2014 was an eventful year. Here is a round-up of the stories on Gardenforum throughout the year: -
Following a troubled few months for Solus it was announced at the end of February that Scotts was working on a plan to bring the two businesses together. By the start of April talks had broken down and Solus said it was in talks with other potential buyers. But time was short as it had lost the backing of credit insurers and was haemorrhaging suppliers including Hozelock and Bayer.
The group went into administration in May leading to 91 job losses and closure of the Edinburgh depot. It continued to trade while a buyer was sought. It was mid-July before it was confirmed that The Scotts Co (UK) had bought the Solus brands but not the wholesale distribution. Scotts Solus was launched at Glee.
Gardman spent the year strengthening its management team and taking market share while its competitors Scotts Solus, Crest and Sinclair were going through a transition. In the summer it picked up a number of bird feed accounts as retailers needed to be sure of supplies for the winter. In October it was revealed that Gardman had appointed advisers to manage a possible sale as several private equity firms circle the revitalised business. The management insisted it would be business as usual as this would merely be a change of invetsors.
William Sinclair issued a profit warning in May and said it would use cash from the sale of Bolton Fell to accelerate the development of Ellesmere Port (which opened fully in November). But share values halved and in July the chairman stepped down with immediate effect to be replaced by Rupert King a leading investor.
In October Sinclair revealed plans to advertise on TV next spring having assembled a new sales team, refreshed its brands, returned to distribution through wholesalers and promised to be a company that is easy to deal with. But the company issued a second profit warning to the stock exchange in November.
Crest Garden, set up by Nick Davies after leaving Solus with the backing of Westland, announced its sales team in June, then unveiled a joint-venture with pot and tray manufacturer Desch Plantpak. Shortly before Glee it named its gardening brands - Kent & Stowe, a new range of top end garden tools and Flopro watering products.
Kärcher, dominant manufacturer of pressure washers and inventor of the Window Vac, introduced a new range of garden watering products.
TGCG / WYEVALE
Shortly after announcing results in July that showed improved margins but static sales growth, The Garden Centre Group said it would revert to the name Wyevale Garden Centres.
Rumours then circulated the financial markets that Terra Firma was looking for a buyer for the group. These appeared premature, but will there be a buyer in 2015?
In October, Guy Hands told the Evening Standard that Terra Firma had moved Wyevale from being plant- and horticultural-based to more like a leisure company.
The first acquisition made by TGCG was Brooks Nursery and Garden Centre in March. This was followed by Moreton Park in September and a flurry of purchases at the end of the year: - Trelawney in Ashford, Raglan, Podington and four Golden Acres garden centres. In total 9 garden centres with combined revenues of about £20m were added. There are now 148 garden centres within the group.
ACQUISITIONS AND CHANGES
- Forest Garden bought M&M Timber.
- Hillview Garden Centres announced in January agreement to buy The Garden Store which trades from six sites and followed this up by adding Little Heath GC in April. This brought the total number of sites in the group to 9.
- Boningale Ltd, one of the UK’s largest nurseries and environmental horticultural specialists, acquired fellow Shropshire nursery Worfield Gardens.
- The sales and distribution of Haxnicks products moved from Smart Solar to Tildenet at the end of May.
- Otter Nurseries bought Styles Garden Centre in Paignton, Devon.
- Gateacre garden centre closed at end of July after trading for 80 years. The one acre site was too small for modern retailing.
- Two London garden centres closed: Fulham Palace at the end of August and Capital Garden’s Morden Hall after it failed to negotiate a new lease from the National Trust.
- Electrolux Home Products purchased the BeefEater brand of barbecues and outdoor lifestyle appliances from Woodland Home Products.
- Mr Fothergill's acquired assets of GroBox. The online business offers flower, vegetable and herb gardens in a box and roll-out seed mats.
- Caulders bought Erskine Garden Centre.
- At the beginning of December, David Robinson and Rufus Roberts completed a management buyout of Suttons Seeds with the backing of its former owners.
- QD stores added Lowestoft garden centre to its Cherry Lane group, bringing the number of outlets to 10.
- Blue Diamond opened the second phase of the Redfields development in September and then bought Wadebridge, the larger of the two Trelawney garden centres in October.
- Next opened its first store that sells purely Home and Garden at Cribs Causeway – Bristol in April. This will be followed by a second superstore at Meadowhall, in January
- In February Van Hage stepped in to arrest local rumours that it was to close its flagship garden centre at Ware. The reality was that it was preparing a planning application to add a Waitrose store to the site. However, local opposition forced withdrawal of the application in December for modification before being resubmitted shortly.
- Wyevale Containers, Wyevale Trees and Wyevale Transplants in Herefordshire were re-launched under the generic name Wyevale Nurseries, with Andy Johnson as MD.
- Butters Group, a leading plant supplier to UK supermarkets, formed a partnership with Kebol BV of Holland that should lead to innovation in the UK bulb market.
- Delamore, which grows young plants for UK growers, took on the growing, sales and distribution of the Volmary product range in this country.
- In September Barton Grange said it would sell Garden Centre Plants and two nurseries belonging to Northern Liners. This will allow the group to concentrate on the garden centre at Brock and its substantial landscaping business.
- Creditors backed a CVA rescue plan for John Woods in November.
- A massive new site for Architectural Plants is nearing completion next to Brinsbury College. The first 4 acre poly-tunnel will be ready to start trading in February.
- Young Plants owner, the Newey Group, expects to take full control of Roundstone Nurseries on January 1 2015 once all the legal processes have been completed.
In February the group got a thumbs up for the joint development of its Bagshot site with Waitrose adjacent to a new garden centre. In March the rebuilt Tunbridge Wells garden centre was reopened by Caroline Notcutt, the only family member remaining on the board.
In May 445 acres of farmland were put up for sale to fund further garden centre investment.
Then Planners blocked a development that would have included a new Notcutts garden centre in Maidstone. This news was followed quickly by a change of mind at Bagshot and a decision not to rebuild the garden centre but to find another retailer for the space adjacent to the new Waitrose store.
Plans to build new stand alone garden centres appear to have been abandonned. However it announced its first store within a supermarket belonging to its parent, at Tesco Bar Hill, Cambridgeshire.
Following the much publicised problems at Tesco, questions have been raised about its future within the supermarket, which looks likely to dispose of some non-core assets.
2014 was the year when online and high street retailers sough to profit from the footfall within garden centres. Brantano, WH Smith, Viners, Bonmarché were among the high street retailers looking to lease space within Wyevale and other garden centres. The online retailers looking for a terrestrial presence were led by garden furniture retailer, Whites Stores. In December Garden4Less revealed its platform where garden centres can sell product online, with no set up fee.
- Tom Davies, Chairman of Stagecraft died suddenly at the end of September.
- Chris Self, chairman of Whitehall Garden Centres, died after a short illness in June.
- Mrs Jean Clark, died suddenly on 12th March. She was co-founder Findlay Clark Limited in Milngavie with her late husband, David.
- Steve Harper is set to leave Bord na Mona and join Gardman as sales director in February.
- Sam Gunston left the HTA as it merged its events team with the PR department under the overall control of Gill Ormrod.
- Alyson Hayward returned to Wyevale head office, taking on a central plants role. She had been managing Moreton Park garden centre that was acquired by the group in September.
- Richard Browne, until a year ago the long standing finance director of Gardman, has joined his old boss Paris Natar at Smart Garden.
- Bosmere have further strengthened their management team through the promotion of former GIMA president, Glynn Davis, to the position of National Sales Manager.
- In October it was revealed that Mark Pearson, CEO of the Scotts Solus Brands Division, and May Philpott, Sales Director would leave the company.
- Paul Wright has joined Notcutts as Regional Operations Manager looking after 9 Garden Centres in the Midlands and the North of England.
- Thompson & Morgan appointed Bryan Magrath as Chief Executive in planned succession from John May who, after 17 years in post, remains on the Board as Deputy Chairman.
- Former HTA president, Tim Woodland, left DeRee and Simple Pleasures and moved to Kapiteyn in September.
- William Sinclair named Richard Carr as Commercial Director, the same role he held at Hozelock.
- In March Andrew Staff, FD of Notcutts who had been acting as COO following the departure of Andy King for Dobbies, was confirmed as COO permanently.
- Hillier Nurseries & Garden Centres appointed Chris Francis as Garden Centre Director, heading up the Hillier Garden Centre division of the company. He had been working with The Garden Centre Group.
- Peter Burks was been appointed as the General Manager for Trelawney Garden Leisure in the Westcountry, before it was bought by Blue Diamond.
Glee is to be a Monday to Wednesday show in 2015. LOFA has decided to adjust the dates of Solex 2015 so that it starts on Tuesday July 7th. A new and slightly alternative London Flower Show was unveiled yesterday for September 2015 in East London.
The 2014 weather has been kinder to the garden industry than in recent years. With December figures yet to be added, 2014 sales look to have increased by about 8%, with the biggest increase coming from garden furniture: growing 18% according to LOFA.