Webbs of Wychbold Garden Centre

When the minnow swallows the whole

They don’t come much bigger than Webbs of Wychbold. The award-winning Worcestershire Garden Centre has 100,000 sq ft of retail space, parking for 650 vehicles, attracts well over a million visitors a year and had a turnover of nearly £12m in 2014.
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Five year vision for growth

The company began as a seeds business in the 1850s and within 50 years had become a household name, supplying every monarch from Victoria to the present Queen. The business grew from a nursery into an all-year ‘destination’ centre, no longer dependant on good weather to keep the tills ringing.

Expansion, including the former Hurran’s garden centre at West Hagley, has been under the watchful eye of Ed Webb, Executive Chairman since 2003. More recently, as part his five-year vision for growth, the company began planning to change the look of their garden centres – everything from the layout and content to the appearance, colour scheme and feel of the displays.

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Trialing a new look

Working with design consultants Pleydell Smithyman, Webbs reorganised departments, making the Wychbold store easier for customers to navigate. From selling Wellington boots in three separate places, they now planned one footwear department. There were countless other examples.

Andy Wrightson, Leisure Category Manager, said: ‘Pretty soon we decided to use that reorganisation to trial a new look with defined areas for different merchandise – different floors, walls colours and displays. The first project was the card shop, bookshop and cookware departments at Wychbold and Salepoint installed the shopfittings here to the new specification.

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Transforming the 20,000 sq ft West Hagley site

The next priority was to transform the West Hagley store, which had changed little since Webbs acquired it in 2009. Andy said: ‘We knew we had to do some major work to bring it up to date and make it work better for our customers. We needed to give it some TLC and get the shopfittings to match the quality of the products we wanted to sell. If we got that right then we would have a model for future expansion.’

The new look at Wychbold got a great response from the public, with increased sales, so it seemed that all Webbs had to do was to create a mini-Wychbold at their more typically-sized 20,000 sq ft West Hagley sister site. But transplanting the formula did not turn out to be the answer.

Andy said: ‘We set out to have everything we had at Wychbold at West Hagley, but what this project taught us was that we couldn’t just try to replicate every single thing. With certain departments there is a minimum size needed to make them work. There simply wasn’t the space. It was a steep learning curve. We moved from wanting to offer something of everything to focusing on what worked best.

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Salepoint fit a merchandising floor 'second to none'

Once the decision on what to include had been decided, Webbs again brought in the HTA’s approved partner, Salepoint for the complete makeover. They worked closely with Webbs to refine the designs and fix the specification. ‘The whole process worked extremely well,’ said Andy.

One of the absolute must-haves was new flooring throughout. Webbs gave Salepoint a tight deadline in which to complete the work as it was carried out in stages while the centre remained open. ‘Although it did hit sales, it was not anywhere as dramatic as we had feared and we now have a merchandising floor second to none.’

There were many ‘firsts’ in terms of new designs to match the quality merchandise Webbs wanted to introduce at the centre. The food area features innovative rough steel shelving units that look like giant Meccano constructions, complete with the nuts and bolts. Timber decking and a cream and brown colour scheme completed the ‘farm shop’ feel. It stocks a wide selection of local produce, supporting the company’s green credentials.

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'Some of the sales increases have even taken us by surprise'

Each department is now in contrasting colours. Garden, Home and Leisure products are now comfortably laid out and easy to navigate. Merchandise is displayed more effectively, and there is much more of it despite the store’s more spacious feel.

West Hagley features a Clothing department for the first time, and Footwear has expanded. In the Home and Living department, Salepoint created alcoves and end display bays in contrasting wood grain. Gifts are displayed on towers of various heights. The mix is completed with tables with bespoke turned legs. Walls have a rustic feel, using cream-coloured boarding. In Horticulture, planters are used for house plants, with shelving in cream and brown, and facia boards in a contrast colour.

Andy said: ‘We have broken up what was a very large space by putting in some walls. It makes it feel like a department store. Different departments have a different methodology and the trick was finding something that works for everybody. We have got more going on than ever before.’

Webbs budgeted for an increase in sales of 17% in the first year and the early signs suggest the store may better that. ‘Turnover is up, especially in Leisure. Some of the sales increases have even taken us by surprise. Staff morale has grown hugely – they no longer feel the ‘poor cousin’ and we have definitely seen a difference in them and that has shown itself in the sales figures.’

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