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What's Next For Dobbies?

CEO Graeme Jenkins 725 x500.jpg

Graeme Jenkins, the CEO of Dobbies, has revealed his plans for the garden centre chain.

Having doubled in size with the addition of 37 Wyevale garden centres, what is Dobbies' strategy and is it financially robust?

With 69 garden centres Dobbies turnover is already almost the same as Wyevale’s before starting the sell-off. Annualised sales are £325m, compared to Wyevale’s £336m from 145 garden centres in 2017 and Dobbies’ £148m over the same period.

Strategy

CEO Graeme Jenkins has a clear vision for the company. Dobbies is to be middle market appealing to a broad spectrum of customers, with three streams: retail, restaurants and concessions.

For the rest of this year there is a substantial investment to get all the sites up to an acceptable retail standard; fixing holes in the roof, upgrading flooring and clearing rubbish from back yards etc. 

There is also a long-term development plan where 10 centres a year will be upgraded over the next 7 years, with the first to be completed before next season.

Head office

Over the last 4 months Dobbies has added another 60 people to the head office team which now numbers 210 personnel. Investment has been put especially into the buying and merchandising teams.

The top management team has been strengthened, says Graeme Jenkins, with personnel who have the experience we need going forward, “We now have a proper management team to manage 69 garden centres.”

Management team:

  • Graeme Jenkins – CEO
  • Katie Crook – People Director – (Joined in Dec 18)
  • Louise Niven – Customer director
  • Nick Anderson - Retail director running 5 regional managers
  • Fiona Robinson – General Merchandise Director (Just arriving from Mothercare)
  • Marcus Eyles – Horticulture Director
  • Keith Kernon – IT director – (Dec 18)
  • Sharon Glass – Integration director (has been in business 12 years.)
  • Paul Spencer – Hospitality Director
  • Joseph wright – Online director (1 year)
  • Lynne Gilder – CFO

Management style

Graeme Jenkins’ management approach is very different to the top down model used by Wyevale.

He insists, “The guys on the ground have to own their garden centres. The garden centre managers hold the most important jobs in the business. Second most important are the buyers.”

Graeme Jenkins promotes a co-operative management style where he would prefer employees took decisions and sometimes make mistakes rather than wait to be told what to do.

There is an internal social media network, using Yammer, where any one of the 4700 employees is encouraged to post photos and comments on what they are doing, successes or failures.

The Dobbies revenue streams

  1. Retail – Dobbies aims to have an authoritative offer on plants and gardening, which contribute 32% of sales.
    The gift offer is being consolidated, cookware is being introduced and pets’ accessories extended. Foodhalls are being improved. 
    The Wyevale concept of bringing customers in through plant areas is being scrapped.
  2. Restaurants. They emphasis is on improving the experience by expanding the menu and introducing table service.  A new Zonal ‘Purchase to Pay’ system will be installed for taking orders and payments at the table in the new format restaurants.
  3. Concessions, (28% of ebitda) which will stay broadly as they are now.

Long-term Development Plan

A longer-term development plan has been drawn up for all 69 garden centres, to be completed at the rate of about 10 a year. 

Some of the Wyevale centres bought last year will be the first and should be completed by next spring. 

The new template has been developed at three test sites: Edinburgh, Peterborough and Dunfermline.

Financial security

Understanding the financial structure behind the purchase of Dobbies is not easy. The company is owned by 20 wealthy private shareholders. All, says Graeme Jenkins, have a genuine long-term interest in the business, unlike private equity, believing that garden centres will benefit from the structural changes taking place within retail.

The purchase of Dobbies involved a sale and lease back on the ground rent of the original sites backed by Alpha Real Capital. Dobbies retains the freeholds. This says Graeme Jenkins, who was Chief Finance Officer, means the business is not over rentalised and is a model used by the hospitality and other asset backed businesses. Therefore, the company is robust and not highly geared.

Source : Reproduced with kind permission from George Bullivant at GardenForum

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09 September 2019

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