Loyalty blooming at gardening store group

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The Independent Online

The Garden Centre Group has signed up 1.4 million customers to its loyalty card in just over 18 months, ahead of what the retailer hopes will be a "bumper" Christmas.

The 120-store group, which was rebranded from Wyevale Garden Centres last year, also revealed that its loyalty-cardholders spend "considerably" more than non-members and that 55 per cent of sales in stores are now attributable to the scheme.

The UK's biggest operator of garden centres says The Gardening Club card, which is free to join and launched in March 2009, is now the "largest gardening club in Europe" with 1.4m members. Lorrie Robertson, the group's marketing director, said: "Customer insight is very important for any business, particularly when you are looking at trends, and obviously product mix and ensuring that you align what you stock with what the customer actually wants to buy."

Cardholders collect 5 points for every £1 spent, equivalent to a 5 per cent reward. Loyalty cards divide opinion in the retail sector, but Tesco, which has 16 million UK Clubcard members, has run a successful scheme since 1995.

Nicholas Marshall, who became The Garden Centre Group's chief executive in November 2008, said: "We are looking forward to a bumper Christmas," although he said that the weather had been against the sector this year and "if anything, the recession has got worse in the last 12 months".

In particular, the chain, which sells more Christmas trees than any other retailer, hopes to benefit from a reported shortage of poinsettia this year, as it sources all of its stock of the popular Christmas plant from UK farms, including more than half from its own nursery sites.

Under its new structure, the Garden Centre Group bounced back with a pre-tax profit of £13.2m for the year to 27 December 2009, compared with a loss of £2.1m the year before. Following a debt-for-equity swap with its bank, Lloyds, at the end of 2008 – which slashed its borrowings – the rebranded company vowed to become the leading specialist for plants and horticulture by returning to the original names of the outlets that Wyevale acquired.

These include Old Barn and the 10 original Wyevale stores. The Garden Centre Group also has a 30 per cent stake in the Country Gardens operation, which has 12 stores.

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