Here Jutta Whitworth-Biehler talks to Garden & Hardware News about her family business, Baytree Nurseries and Nursery in Lincolnshire.
What was the origin of the company and when did you get involved?
Baytree Nurseries was founded by my father Reinhard Biehler in 1970, after leaving his native Bavaria in 1964 to seek work as a rose budder in Lincolnshires thriving rose industry. He travelled from Germany on his Heinkel Tourist scooter, which is still on display here at Baytree. He started rose budding at Market Deeping, later getting a job at a local company budding roses in a field opposite what is now known as Baytree House. This 7 acre small holding quickly became the beginnings of the Baytree empire, which my parents started trading from with a market stall on the side of the road. After working hard, business was soon booming. Before long the small stall had become a shop with selection of raised beds sporting various shrubs and of course plenty of roses. Baytree and plants have been part of my life for as long as I can remember, of course my favourite plant is the Jutta Biehler rose, which I have in my garden and I also carried in my wedding bouquet. My father bred this rose, and roses for my two sisters when we were children.
Tell me a little about the goals and ethos of the company?
My father has always had an insatiable appetite for growing and selling plants. His ethos of Baytree growing our own plants ensures we can offer our customers great quality plants low prices, along with a wealth of knowledge and advice. This is a goal we still stand by and continue to work towards. Baytree has always been a family run business, and we maintain that ethos after 46 years. My mother and father still play a huge part in the day to day running of the business. Myself and my sisters are always on site along with our husbands who are all involved in the garden centre. The majority of our staff have been with us for a long period of time and care about the garden centre as much as we do – we are like one big (very big – with over 100 members of staff) family!
Who are your main customers?
We have a huge variety of customers visiting our site; due to our wide range of departments ; outdoor plants, houseplants, pots, lifestyle, landscaping, pets and aquatics, bulbs and seeds, clothing, furniture, barbecues and sheds. We also have a range of franchises and concessions: The Mower Centre, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Flame Craft, Planet Outdoor, Oasis Pools and Spas and the famous Baytree Owl & Wildlife Centre. These all provide a wide array of choice to our customers who range from young families on fun days out to more mature customers looking for garden and home inspiration.
Tell me about your product range, how has this expanded since your involvement? How have you diversified?
Due to our range of departments, we offer over 55,000 products to our customers. Our range has naturally expanded over the 40 years we have been trading due to the nature of garden centres evolving and becoming ‘ one stop destination leisure centres’. My input has ensured that this is a concise and directed to customers needs, and my trusted buying team enhance our product range and ensure our customers get the best deals possible. We are also currently working on our online shop, as although we are one of the largest independent garden centres in the country, we aim to be one of the largest e-commerce garden centre’s too by increasing our figure of 1000 products available online to 20,000, or even 40,000 with the help of our App designed by my husband Cameron Whitworth (Baytree being one of the first garden centres in the country to produce one!).
What do you look for when sourcing new products and plants?
Plants are at the heart of Baytree. It’s how we began and it remains the most important part of our centre. We never compromise with our plants, we only stock the very best and take immense pride in our extensive range, unrivalled quality and fair pricing. By growing our own and having a fantastic buying team, we are able to source the best plants from all over the world: Holland, Denmark and the UK, and offers one of the most diverse selection of plants in the UK. All of our departments have a designated buyer, who visits trade shows and exhibitions across the country, and we even make trips to Holland to buy exclusive Christmas ranges to ensure we are offering our customers the best products we can.
You’re well known for growing many of your own plants, how do your customers respond to this and what are the benefits for keeping growing ‘in house’?
This is one of our biggest selling points, and because we mostly grow our own plants we can select the highest quality from our extensive range and keep the prices keen and fair. Staff in the plant areas are trained horticulturalists and growing our stock on site enhances their already extensive knowledge to advise customers whenever they have a question on how to care for their purchase, or ask about plants they already have at home. It also reduces the business’s carbon footprint and improves our sustainability. Transport and availability are never a problem as our growing fields are all based within a few miles of the garden centre and our nursery is just over the road. Our customers respond well to the fact that we grow most of our stock in-house, and feel they are getting real quality for their money – putting their trust in our staff to help them bring the best out of their gardens.
What has been your best-selling product of the past 12 months? And what products are you excited about for the next 12 months?
This as been an exceptional year for bedding plants due to the good weather. Tomato plants remain one of our most consistant sellers alongside tomorite.
It is very difficult to pick a best seller because we group our product to type and not necessarily variety. Solar lighting has also taken off in a big way this year and sales are forecast to grow even more next year.
Do you offer any services to aid customers when landscaping and is staff training important to your business?
Although we do not offer landscaping services, we do offer a wide array of trusted contacts to aid customers with their landscaping needs, as well as our extensive stock of landscaping materials – we have one of the largest selections of rockery stone on display, and our landscaping department is run by knowledgeable and helpful staff.
All staff are trained to the highest specifications within Baytree, and we do offer off-site training in particular fields to ensure staff have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the department they work within.
Has the past year been kind to Baytree?
Yes the past year has been kind to us with lots of new business, and repeat business from our loyal customers. We have seen a lot of growth in many departments and a whole re-brand of our restaurant which seats 160 people. New menus have been introduced with a new manager running both the restaurant and coffee shop with excellent feedback from customers. Most importantly, our staff are happy – a business could not achieve as much as we have without the on going support from every member of our team.
Are gardening celebrities a way younger generations will be encouraged to get involved outside and is this something you and your business try to encompass?
I think that there are more celebrity chefs than gardeners for the younger generations to aspire to – they endorse home grown food, which in turn endorses people to get out in their gardens. Although perhaps the younger generations aren’t as interested in gardening as other age groups; with the number of first time buyers increasing, young people are managing to get on the housing ladder – but with new houses being built on smaller plots, there just isn’t the room for gardening. Perhaps if a celebrity gardener was to come on the scene and promote ‘minimalist’ gardening this would be something the younger generations are interested in. We do encourage school trips to the garden centre and this in turns helps to encourage younger children to embrace gardening. They all leave with a sunflower seed in a pot and a competition to see which one grows the biggest. We also run day courses for our customers on topical features, such as hanging baskets. Each year the Begonnia Society hold their annual event here.
Are there any further topics or issues you believe should be highlighted?
With so many people looking to the internet to make their purchases, once again garden centres are evolving to embrace the 21st century. Social media is being used to keep customers updated with promotional news and events. garden centres now offer a fun packed family day out, with free carparking and facilities. It is important to look after our customers, keep ideas fresh and ensure that they receive the best service possible and want to visit again and again.