Chris Milan, who sold Woodcote Green Nurseries to Wyevale in January 2016, has died aged 57. Chris began his career at Woodcote while still a schoolboy in the 1970s which was the beginning of his association with Lawrence Newton, the then owner of the business.
Chris gained a business studies degree at Plymouth University and gained wider experience of the garden centre industry, first with Essex-based seed merchants Whelan’s and then Beaconsfield Garden Centre in Handcross and then at St Leonards on Sea.
In the spring of 1984 Chris and Lawrence Newton formed a partnership with the aim of creating one of the busiest garden centres in Europe. Horticulture and great customer service coupled with a fair price was always at the core of the strategy but innovation was key to the future success of the business.
One such project was established in 1996 with the first compost Drive Thru in the country. The idea originated when Chris visited a drive through liquor store in Australia and observed that customers seemed to buy more product when the car was next to the product. He could see this working for compost and heavy goods, his hunch was right and the rest is history!
Under his guidance Woodcote won several garden retailing awards as well as a RHS gold medal and Best Small Garden award at the 2001 Hampton Court Flower show attempt at a show garden. By then the Woodcote Green brand was firmly being established.
Woodcote Green manager Phil Barnden said: "I was always inspired by his drive and enthusiasm to get the job done, even when the chips were down! His wit and sense of humour was infectious and even in the darkest times he would make us all laugh. His retail intelligence, attention to detail and instinct was second to none. His ability to inspire a team to follow him was impressive and one of his biggest attributes was to never to give up on anyone or anything and above all have no regrets.”
The funeral is at noon on March 24 at Brockham Church, Surrey, followed by a celebration at the family home in Leigh afterwards.