Following news that garden centre investment vehicle, Puma Investments and Somerton has secured a Wyevale centre for its third Rosebourne site, the doors to its second centre have opened today, with a strong focus on food and catering in order to create an experience for shoppers and fend off online competition.
The second Rosebourne garden centre opens to the public today in Aldermaston near Reading on the site of the former White Tower Nursery site. Speaking during a preview of the new purpose-built centre yesterday, Rosebourne’s Jon Kitching said the restaurant and food hall were “the heart of the centre”, accounting for a combined total of 50% of turnover.
The new centre, which employees 80 staff, boasts a food hall, which stocks fresh and local produce, as well as a butcher and a restaurant with table service. Based on a similar model to Rosebourne’s first site in Weyhill, which boasts a £1.9million turnover for the restaurant alone, the new site has a strong focus on food.
Somerton CEO Carol Paris, said: “Garden centres have changed and evolved over the years. Before you used to shop the garden centre and plants and the restaurant or café was ancillary. Here it is the place you choose to come to for lunch because the food is amazing and then you shop the garden centre afterwards.”
She told DIY Week: “A big change has come from internet trading. You can buy anything you want online but you can’t buy an experience, expert knowledge, coffee and cake, and ambience online. You have to create something that will make people want to visit you. We are giving them an experience; somewhere people want to come and, if they pick up a few plants and gifts whilst they’re here, great.”
The focus on local produce is another key strategy for the business, with Ms Paris explaining that she finds, “the garden centre is often the centre of the local community.”
Jon Kitching, of Beckworth Emporium, will run the business along with Neville Prest and Val Kempster, formerly of the Garden & Leisure Group, and Salim Sajid from Blooms of Bressingham. Beckworth Emporium’s David Brown will also act as a non-executive director..
When asked about the garden offer at the site, Mr Kitching said the new centre was “quite a difficult model to run because all of the areas are important”. He continued: “The reason people will come here will be because of the restaurant but the quality of the plants is also very important and we have to get it right.”
He added that the business, which was modelled somewhat on the Beckworth Emporium, centres on the “attractive, ornamental side of gardening, rather than the hard work” and doesn’t have a landscaping or garden machinery offer.
Instead, Rosebourne Aldermaston features a well-merchandised assortment of plants, growing media, decorative accessories - including water features - tools, sundries and bird care, as well as a houseplant, gift and housewares offer and a large food hall. Planted containers are artfully displayed at the centres entrance and in the covered plant area, making for easy take-aways for visitors who have popped in for a spot of lunch and the rest of the offer is very much geared towards impulse buys.
“There is nothing here that you need to buy,” laughed Ms Paris, adding, “but there’s plenty here to inspire and products that customers will like to browse and pick up as an impulse purchase.”
Carol Paris’ venture, Somerton has been financed by Puma Investments and other individual investors. Puma is the principle investor in Rosebourne, which opened its first garden centre in Andover in October 2016. Somerton has signed a franchise agreement with Rosebourne and will trade at its centres under the Rosebourne brand.
Ms Paris said when announcing the formation of her new company that she would be developing garden centres in Southern England, that focus on “high-growth sectors including fresh local food and table service restaurants”.
Read a full report on the new centre in the October 12 issue of DIY Week.