Garden centre chain Wyevale has scrapped plans to become carbon neutral by 2010 after its new management deemed the pledge “unrealistic”.
Chief executive Nicholas Marshall, who joined the retailer in August, said he instead wants to tackle environmental issues more locally. He said he will concentrate on encouraging customers to address green issues “in their back gardens”.
Under its former chairman Jim Hodkinson, Wyevale revealed its Plan Apple scheme to “address key sustainable development challenges”, after appointing environmental expert Dr Alan Knight to conduct a review in 2007. At the time, the retailer said it “viewed sustainable development as an important commercial opportunity to attract the green pound”. Knight is no longer an adviser to the retailer.
When Marshall joined, the retailer’s stance changed. He said: “Rather than bring in the outside experts, we want to focus on things we can do ourselves, such as grow-your-own.” He denied the move had anything to do with costs.
He said: “Plan Apple had high aspirations, and was more to do with global measures. We’re taking a more realistic approach. I’m more interested in people’s back gardens.”
Marshall said the garden centre chain has been flourishing this year, with like-for-likes up 15.2 per cent in the calendar year to May 3. “We’re heading in the right direction, and had a storming March and April,” he said. “Customers are investing in gardens despite the downturn.”
He said morale in the company was “really high” as he sets about moving the retailer out of the DIY space and into a pure garden centre, with an emphasis on plants.
Marshall said Wyevale’s bank HBOS was being “very supportive”, providing £70m for garden centre renovations for the next three years. “It’s a measure of the bank’s support,” said Marshall.
This year Wyevale’s largest shareholder Sir Tom Hunter struck a debt-for-equity swap with HBOS to get the retailer on sounder footing. His stake was diluted from 40 per cent to 25 per cent. Wyevale’s £500m debt was halved.
Wyevale’s new Gardening Club loyalty scheme has recruited 300,000 members in six weeks. The retailer is also in the middle of rebranding every garden centre to its local name, and is mulling moving its head office from Slough to be located at one of its centres.