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Looking for advice on how to expand your small- or medium-sized gardening business? Martin Vessey is part of the national Business Doctors network, which works with firms to help them to grow…

How can I grow my garden centre business?

Perhaps the most common strategy a garden centre can use when aiming for growth is buying in further product lines to sell to their existing customers. This can work, but a few caveats will improve on its success. Gaining a real understanding of what else your customers would buy from is crucial – so ask them rather than making presumptions.  And ensure all employees are trained up on the new product lines and services. They need to be first class advocates for your new range.

Other simple strategies for growth include asking your existing customers for friend and family referrals. Offering a voucher incentive or a free coffee if you have a café can really help.

Use social media to engage with your customers on a regular basis and do it wholeheartedly. You will do more damage than good if you set up a Facebook page but then neglect it. Post regular picture updates – you have a very visual business- and ensure you respond to customer queries on there in a timely fashion.

Don’t even consider selling on price to compete as this only impacts on your bottom line and cashflow. Don’t aim to be the cheapest: strive to be the best.

Business Doctors Martin Vessey

I’ve heard a multinational is about to open nearby. Should I be scared?

You are not the first and you won’t be the last to have the big boys move in on your patch. You are right to feel apprehensive, but it is not all bad.

Having two garden centres near to each other can increase footfall for both, as customers look around to compare products and services. Independent garden centres can compete successfully by researching their competitor, working out what they are good and bad at and even borrowing some of their ideas.

By studying the competition, you may be able to add value to your business with additional services that the multinationals are not familiar with, such as garden design, garden maintenance, interior design and showcasing local retailers such as clothing, jewellery and gifts.

Business Doctors can help with exit planning, which focuses progress

How can I retain staff for longer?

Retention of staff in retail environments is never easy, as many of your employees may be young people who are studying and working part time or people who are using you as a stepping stone to other roles.

But by having a plan of employee development in place, you are demonstrating your commitment to working with people long term and valuing their contributions.

Make sure you clearly define their roles and your expectations and offer regular formal and informal reviews. Explore staff development and training needs and tailor to each individual – there is no “one size fits all”.

Keep all employees up to date with your plans for the business and involve them in decision-making as much as you can. Let them know their input is sought and appreciated.

When should I think about exit planning?

Ideally, you have had your exit plan in your mind from day one. In other words, it is never too early to start planning. You never know when an offer may come your way and unless you have considered your exit, you may not get the value for the business you expect.

Get some outside help to prepare a business strategy plan which will cover revenue and margin growth, sales and marketing activities, organisational structure, business intelligence around the clientele and competitors and your involvement in the local community. Always think about how your business could function without you at the helm and build accordingly.

See the Business Doctors website for more advice on how to grow your business.

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