Q&A with Garden Centre Association chairman Mike Lind

Mike Lind is chairman of the Garden Centre Association (GCA) and elected for the period from 2018-2020. The GCA represents nearly 200 garden centres nationwide. Through sharing information and its inspection programme, it helps members to achieve high standards in customer service, plant quality and reliability. The organisation also enables members to learn from each other and implement best practice, whether this is from its monthly Barometer of Trade, area meetings, annual audits or, perhaps the most powerful of all, by visiting each other’s centres. Mike comes from a legal background and became managing director at Monkton Elm Garden & Pet Centre in 2012.

How did you get into the garden centre trade and working for the Garden Centre Association?

Monkton Elm Garden & Pet Centre was launched in 1982 by my parents-in-law David and Luella Bellman. Thirty-six years on, it is one of Somerset’s leading independent, family-run garden centres. 

I have a legal background but have always had an interest in horticulture since studying biochemistry and plant pathology at university in South Africa. I began working with David and Luella on a part-time basis in January, 2010 as part of a managed transition strategy. In September, 2012, I took the decision to step down as CEO of the dispute resolution business I was running to become the managing director of Monkton Elm Garden & Pet Centre.

As a garden centre we have been members of the GCA for many years and we have found the collaborative nature of the association extremely beneficial in the context of sharing best business practice in this sector. The chairman is elected by the members of the GCA at the AGM and it is a two-year appointment.  

Garden Centre Association Monkton Elm

I am thrilled to have been elected as Chairman for 2018/19 and will be working closely with the GCA Executive and board of elected directors to continue to focus on the core benefits of membership and our strategy (delivering an aspirational members’ conference, sharing our monthly barometer of trade, developing further our GROW e-learning initiative, ensuring greater acknowledgement of our annual standards inspection process, promoting regional activities and networking between members that help with the sharing of best practice).

"I want the Garden Centre Association to be beneficial to all and also fun to be part of"

Above all, I want to strive to ensure the GCA remains relevant to the interests of our members and is seen as an association that is beneficial to all but is also fun to be part of. I am also committed to working across all stakeholders in our sector to reduce unnecessary packaging and waste.

How can small garden centres expand successfully? What should the businesses prioritise? 

The best way a small garden centre can expand successfully is to include a café or coffee shop. Plants and gardening should always remain at the core of their business offering but having a café or coffee shop gives the opportunity to drive higher footfall and increases the potential of the garden centre becoming more of a go-to destination.

Catering is not weather dependent and isn’t seasonal, so it makes financial sense for garden centres to invest here. Cafés also help extend the time people are on site as they are likely to sneak in a cup of coffee and cake, lunch, or afternoon tea, even if they only came in to browse for a plant and bag of compost!

How does the Garden Centre Association support garden centres?

Through sharing of best practice and our comprehensive inspection programme. We aim to help our members achieve the highest standards across all areas of their business including customer service, merchandising, plant quality and marketing. The association also enables members to learn from each other and implement best practice, whether this is from its monthly Barometer of Trade, area meetings, annual inspections or, perhaps the most powerful of all, by visiting each other’s centres.  

One of the main benefits of being a GCA member is being able to attend our famous annual conference. Members can meet and network with peers from garden centres and suppliers from across the country, and benefit from hearing insightful and inspirational guest speakers. We work very hard to find engaging speakers from other vertical sectors who can share their entrepreneurial and business experience. The conference is also where our professional inspectors provide a visual report on the work they conducted during the year. Members’ often say this is the main highlight of the year!

Our goal is simple. We want our members to be exposed to as many little nuggets of wisdom as possible so they can take them back to their businesses and implement them in their drive to be the best they can be. 

What did the GCA awards show you in terms of how garden centres are developing? Did you see some new ideas?

The GCA Award Programme is highly prestigious and is the pinnacle of success our members aim for. Each year the quality of entrants just gets better and better. Members seem to thrive off the success of each other and encourage their own teams to strive to achieve one of the GCA awards.

From my perspective as Chairman it was very encouraging to see so many members improve across all key areas of the inspection process. The raw passion to improve on the retail excellence front was clearly apparent. People often ask, why do we need to have the annual inspection process? The answer is not to make it difficult for you as a member, but to help you focus on the core areas of the business that your customers see and how you can make it the best possible shopping experience for them. 

There were many new and inspirational ideas across all categories, too many to mention!

For more information on the Garden Centre Association, see http://gca.org.uk/