British Garden Centres blossomed after Covid restrictions were removed, growing sales 22 per cent from £63.5 million to £77.6 million.
The privately-owned Brigg-based business, now employing almost 1,400 people across 33 UK sites, saw pre-tax profits return to a stronger footing too, with £9.3 million reported on the pandemic-impacted 2020 figure of £356,000.
And while confidence in continued growth has been expressed, there is caution with cost of living and working conditions to navigate. Last year was the first full reporting period following a substantial acquisition programme involving the Wyevale brand. A major refurbishment and development of acquired outlets was undertaken through the year to “bring them in line with the established British Garden Centres operations and branding”.
The business was split to handle the growth, with Woodthorpe Hall Garden Centres the second element - retaining the original Lincolnshire site’s name - led by Phillippa’s brothers, Charles and Edward. It has yet to file for 2021.
In the strategic report accompanying the results, Miss Stubbs told how once the third lockdown was navigated at the start of the calendar-aligned year, there was a “dramatic and swift increase in garden centre sales during the second half of February and March that continued through April and May and into June”.
Underlining how it was a feature across the industry, she highlighted the importance of the strong relationships enjoyed with overseas suppliers, in the midst of cross-border transport issues to ensure “all centres remained well stocked through the busy spring and early summer period”.
Re-opening of catering facilities, outdoor in April then fully in May, “further supported the string trading performance”. Christmas trading was “generally strong” despite the spectre of Omicron that saw the reintroduction of social distancing.
Reviewing the whole period, Miss Stubbs said she was pleased with the performance and is “confident of continued growth in sales” as, based on current circumstances, BGC South Ltd - as it is registered - “will for the first time be able to trade both the garden centres and restaurants and coffee shops without restriction for the full trading period”.
She added: “However, notwithstanding the strong performance during 2021, looking forward to profitability in 2022 must be done cautiously against a backdrop of cost price increases, transport and logistics difficulties and price increases, wage rate pressure, energy price increases and the risk to consumer confidence of continued cost of living increases.”
Staff numbers were up from 1,086 to 1,382, reflecting a rise of more than 27 per cent.