2009 Review - Part 1: January to June

Here is a brief summary of the events reported on Gardenforum during the first 6 months of 2009. The events of the rest of the year will follow in a separate article. The full stories remain on Noticeboard should you wish to refer back.

Wyevale and The Garden Centre Group
Suppliers waited nervously during January as the anticipated Wyevale financial restructuring was delayed repeatedly.  The jitters became worse when the Baugur Group, a shareholder, filed for bankruptcy protection.  It was the 24th of February before the deal was completed. 

The full extent of the rescue became clear in June.  Bank of Scotland wrote off loans of £250m in exchange for preference and ordinary shares, giving it control over Sir Tom Hunter's West Coast Capital, owner of Wyevale.

There was almost a complete change in the senior management.  COO Andrew Livingston left in January and wasn't replaced.  He was followed by operations director Peter Brigden.  In May, Sir Tom Hunter ceased to act as chairman (he never had this role officially).  CEO Nicholas Marshall then installed his own team of directors: Antonia Jenkinson, chief financial officer; Lorraine Robertson, marketing; Stephen Pitcher, purchasing; David Pierpoint, property and concessions; and Richard Kozlowski, Finance.

The new team quickly made their mark.  First they issued controversial new trading terms.  Then they dropped the name Wyevale from most of their garden centres, reverting to more locally accepted names.  This was followed by officially renaming the parent company The Garden Centre Group.

The year started nervously, even for those unaffected by Wyevale’s problems, as early reports suggested that Christmas trading was as much as 5% lower than the year before, thanks to the banking crisis. 

It was a time for much corporate activity.  Italian pot maker Deroma acquired its Cirencester-based rival Mondian.  Woodthorpe Garden Centres purchased Spring Garden Centre, which lies a few miles north of Hull, expanding the chain to four.  Jason Stafford of All-In-One garden centre announced plans to double its size having purchased extra land.

Wolf-Garten Einkauf, the Swiss parent of Wolf Garden was placed in the hands of an insolvency administrator.  This was followed at the end of January by news that one of the country's oldest garden centre chains, Hurrans, had appointed administrators.  It soon became clear that it was unlikely to continue as the group.

On the political front, the HTA tried but failed to get an amendment added to the plant protection regulation passing through European Parliament.  The likely outcome of this is a loss of chemical controls for pests, disease and weeds.

Dobbies’ year started with an exposé by The Scotsman claiming that the group would only pass on the VAT reduction if customers complained.

Wary of the recession, EMAP scaled back Glee and Petindex to fit into 4 halls.  Totally DIY, formerly the DIY & Garden Show, announced that it would move from London to the Spring Fair in 2010 at the NEC.

Spring started with greater optimism from retailers.  Webbs Garden Centres agreed to take on Hurrans’ site at West Hagley, while Hillier took control of their Banbury garden centre. 

Jon Kitching, former chief executive of Blooms, returned to retailing by opening Beckworth Emporium at Mears Ashby.  The new format sought to blend the best elements of a retail nursery, farm shop and restaurant. 

Whitehall Garden Centre finally won planning approval to double the size of its flagship store at Lacock in Wiltshire.  So did Forest Lodge Garden Centre in Farnham, whose new plans will increase the size of the garden centre to 60,000 ft.² and integrate it with the adjacent Bird World.

Treborth Garden Centre was reopened with new owners, having been placed in administration the month before and Grovewell Garden Centres open their second outlet at Herne Common near Canterbury just in time for Easter.

April ended with news of a massive fire in two warehouses at Ruxley Manor garden centre.  Stock worth over £2m was destroyed, which brought the best out of suppliers who rallied round to re-stock for the bank holidays in May.

Cotton Traders headed a number of retailers who looked to capitalise on the footfall at busy garden centres as high street sales faltered.  They announced concessions on a further 15 garden centres.

It was 30th April that the Met Office coined the phrase that it later regretted, when predicting that it was ‘odds on for a barbecue summer’.

By June there was considerable satisfaction that sales were 10% or more ahead of 2008 despite the recession and the snow in February.  Retailers complimented suppliers on their performance during an exhilarating spring that saw Grow-Your-Own boost the sales of traditional gardening products.

Garden centres continued to change hands.  Former GCA chairman Steve Myatt, sold Warbreck in Southport to Richard Allison, whose parents had sold Lady Green to Klondyke the year before.  The Garden Store reopened the Pavilion, West of Wolverhampton bringing its store count to six. Greenacres Nurseries in Stapleton, Leics. was also sold.

It was announced in May that the plant breeders Ball Horticulture and Florensis were to combine operations throughout Europe.

Marshalls, which makes driveway and paving products, continued to shore up its position as the recession hit the building of new houses.  It raised £34 million from shareholders to strengthen its balance sheet having taken strong action to reduce costs.  This included the closure of most Landscape Display Centres.

Results from Dobbies showed that sales per centre had topped the £4m mark with the group turnover reaching £97 million.  They revealed the first of several sites that they claim to have in the pre-planning pipeline.  Designs for a 65,000 ft.² garden centre at Nether Alderley in Cheshire were displayed for consultation.

At the end of June, Clarion Events announced that they had joined forces with the HTA and Gardenex to create Garden Expo 2010, a new June trade show to rival Glee and Solex.  It would run in parallel with the launch of the HTA’s own National Plant Show.

Tommy Gill, head of Bayer Garden, announced that he would be stepping down after seven years.  Martin Stewart was named as the next chairman of the Garden Centre Association.


All these stories remain on Noticeboard. They are filed under one of the categories listed on the left of the page.
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