Dobbies CEO, Nicolas Marshall (above) and Chairman Andrew Bracey hosted an evening in the Orangery at Kew Gardens last week for over 150 representatives from British plant growers.
After guided tours of the gardens, Nicholas Marshall addressed the invited guests and members of Dobbies staff ending with a toast: "Dobbies needs you, your country needs you. Ladies and Gentlemen here's to our great British Nurseries."
Earlier he had made reference to Dobbies tarnished image over the past few years and said the sky was the limit when it comes to opportunities from the Dobbies link up with Ocado.
"Our ambition is to make Dobbies the sector leader in everything we do and plants are centre stage to this renaissance. Now is the time for British nurseries to step up to the plate."
He offered to share information as to what the customer wants and then in return growers will be pushing at an open door.
Read the full transcript of the speech below:
Transcript of Nicholas Marshall speech at Kew Gardens, Wednesday 14th June 2017.
We invite you here this evening to talk briefly about our plans for the future and to recognise and celebrate British Horticulture, which in recent years has suffered from intense competition from abroad. We are at Kew because it's the birthplace of horticulture and due to the hard work of generations of brilliant botanists is still today the worlds greatest botanical garden, however, it is important to remember that the funding for the development of Kew came from wealthy patrons who were interested in gardening and gardens.
There is another reason whey we are here this evening. This is due to an extraordinary co-incidence. 200 years ago two babies were born one in Scotland and one in England. One would found the oldest gardening business in Britain and the other would become a plant explorer and Director of Kew Gardens, after his father William.
James Dobbie at an early age was interested in growing plants and had some success at the Highland Show in 1840 when he was still in his early 20's. His day job was to become Chief Constable of Renfrewshire but his love of plants took over so in 1855 he started Dobbies and started first of all with seeds. After James death Dobbies moved south to Kent for a while and it wasn't until 1934 that it moved back to Scotland, to Edinburgh where it still is today.
Meanwhile the other baby born 200 years ago was Joseph Hooker. He was educated at Glasgow University where his father was Professor of Botany and I'd like to think he bumped into James Dobbie in Glasgow, possibly at one of those horticultural shows. After university Joseph became a plant hunter travelling the globe and getting into all sorts of scrapes in his quest to bring back new plant species to Kew. It was a sort of forerunner of the gap year. Based on his travels to the Himalayas he wrote a book called Himalayan Journals which he sent to his closest friend to ask his advice. His friend wrote back to him to say he thought the book was excellent and complimented Joseph on his ability as a great botanist, geographer, artist and writer. However, his friend continued with a word of warning: "Joseph, you may be all things I've mentioned above but your offer to dedicate the book to me shows your complete lack of commercialism. Joseph you must find someone very famous to dedicate your book to who will thus help to sell your excellent work." Signed your affectionate and admiring friend, Charles Darwin.
Dobbies has a long history and is a wonderful brand that attracts great loyalty from both customers all over the country and staff. An oasis in a world of cynical retailing. I've known and admired Dobbies all through my career because I am a friend of James Barnes, who as you all know was responsible for building Dobbies into a national brand. I often used to speak to James and compare notes as I ran first Country Gardens and then Wyevale. Dobbies spent the last few years owned by Tesco but last summer Midlothian Capital came along and fortunately bought it. I therefore jumped at the chance to come to Dobbies 14 weeks ago when the Chairman Andrew Bracey, an old friend, rang me. I couldn't wait to get going again.
I'm very fortunate to be joined at Dobbies by a host of old friends, most of them have worked with me for many, many years and now together with existing Dobbieites form a very experienced, cohesive, loyal and vibrant team. They are all here tonight and I hope you get a chance to meet them all. I can't possibly name everybody but the ring leaders are Laurie Robertson the COO, Graham Jenkins the CFO, Andrew West the Purchasing Director, Marcus Eyles Head of On-line and Costas Constantinou Restuarant Director. And the Regional Directors; Nick Anderson, Martin Andrews, Craig Turner, Mark Duffey and Dale Lewis.
Now we are completely aware of what we've got to do and we will work tirelessly to achieve it. We will cherish Dobbies and polish up the somewhat tarnished image of the last few years. Our ambition is to make Dobbies the sector leader in everything we do and plants are centre stage to this renaissance. Now is the time for British nurseries to step up to the plate. I realise we live in uncertain times. The spectacle of the Conservative party shooting itself in both feet at once is a spectacular example of not knowing your customer has left us all reeling. But its a real opportunity for the horticultural industry.
We already know that our customers would prefer to buy locally grown British plants and the weakness of the pound against the Euro now gives British nurseries a great opportunity. British nurseries we want to do business with you but we want a fresh approach. Our customers will support you but in return they deserve to be offered the best quality, range and value for money. We will work with you to provide what the customer wants, you will then be pushing at an open door. We've recently announced that we've linked with Ocado, the best British on-line retailer with a database of more than 6 million customers. Currently over 40% of all UK retail sales are on-line and growing. Our gardening market is worth £4 billion and the amount of on-line sales in the gardening is frankly piffling. But the march of progress is inevitable. The sky is therefore the limit. Now is the time for all of us to step up to the plate, it's a great opportunity for all.
Now, I will end with a story about another Joseph Hooker, known as Joe, he was actually born a couple of years earlier than both James and Joseph. He was born in America and is a distant cousin of Josephs. His story was told to me by Katherine Hooker, the international renowned dress designer. Joe rose to become a general who fought in the American Civil War and he was promoted to command the army. His letter of promotion contained some exultations which I would like to borrow this evening to encourage you our British nurseries to achieve success. You may guess the author from the eloquence of the hand. "I wish to place you at the head of the army and yet I think it is best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied. However, I do believe you have the skill, confidence and ambition. Beware of rashness but bring energy and sleepless vigilance. Go forward and gives us victories." Yours very truly Abraham Lincoln. I would therefore like to propose a toast to our nurserymen here tonight: Dobbies needs you, your country needs you. Ladies and Gentlemen to our great British Nurseries.
Thank you very much, enjoy the evening.
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