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Dobbies CEO Talks Progress

CEO Graeme Jenkins 725 x500

This article has been reproduced with kind permission from George Bullivant at GardenForum.

It is almost 2 years since the purchase of 31 Wyevale garden centres followed 6 acquired a year earlier. Including Boston garden centre, the most recent addition in April, the group has more than doubled to 69 garden centres with annual sales of over £320m. 

The former Wyevales are now fully integrated having been refitted with shelving, signage and flooring. They are trading well, with several getting up to the levels they were at in their pre-Wyevale heyday. There will be further upgrades along with the wider estate with emphasis on restaurants, flooring and extensions where they are possible.

Woodcote Green, near Croydon, has had a major upgrade earlier this year and would be a template for other stores. It has traded well ahead of expectations since the refurbishment.

52 of the 71 of the group’s stores have a food hall under the Sainsbury’s banner. More will be installed when suitable space can be created as garden centres with plastic rooves get too hot for freezers and chillers. CEO Graeme Jenkins says like for like performance has been very strong with positive customer feedback.

10 little dobbies a year

One of the main objectives of ‘little dobbies’ is to engage customers earlier in their gardening career. Being able to walk to a ‘little dobbies’ extends the brand’s reach to those living in urban areas. It has been created to meet the growing demand to shop local, it also meets the increased enthusiasm for gardening and houseplants.

Two ‘little dobbies’ sites have opened in Edinburgh and Bristol. Their performance has been incredibly encouraging, said Graeme Jenkins. Two more in London are in the pipeline and if the trial continues to be successful, it is likely that the format will expand at a rate of around 10 a year.

Dobbies breaks Ocado link

Dobbies has recently installed a new ERP (Enterprise resource planning) from Microsoft. The new system links the business from end to end, from tills to online shop to back office to logistics. This means that it has migrated away from its 3rd party online provider, Ocado, and now operates all online sales etc in house. It also provides the management with much improved data and more flexibility to add further digital customer services.

In the next few months Dobbies will launch a new consumer app as part of the system, which will enable customers to manage their club membership, shop online and order food in one of the restaurants.

Dobbies already has around 170k followers across its social media platforms.

Current trading

All garden centres and now open, following Covid-19. Trading is still quite strong across the country. Despite social distancing, restaurant business is growing week on week. Their sales are quite close to pre COVID levels.

Overall stock levels are ‘in a pretty good place’ after the shortages earlier in the season, although some Dobbies’ own brand furniture has been delayed and is due to arrive in the next couple of weeks.

The future

Eighteen months ago Chairman Andrew Bracey said he would look to float on the Stock Exchange “in a year or so”. Jenkins said it was still an option, but for now it is heads down focussing on the business.

The aim is to grow through acquisition and through building new sites. Two new sites are in the pipeline at Tewkesbury, a greenfield site; and Antrim, a redevelopment of 110,000 sq ft of existing retail space with Dobbies as the intended tenant.

How many garden centres does Dobbies aim to have in 3 years? Graeme Jenkins would only say it depends on what comes along. 3 years ago he would not have predicted buying 37 Wyevale garden centres. Whatever the opportunity, Jenkins says he would have the funds to do a deal. There are a few active discussions taking place at the moment.  

Sustainability

Recent actions include committing to be 90% peat free this year and 100% peat free in 2022. It claims to be the first garden centre group to delist glyphosate in 2018.

Half the estate is powered by biomass. Waste from food halls is donated to ‘Too Good To Go’ as part of doing the right thing and four months ago Dobbies became a named official supporter for Terra Carta, the Prince of Wales’ commitment to a more sustainable future.

It has focused recently on the well being of team members. Dobbies has just launched 3 apprenticeship schemes, with the intention of recruiting 150 apprentices a year. These cover horticulture, restaurants and garden centre retailing.

Graeme Jenkins' concluding thoughts were that he is very excited, the strategy is delivering and there are lots of growth opportunities coming through.

Source : Reproduced with permission from George Bullivant at GardenForum

Image : Dobbies CEO Graeme Jenkins

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10 June 2021

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