to garde centre snow. He adds that he also “never saw eye to eye” with Harry’s son Peter, who took over when Harry retired, so Tony left to pursue other roles elsewhere. He worked at Allensmore Nurseries in sales, then Blakesdown Nurseries, where he sold trees and shrubs. “That whetted my appetite for tree and plant production,” he says. An opportunity presented itself in June 1981, which would help Tony make the dream of running his own business a reality. “I heard about a derelict pig farm – Pear Tree Farm – in Worcester that had planning permission for a garden centre and nursery. We had just sold our house in Hereford, so we used that money to buy the site, which came with seven acres of land. My dad used to say to my wife – ‘look what he bought, a pig in a poke’. If he were alive today, I think he’d probably think that was truer than ever. “So, we set about moving from

Hereford to Worcester with two young children by then and a dog.” The nursery opened its doors in 1983. “It was a production nursery and our main interest was growing hardy nursery plants in bulk for the garden centre industry, as well as to landscapers, developers and councils throughout the UK,” says Tony. “Now, we only have a small nursery space doing bedding and perennial plants for re-sale in the garden centre.” “We had a dream,” he says. “We still have that dream – and it gets me out of bed every day. I still go into

work every day. In those days, if you ran a small business, you had to do everything by yourself.”

Although the nursery was doing well and growing in size, there was spare land available, so the obvious choice was to build a garden centre to take advantage of stock being produced on the nursery.

In 2000 the family undertook its first major redevelopment of the site. “We doubled the internal space and significantly modernised the outdoor space,” explains Tony. The car park was re-located from one side of the building to the other, which gave better access and increased its capacity. Significantly, and deliberately, the new entrance was direct into the plant area. “We did this years before Wyevale did,” laughs Tony. “We have always prided ourselves on being a traditional garden centre and there’s no better way of making this point than for people to walk straight into our plant area. “We added in lots of other departments over the years, including furniture, clothing, a café... but our core focus is still on core gardening. We are in our 33rd year and we are still looking at the future. I really believe that invest in the future as an industry, we will start to go backwards.” The business now employs

more than 100 people and offers apprenticeships to young people interested in a career in horticulture .

Looking to the future Tony’s family grew, along with St Peter’s Garden Centre. “I now have

five children and my son William has joined the business. We’ve always told the children ‘make yourself a career in another industry before you join the family business’, and William did just that. He came on board in 2013 and was used to running teams of 250 or more in warehouses and logistics operations across the country, so his people skills are more developed than mine. “In a short time he will be able to take over the day-to-day running of the business. In fat, he does now – I just go in to interfere. Our staff were very happy about William taking the helm and, I would say ‘the future looks pretty good’. We will have plenty of ups and downs, as you always do, and there is more pressure from other retailers but there are also more homes being built around us, so that should be good news. We also have a wonderful, committed team who all share my passion.” The future may be bright for St

Ton’s son William is set to take over the day-to-day running of the garden centre

Peter’s Garden Centre, but what is Tony’s take on the garden retail sector as a whole? “Looking to the future, I think the large independents will continue to prosper. I can see a consolidation within smaller buying groups – even if it’s just a coming together to share ups and downs and ideas. “I think we will see fewer independent garden centres sold, partly due to these businesses having more successional planning in place. A few years ago a situation developed where garden centres were being sold because they had no succession or future plan in place. I actually know of one centre where the plan in place is that the staff will actually inherit the centre. “Do the groups still have a plan or a future? Will they break up? They are all questions that are being raised and, if you look at the DIY sector, even they are finding it tough. Just look at the chaos Homebase is in.”

He also envisions more direct

engagement between retailers and suppliers: “I see a future where suppliers merchandise areas in garden centres – whether it’s watering or growing media – a shop-within-a-shop. In fact, I’ve just returned from a visit to Germany and Holland and I saw this as a working principle. It was all fully merchandised and staffed by manufacturers. The suppliers become like a franchise within the garden centre.”

He has watched competition in the market intensify and warns garden centres to be on the top of their game and keep developing new ways of doing business in order to thrive. “We need to adapt to change,” he says. “We are under enormous pressure – not just from Amazon but from all retailers, from the discounters to the upmarket supermarket operators. They all think they have a right to have a slice of our industry – well I say ‘bugger them!’” Tony says he knows where core

garden retailers’ strengths lie and believes that maintaining a quality plant offer will help stave off competition. “One thing we do well and they fail miserably is plants. Every time I see a tray of bedding going in, I think ‘whoopee, it will be dead in three days’ and then those customers will look to replace it. But these other retailers will, at some point, get it right and that’s the danger. In the meantime, I will say to you all, ‘keep planting’.”

27 APRIL 2018 DIY WEEK 25

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