with evening events, including shows from tribute acts, such as Abba and Take That. “We have other centres nearby and customers do tend to do the rounds,” says Helen. “So, you always need to think about how you can be a bit different. We have a good coffee shop here and put a real focus on events. These events are really popular and we always like to stand out.” The centre also runs an annual fireworks in October, which has always been free to attend and attracts thousands of locals; particularly young families.


years, most recently being bought out of administration by private equity firm Invalesco in 2013. Since then, garden centre manager Neil Redford and marketing manager Helen Thompson said the business has seen real positive change and has a far greater focus on the future. “It’s a different world now and is back to how it used to be under Dennis,” says Helen. “We entered the GCA Christmas award the year before last and won the best in our area, which was amazing for us. We were also named most improved garden centre.”


The pair has nothing but praise for their staff, who they credit with the centre’s success and making it such a welcoming environment for customers. “Our team is brilliant. It was the first time we’d entered

12 DIY WEEK 22 MARCH 2019

stablished by Dennis Whiteley in the 1980s, Whiteleys Garden Centre in Mirfield has seen a few owners over the

Working together as one An important part of the philosophy at Whiteleys is that employees aren’t restricted to working in one area of the business. There is scope to move around the centre and learn as you go. This helps to broaden employees’ skills but also means that the staff take ownership of the centre as a whole, rather than just one department.

“In the past – and I’ve seen it at other garden centres that


Whiteleys Garden Centre in West Yorkshire places a strong emphasis on team work and encourages employees to experience roles across the business in order to broaden their skills and feel that they are all part of something bigger. Fiona Garcia reports.

the GCA awards in the years that I’ve been here and we didn’t expect to even come in the top three,” says Helen. “They worked so hard on creating something special. All our customers were coming in and saying how fantastic it was, so we knew we’d done the job.” Helen explains how close the team works together and the willingness to put in extra hours, when needed, to help the business thrive. “Working here, it’s the kind of place where, if one person falls, then people will pick him up. We can be working until 9-10pm putting up displays – our staff work so hard – they really put the hours in and never complain. The team around you is a big part of your life because they are like your family.” Whiteleys employs 42 members

of staff at its site in West Yorkshire and, with what Neil describes as “healthy competition on the doorstep”, with the likes of Tong Garden Centre, Kershaw’s Garden Centre and a couple of Wyevale

centres within a 20-minute drive, it is impressed upon the team why creating an inviting and unique environment for customers is so important. “We are big on the fact that, as an independent, we’ve got to look after our customers,” says Neil. “We always remind our team that customer doesn’t have to come here, they could go somewhere else. We are not a huge centre, so our strong customer service and our ethos has to be reflected as soon as visitors walk through the door. We want the customer to come in and have a good experience.” Helen

adds: “The girls on

reception always greet customers with a smile and a ‘hello’. We don’t ask them to do it, they just know the value of things like that. They also make the effort to get to know our regulars and speak to them. When I walk around the store and see that, it really makes me smile because I see that our team cares.” The centre also maintains its USP

been to as well – you would have someone who is responsible for each department and they don’t stray from that,” says Neil. “But at Whitehall now, you move from giftware, to plants – it’s more fluid and flexible. We are an absolute team. Obviously, we have specialists in every area but, whether you work in the warehouse or in the shop – whatever part of the business – we all work together as one.” “Neil brought that mindset in

when he came to us nine years ago,” explains Helen. “It was awful at first because there is that instinct some people have of ‘if it’s not in my area, it’s not my problem’. But that attitude doesn’t exist here. If the café is busy, for example, it’s not unusual that they might ask if there is someone spare to clean tables. And the team willingly do it.” “I really can’t praise the staff enough,” adds Helen. “They are always willing to work extra hours. We close the doors at the end of the day, put the music on and, by the end of it, you wouldn’t think we’d just done a 12-hour shift!

“When we have our Christmas pricing, the café staff even pop their heads in and help. There’s plenty of laughing and joking but the job is getting done. Our garden centre is very unique.”

And, management is expected to lead by example at Whiteleys. “We don’t sit in the office out of the way,” Neil explains. “We like to get stuck in. If something needs building or whatever, we are there to help.”

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