepared. We also need to do our utmost to co-operate with DEFRA [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and our industry bodies to safeguard the plant health of the nation.

We also find it challenging to recruit skilled horticulturalists and we have been developing our own apprenticeship schemes to assist us, which have really proved invaluable. It’s wonderful to see our apprentices (of all ages) learn and succeed and achieve promotion.

4 | GCU July 2019

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