On 28th May Wyevale Garden Centres Ltd, one of garden centres’ biggest names disappeared into history, when it was wound up after trading for 58 years.
Its former names: The Garden Centre Group Trading Ltd, Wyevale Garden Centres Ltd, Severnvale Garden Centre and Severnvale Nurseries, trace its evolution from a private company in Hereford.
Established in 1962
The garden centres were established in 1962 by Harry Williamson and publicly listed in 1987.
Then started a period of rapid growth led by Brian Evans, chairman and son in law of the founder. It was expansion through the acquisition of single sites and groups including Cramphorn (1991), Kennedys (1998), Country Gardens (2000), Woodlands (2002) and Jacks Patch (2004).
It was the first to pay over £1m for a garden centre when it bought Galton in Dorset.
Laxey and Hunter
At the end of 2004 Brian Evans, retired after 31 years. The group had grown to 114 garden centres with sales of £192m. The company was recognised as a target and stalked by corporate raiders. Laxey Partners took a significant stake in the business, thinking it undermanaged and undervalued, without ever intending to launch a bid. It succeeded in removing the chairman, David Williams, and replacing him with former B&Q chief, Jim Hodkinson.
This led In 2006 to a successful bid from Sir Tom Hunter’s West Coast Capital and the group was taken private in the ill-fated £445m buyout Following this there was a spree of acquisitions: including Bridgemere (2006), Old Barn (2007), Blooms (2007), Peter Barratts (2007), Sanders (2007) and Heighley Gate (2008).
At this stage ‘experienced’ managers from wider retail were brought in to run the business. Their top down style of management was unsuited to garden centres and the company lost turnover and the respect of the industry from which it never recovered.
Lloyds takes over the equity
In 2008 chief executive Barry Stevenson left and former chief executive of Country Gardens, Nicholas Marshall, was brought in to improve the trading at Wyevale. Shortly after, Hunter’s control ended in a debt for equity swap with the Bank of Scotland. This morphed into Lloyds in 2009.
In 2009, Nicholas Marshall, who hated the Wyevale name due to its hostile takeover of Country Gardens, changed it to The Garden Centre Group. He stabilised the group and revitalised it enough so that it could be sold.
In 2012 Terra Firma Capital Partners, run by Guy Hands, bought The Garden Centre Group in a deal worth £276m. By then it ran 129 garden centres with sales of £241m.
Marshall soon left the business and a succession of managers were brought in from companies such as Avis and Toys ‘r Us.
Further acquisitions followed bringing the group to over 150 garden centres at one stage. In 2013, these included, the Barton Grange site at Bolton, Cheddar, Lechlade and seven Garden and Leisure sites.
In 2014 Wyevale added Bude, Moreton Park, Trelawney at Ashford, Raglan, Podington, and in December four garden centres in the Golden Acres Group.
The buying continued in 2015 with two Armitage’s garden centres, Sidmouth and Wych Cross. Woodcote Green and Crowders followed early in 2016.
In breach of bank covenants
But the group was not trading successfully. Turnover dropped significantly at its new garden centres and the group was in breach of banking covenants.
In May 2018 the group was put up for sale as a whole or broken up. Terra Firma realised that the value of the individual centres was greater than could be achieved from a group sale, so although there were bidders for the whole, a break up followed.
The last garden centre was transferred on 18th November 2019, the sales grossed £430m for Terra Firma in 57 different transactions.
Wyevale Garden Centres Ltd were wound up on 28th May 2020.
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