Case Study: Haskins Garden Centre

Case Study: Haskins Garden Centre
I have never regretted following my instincts but I have regretted not following them.

Growth may be a garden centre’s stock in trade but Haskins has also made it its business. The secret? Diversifying.

The company, which operates in four locations across Hampshire, West Sussex and Dorset, has deep roots, going back to 1882, but things really took off when it started to branch out into new ranges and services.

Haskins’ buying director Conna Powles says it all started in 1994 when the original centre moved to a ten-acre site. To start with, this meant it was able to add more plants and garden accessories. But there was also a 260-seat restaurant.

This has since been doubled in size and there are now restaurants at each of the centres and play areas at three of them. Plant advice centres, free WiFi, baby changing facilities, coffee shops and ample parking all help to combine ease of use with lengthened dwell time. One of its online offers is even for a swanky afternoon tea. (£16 for two people, thanks for asking, and advance booking is essential.)

But where the diversification really kicked in was with product. Powles says: “Introducing contemporary clothing has been a big move for us. We used to only sell Tigi, which is for a more mature customer. We introduced Weird Fish, White Stuff, Crew, Joules, Radley and Fiorelli. Growth has been in double digits each year and we are now taking more than £1m.”

Then there was artificial floristry. “We used to sell stems but we introduced potted floristry and foliage. Sales increased by 98% in the first year,” says Powles.

What else? “Solar lighting is an example of focus. A dedicated area made it a destination and with competitive promotions, it has become a £500k department to rival any of the big sheds.” 
Powles says the buying team has to stay proactive. As well as trade show and online research, they share information with fellow Garden Trade Association members.

We prepare a strategy paper that prompts us to come up with ideas. We then complete our market research in head office to get feedback on features and benefits as well as perceived value of products. Sometimes I ask the buyers to do a SWOT analysis on each other’s departments which works well too.

“We work strategically to drive sales rather than react to what is available. Therefore we challenge ourselves about opportunities through a specific way of thinking 
It’s not all science. Gut instinct, she says, mustn’t be underestimated. “I have never regretted following my instincts but I have regretted not following them and seeing someone else get there first.”

Key lessons:

Add services and amenities that increase dwell time

Be proactive. Don’t wait for the business to change before you do

When buying, seek information but listen to your instincts too