Haskins are famous for 4 of the largest destination garden centres in the UK and has extensive plans for the coming years. With this in mind we decided it was time to catch up with a key member of the team, Dean Ridley, to find out more about the flourishing company.
What was the origin of the company and when was it started- when did you get involved?
The name Haskins was first connected with Dorset horticulture in 1882, when Harry Haskins founded a nursery in Poole. Today, Harry Haskins’ great grandson Warren Haskins, now Chairman of Haskins Garden Centres, is very much involved in the business. The company is well known internationally for its innovative and inventive approach to garden retailing.
The first year’s turnover was £28,000 with a staff of just 10 people. Forty years later the £36 million turnover company is still family owned and operates 4 centres near Bournemouth, Southampton, Worthing and Crawley, employing 750 people. Haskins now operates 4 of the largest destination garden centres in the country and has ambitious plans to expand further over the next few years.
I joined the business 11 years ago as the General Manager of our Southampton centre. I took up the position of Head of Retail operations seven years ago, overseeing the operational efficiencies of the garden centres and supporting our fantastic teams to deliver the best customer service and shopping experience for our customers.
Tell me about the goals and ethos of the company
At Haskins we strive to be the best garden centre we can, providing our customers with quality products, trustworthy advice, value for money and inspirational ideas to support our customers in creating the gardens they aspire to.
We are very proud of our horticultural heritage and being an independent family owned business, which we feel gives us a point of difference from the big DIY sheds and supermarkets.
People are at the heart of our business, both our staff and our customers, and we are proud to have a high proportion of our team that have been with us for over 10 years and even a number celebrating over 20 years with the business. This gives us an enormous amount of experience within our teams, but also helps us deliver a consistent message, whilst not missing out on innovation.
Over the years the business has evolved to include catering and lifestyle gifts and products as important categories, however plants are still at the heart of our business, and we ensure that it is an important focus as we believe it is key to our identity and defining us in the marketplace.
As a team we are passionate about what we do and we have strong processes and operations in place to back up what the customer sees. We are constantly looking for ways to improve how we operate so we can deliver better for the customer, however ensuring that we always trade responsibly and profitably. This in turn has enabled the business to reinvest in its future. We have three purpose built garden centres having recently redeveloped Roundstone in 2012 with a £13million investment and hope to do the same with our Snowhill centre in the future.
Who are the main consumers?
The Haskins brand is recognised and well respected in its local areas and is synonymous with top quality products and friendly, knowledgeable staff. Our customers see our business as a Garden Centre with a Restaurant, selling a wide range of gardening products and gifts, household products and Christmas decorations. We attract a cross-section of the population.
Whilst the appeal of Haskins is very broad, the core Haskins customer is typically 45-65 years old. Our customers have an active interest in gardening and entertaining in their garden is also important to them. They come to Haskins as they enjoy the garden centre environment although they will also visit the restaurant and browse and purchase gifts.
Tell me about your product range, how has this expanded since your involvement?
Our ranges are evolving all the time to inspire our customer to buy. The key drivers over the past 5 years have been the integration of the operational, buying and marketing teams working together to maximise the opportunities of our ranges for the benefit of our customers and sales. A great example of this would be garden lighting which has grown to a £500,000 department. This has been possible through great product selection, displayed with inspiration and high retail standards, and the use of point of sale material to make it easy for our customers to shop.
Another key initiative has been a training program to improve our visual merchandising skills and knowledge of our centre teams. With a long heritage in plants and gardening we found we were very confident in our plant areas but found we needed to define our point-of-view for merchandising in a way that we could communicate to our teams for gifts, clothing and lifestyle products, so this has been something we have been working on in the last 18 months.
We have also focused on maximising the opportunities our IT system can give us with over 85% of our products centrally ordered, including all our garden plants. This enables us to efficiently control our stock and free up our centre teams to focus on customer service delivery.
How have you diversified and is online a key part of the business now?
We are passionate about plants but like all destination garden centres, we have diversified into other categories that complement our offer. The restaurants are a key driver for us with three large purpose-built facilities offering quality, home cooked, freshly baked or hand-finished food, all prepared in our own kitchens by our team of trained chefs.
Clothing has seen double digit growth each year and is now a million-pound category for us by introducing contemporary clothing brands Joules, Weird Fish, White Stuff, Radley and Fiorelli.
We have a very active website and constantly review what the online environment can offer to us and our customer, but we do not offer e-commerce and presently our focus is on our centres and delivering the best possible customer experience.
What do you look for when sourcing new products & plants?
We are looking for quality, innovation and for suppliers that understand our business and are a good fit for us. We are a well-established business and look to maintain sustainable long-term relationships with our suppliers.
What has been your bestselling product over the past 12 months? And what products are you excited about over the next 12 months?
It’s been a strong plant season for us and all the associated products have seen good growth. Garden furniture, BBQ’s and garden lighting have all benefited by the good weather. We also have some exciting plans for our centres for the Christmas period. Customer expectation is always on us to ensure we make our Christmas departments bigger and better across each of the centres each year and I believe we will not disappoint them.
Do you offer services to aid customers when landscaping their gardens? Or help customers with their gardening?
We have great horticultural knowledge within our teams to help our customers from the smallest garden to major outdoor projects. In the last few years we have invested a lot of effort in ensuring our outdoor building and landscaping areas have the same high-quality environment as our indoor departments. We pay close attention to layout, inspiration and point of sale to aid our customers with their choice and have installed customer service call points (with our teams wearing headsets) so that it is easy to get help when required.
Has the past year been kind to your company? Do you find that people still think of gardening/ landscaping as a priority?
Thanks to all the teams across the business we have seen good growth in all our centres. Gardening is thankfully still a very enjoyable and popular leisure past time. Customers are constantly looking to maintain and improve their gardens and we are constantly evolving our offer to inspire and support them to achieve their ambitions.
Do you see catering & food as an integral part of your business model?
Catering is 22% of our business and an integral part of it. Our large restaurants are community hubs for friends and families to get together. The product range shares the principles of the garden centre and Haskins’ brand as a whole – that is to be of recognisable quality and competitively priced with good, better and best choices.
Are there any further topics or issues you believe should be highlighted?
We are looking at how we can cater to the next generation of gardeners who have possibly less gardening knowledge, and the increasing trend for ‘instant gardening solutions.’ Whilst it’s great for customers to be inspired into buying ready-planted containers, we are doing more to educate in core categories such as roses, ‘grow your own’, what to plant when, and shrubs and trees.