Wyevale Garden Centres’ results published last week suggest that the problems facing parent Terra Firma as it strives to turn the 149-centre business around ahead of a planned sale are even greater that most people feared.
WGC announced losses of £122.4m for 2016 – a garden centre industry record – most of it sustained in the first half of the year, on revenues of £328.3m, up 5.5% on 2015. The losses were mainly due to a £51.3 impairment of fixed assets and a £20m write-off of old stock.
A process of transition is under way, with new leadership, new ERP and EPoS systems, a new supply chain strategy and a shake-up in employee relations, all now backed up with £141.5m of re-financing to oil the works. Sources believe the current year’s performance is more encouraging and CEO Roger Mclaughlan, who took over in spring last year, says he is happy with a pattern of like-for-like growth.
WGC’s lack lustre past performance is at odds with the increased profits being reported by other leading garden centres in mixed weather year.
The Garden Centre Association’s barometer of trade in September showed year-to-date growth of 4% for members who submitted figures, despite mixed weather, prompting Gary Carvosso, MD at Coolings Garden Centre, to declare that “overall so far 2017 is shaping up to be a great year for core gardening and catering yet again”.
The most revealing aspect of the annual report is the admission by the CEO that the previous management team’s approach to growth – largely prioritising acquisitions – was “ultimately unsustainable”. As a consequence, WGC now says it will not be going shopping for more centres just yet, although it may re-join the acquisition trail when the business is back on track. That news will disappoint a few key independent garden centres about to post ‘for sale’ notices - but all eyes will be on the WGC measures designed to make a difference on the shop floor where it matters most.
Instead, Mclaughlan, who has visited more than 100 of the group’s centres, spoken to around 2,000 employees and listened to hundreds of customers, is keen to re-focus on getting the core the business right.
He says the customer research programme has given him a great insight into what customers value and expect from a Wyevale Garden Centre. “We have already implemented a number of short term actions to improve our customer experience,” he said. “Our customers are commenting positively on these early changes as reflected by the group achieving its highest net promoter score to date, a critical measure of customer satisfaction.”