Success for seventh generation of family business

Company: Durston Garden Products

Durston Garden Products is celebrating, as Katie Durston – the seventh generation of the family to join the business – has completed her City & Guilds Level 3 Apprenticeship in Business Administration, achieving Distinction across the board.

Katie, the daughter of Sales Director Dan Durston, joined the family business in November 2021, working in sales administration and beginning her City & Guilds Apprenticeship. She is the first apprentice the Somerset-based growing media supplier has ever employed and is the seventh generation of the family to work at Durstons in its 150-year history, joining her father Dan, grandfather Steve and great uncle Chris Durston, who are all still directors of the family business.

Whilst Katie already had some experience working in the business, the idea to engage her as an apprentice was sparked by unprecedented sales during the pandemic and the need for a better support plan to maintain the levels of service the market has come to expect from Durstons.

Dan explained: “In 2020 we were madly busy due to demand from gardening products during lockdown. We realised how vulnerable we would be as a business if particular members of the team were ever out of action, because no one else in the office has the right skillset to do that job.”

He continues: “We wanted to bring an apprentice into the business because we needed that support but didn’t think it was necessarily a full-time job for a fully-qualified adult at this stage. Katie already had some knowledge of our operations and was keen to come on board to learn more.”

Rising to the challenge

As well as gaining on-the-job experience with the apprenticeship, Katie had to complete an assessment and coursework, which saw her tasked with organising Durstons’ stand at the at the 2022 Glee exhibition. The stand Katie put together was such a success that it has been used as the blueprint for Durstons’ presence at the show again this year. “It was challenging but really fun,” says Katie. “I am really proud of what I achieved.”

“It was challenging but really fun,” says Katie. “I had regular meetings with the team to go over the brief and what we wanted to achieve with the stand but I was given free rein other than that. I am really proud of what I achieved.”

Katie particularly enjoys the busy periods at Durstons and thrives under pressure, which is little wonder, given that she regularly worked night shifts during the pandemic to help get stock prepped for customers.

“During 2020 and 2021, Katie, my wife and my other daughter all worked in the business running production to help keep up with demand,” says Dan. “We were doing night shifts seven days a week for four months!! There was real excitement and adrenaline because the demand was so unprecedented.”

He added: “At the time we only had one production line but, off the back of that, we invested in a second line, which doubled our capacity. We haven’t had to do a night shift since!”

Having completed the Level 3 Apprenticeship, Katie is now a fully-qualified business administrator.

“It is a recognised qualification she can take to any business,” explains Dan.

In March, Dan marked his own anniversary with Durstons, celebrating 25 years with the family company. Having come on board when he was just 19 to work on the factory floor and as a forklift driver, Dan learnt the business from the ground up and worked his way up to Sales Director.

“My first role was a position in the factory, so starting right at the bottom of the business to learn from the ground up. I worked in the factory for 18 years. It means I know every aspect of the business; what goes in the bags, the admin side, the analysis, everything! I have a good round knowledge of the business as a whole, which really benefits me in my role now.”

Building blocks for the future

Established more than 150 years ago, Durstons has built up a stellar reputation for manufacturing and supplying quality growing media products to the garden trade, having expanded operations significantly over the years. The business has seen significant changes already in its lifetime: moving to a fully-automated manufacturing process; developing their unique GRO BOOST additive; and creating a comprehensive peat-free offer that delivers impressive results. Under the leadership of Chris, Steve and Dan Durston, the family company now operates a state-of-the-art facility capable of producing and packing a wide variety of products and meeting demand from large conglomerates in the market.

Dan Durston says of the next generation: “We are extremely proud of what Katie has achieved so far and delighted she has chosen to follow our footsteps and join the family business, even if not in a full-time capacity for now. As a company, providing growth and opportunity for progression for all our employees is extremely important. We value experience but are always keen to harness skills the next generation has to offer the business, whilst passing on our knowledge and experience to take Durstons into the future.”

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