Dobbies Garden Centres has signed a five year agreement with Speciality Stores, the general merchandise subsidiary of Ocado Group plc, for the provision of online services. These services will enable Dobbies to launch a new online store early next year serving the whole of the UK.
Dobbies will benefit from the technology, software, logistics and expertise employed by Speciality Stores, and its online orders will be fulfilled using Speciality Stores’ general merchandise warehouse. This agreement will enable Dobbies to offer an outstanding online experience, delivering direct to existing as well as new customers across the UK.
The terms of the five year agreement are not being disclosed.
Yesterday on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme Nicholas Marshall said: "In the whole of the UK the retail industry 40% of all sales are online and growing. Growing all the time. And yet in gardening it is tiny, almost irrellevant and therefore there is going to be a step change and I'm delighted to say that I can announce today that Ocado has very kindly agreed to link up with us and to go online with us which is really exciting because they are one of the best British online companies."
When asked about Ocados inexperience in handling plants he added: "But we are. That's why we can get together with Ocado and become the best online. It's going to take us a few months to get up and running but there is a huge opportunity. Our whole market is £4 billion. If we get to 40% of £4 billion that's £1.6 billion online, ten times our turnover. It's huge."
In a press statement from Dobbies, Andrew Bracey, Chairman of Dobbies who used to be Chief Financial Officer at Ocado said: “In our first year of ownership of Dobbies, we are delighted to announce our partnership with Ocado and its general merchandise subsidiary, Speciality Stores to take Dobbies online across the UK. Ocado has an outstanding reputation for service and quality. I am confident that together we can grow a very successful online business for Dobbies across the whole of the UK.”
Ocado's subsidary Speciality Stores Ltd owns and operates fetch.co.uk (the pet store) and sizzle.co.uk (the dining store). Fetch and Sizzle offer free next day delivery in one hour time slots of the customer’s choice on all orders over £29. James Matthews, Managing Director of Ocado General Merchandise, said in the press release: “We are pleased to announce this agreement which will enable Dobbies to launch a new online service for their customers, powered by our technological and logistical know-how. The expertise we have gained through operating our current Speciality Stores businesses and our Fabled joint venture with Marie Claire has allowed us to provide a compelling service proposition to Dobbies and we are excited to be working with them to help grow their online presence.”
Listen to yesterdays You & Yours programme via this link.
As well as Nicholas Marshall as their star guest, the programme also inculded a live segment from Barton Grange with Guy Topping and a piece about how generation rent is being encouraged to garden which included comments from Boyd Douglas-Davies at Hillview's Burford House Garden Centre.
Here is a transcript of the Nicholas Marshall and Guy Topping sections of the programme:
Winifred Robinson, You and Yours presenter, starts the programme by asking Nicholas Marshall: "Why do you think it is people are still spending on their gardens when they have stopped spending on other things?
NM: Because gardening is probably the most interesting thing they do in their lives if they are not at work. Everybody has a lovely time in the garden.
Y&Y: It's dry today apart from in the Midlands and the South of England. How important is the weather for sales on holiday weekends like this one?
NM: The weather is the most important determinant and therefore if it is lovely weather, if it gets too hot everybody goes to the seaside and has a nice time, so what you really need is weather where it's not raining but dry and fresh and people can get in the garden and get on with the digging.
Y&Y: So is this good? Is this sort of weather we have here in Salford good? Cool but dry.
NM: Cool but dry, excellent.
Y&Y: Why are they still spending on their gardens when they are not spending on other things? We talk about the lipstick effect in the downturn when you will treat yourself to something little like a lipstick. Does a new plant come into that sort of category or a day out to a garden centre maybe where you will go to the cafe and have a cup of tea?
NM: Yes, I've worked through a couple of recessions and interestingly people cut back, they don't go out to dinner as much, they spend more time at home and if they spend more time at home they then have a look at the garden and go "well we might do a quick trip down to the garden centre to see what they've got". And of course you've got a whole range of stuff in a garden centre from seeds to plants to shrubs to trees, so you're able to cut your budget.
Y&Y: Thanks, we will hear more about your plans for Dobbies later in the programme. There are more than 2,000 garden centres across the UK. Dobbies are the second largest, it has 34. Wyevale is the biggest with 148 so the vast majority are still independents. Samanatha Fenwick is at one the UK's biggest and most succesful, Barton Grange in Garstang near Preston has a turnover in the region of £16.5 million.
Y&Y: This is the main entrance of Barton Grange Garden Centre, it being a bank holiday today there is a harpist here entertaining the shoppers. This is known as a destination garden centre so customers tend to travel for about an hour to get here although some will also travel from further afield. The garden centre is owned by the Topping family, Guy Topping is here with me. Guy can you describe your customer for me?
GT: Our core customer we always say is the 45 plus female and we get all sorts of people in here of all ages but our main customer group are the 45 plus.
Y&Y: They are your core, they've got money to spend as well?
GT: Absolutley. Kids have left home, they want to improve the garden and their environment and they are looking to spend money to do that.
Y&Y: I've been speaking to some of those customers this morning and here's a flavour of what they were saying to me: "We've got 10 plants all together. I spend nearly a thousand every year, I just go beserk." "I come here 4 times a year because we want certain plants at certain times. We came for some hanging baskets and it's too early, I believe, so we'll be back again next bank holiday." "I've bought trees and a bamboo, I came specifically to buy because of the quality."
Y&Y: We're now in the outdoor plants section. Guy, only 10% of your sales come from plants. Can you still describe yourselves as a garden centre?
GT: Well of course we can. I'm sure as you've seen today plants and gardening are what glue the whole place together and whilst it might only be 10% that's still a lot of plants and throughout the centre it's gardening and plants that are to the fore.
Y&Y: We mentioned that your customers are 45 plus women, do you worry that you need to start getting younger people into your garden centre?
GT: No, not at all. Whilst people are younger they are very busy bringing up families and that takes all of their time and it's only when kids leave home that people start gardening. And that's our customer so we like to focus on that market and there is a ready made conveyor belt of 45 plus people coming along.
Y&Y: And what about leisure, that's also important about drawing people here?
GT: Well it is, we see ourselves as a leisure destination. People come here for a day out primarlily. It's not really a shopping experience although it turns into that and we're about to add some leisure facilities on site aimed at the same market that is going to include cinemas, crazy golf, curling, ten pin bowling, golf simulator, and further catering.
Y&Y: So a further erosion on the plant sales then?
GT: Obviously we are not selling plants over there, we are selling the experience of being here and that's what they come for. They are looking for a day out, something to do and in future they will be able to come and shop the garden centre and then maybe enjoy a film or have a game of bowling.
Y&Y: One very brief final question - there are more independent centres than ones in chains. Do you think that may change? Have you had to face anyone trying to buy you?
GT: Not directly no, we know very well there would be chains that would be interested but there's still planty of independent operators coming along so they are going to keep coming through.
Y&Y: Nicholas, I know you've spent your entire career creating and running garden centres, how important do you think the plants are?
NM: Vital. It's the whole reason people go to a garden centre. Even old people who go there for lunch are actually going because they are going to a garden centre, that's what they want to do. So if their children ring them up and say "what have you done today?" They can say "we've been to the garden centre" which is better than saying "I've just been out to lunch". So actually everybody goes to the garden centre because they like to look at the plants, have a wander around, have a nice time.. yes plants are the essence of a garden centre.
Y&Y: Now when you ran Wyevale they called you in because they were struggling and you very much turned it back to a business that was about plants, the kind of place you could go to if you wanted a particular plant and that was what you wanted. But are plants still the money spinner? If you look at the growth in sales, yes plants up 7% but other sections of the centres are up by even more including things like the food.
NM: Yes you're right. Food and restuarants is very important too. But the heart of the bonfire is plants and yes, when I went into Wyevale they had lost their way and what we did was to bring them back to the core business which was all about plants and that encouraged lots of customers to come in. We grew a gardening club from nothing to 2.5 million people and that shows how much people liked what we were doing. But that's not to say the restaurants haven't got to be really good too and that's something we are going to be focussing on in the future.
Y&Y: But where's the money though? Is it in the restaurants or in the plants? Or is it in the clothes or other food and so on?
NM: I think you can get very distracted by going along other lines and I think a lot of people have come into garden centres from other forms of retail have thought that's what they can do. That they can distract the customer away from plants and into other things where they, the retailer, is more comfortable. And that's the strength of the independents and the better chains, by concentrating on our core business which is plants.
Y&Y: People no longer have to go to the garden centre if they want a particular plant. People who know their plants, probably the easiest place is to go online. You've always been able to go online for specialist growers to send you typically small specimens but now you have online companies who send you big pots of really beautiful things that cost no more than if you took the trip out to the garden centre. So if plants are your thing, isn't a lot of the business going to go online?
NM: Oh I think it is, undoubtedley. At the moment it is tiny. It's actually pathetically small. In the whole of the UK the retail industry 40% of all sales are online and growing. Growing all the time. And yet in gardening it is tiny, almost irrellevant and therefore there is going to be a step change and I'm delighted to say that I can announce today that Ocado has very kindly agreed to link up with us (Dobbies) and to go on-line with us which is really exciting because they are one of the best British on-line companies.
Y&Y: They are not used to handling plants though are they?
NM: But we are. That's why we can get together with Ocado and become the best online. It's going to take us a few months to get up and running but there is a huge opportunity. Our whole market is £4 billion. If we get to 40% of £4 billion that's £1.6 billion online, ten times our turnover. It's huge.
Y&Y: later in the programme - how generation rent is being encouraged to garden...
Listen to yesterdays You & Yours programme via this link.
Look out for the May issue of Garden Trade News which includes an in depth interview with Guy Topping. https://issuu.com/gardentradenews/docs/gtn_april_17_ec2786c379f861