Evergreen Garden Care is one of the largest manufacturers in the garden retail market, supplying a whole range or garden care products. During this coronavirus crisis, much of the pubic are discovering or rediscovering a love for their garden, so we catch up with Mark Portman, MD of Evergreen Garden Care to see what the business is doing to keep Britain gardening.
Evergreen Garden Care currently employs around 200 staff in the UK, and, so far, 30 have been furloughed. The field sales team, due to the fact that garden centres are closed, have been placed on the Job Retention Scheme, but the majority of the workforce remains active. This is reviewed bi-weekly and any changes that need to be made, will be.
Around 50% of Evergreen Garden Care’s customer base is the UK’s garden centres, so half of their customer base was thrown into chaos when the lockdown rules came into place. But Mark explains that the disruption could’ve been worse for the business: “It’s the most challenging five or six weeks I’ve ever had in terms of employment, and I think that’s the same for any manufacturer, and certainly for any retailer. We were set up well for the season, and then this has hit us. The garden centres and DIY chains closed three and a half weeks ago, so more than 50% of our customer base has closed down, and we see that reflected in terms of the demand that we are experiencing. We have seen some increase as there are quite a few other companies looking to try and sell more product online. We’re working with them, but we’re also recognising that we shouldn’t make decisions today that could damage our business in the future in terms of our relationships with garden centres.”
There’s good news for the garden retailers though, Evergreen Garden Care has kept its manufacturing plants open, although measures have been put into place to control the spread of coronavirus. Mark says: “We’ve had to make changes in terms of our manufacturing. We’re focusing on our key products, so we’ve got that availability. We had plans to tailor our portfolio, but we’ve parked that for the next four or five weeks and just focus on making sure we’ve got availability on our core products. The first thing we do, and our first priority when the crisis hit, was employee safety. We moved to home working, we spaced out the way the lines are set up in the factory. We’ve got thermometer checks when you come on-site, more hand sanitisers on site. We stopped all third-party visitors coming in other than the deliveries of raw materials and wagons taking finished goods out.
And Mark has reserved special praise for the spirit of the garden centres. He says: “. What we’ve seen with the independent garden centres is they closed and then, as always with them they’re so entrepreneurial, we’ve seen pop-up shops in car parks, and trading online and on the telephone. We’ve been talking to our customers and we’ve been looking to work with them around how we can serve them as best as possible. What we’ve seen particularly in the last 4 or 5 weeks is a big spike in growing media and compost.”
Mark is optimistic about the rest of this year. He believes the season can save itself if garden centres are open by the middle of May, and put this prediction down to the fact that we’ve previously suffered snow at Easter and freezing weather at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in previous years.
He’s also optimistic about the changes that have been enforced on working practices. Programmes like Zoom and Skype have made it easier and more acceptable to work from home, and technological advancements have meant Mark sees a future moving even further online. He explains: “The acceleration of technology was happening anyway, so we’ll continue to see the acceleration in investment in digital marketing. We’ll also see a great adoption and acceptance of more remote working. On a personal level, I miss being in the office and the interaction with people, but at the same time, I don’t miss my two and a half hour round trip commute. We’ll see a more hybrid type of working.”
And when the pandemic is over, Mark has confirmed his support towards the garden retail industry. The business will continue to be seen at the UK’s largest and most popular trade events such as Glee and the GCA Conference, and the industry can still expect the product innovation from Evergreen Garden Care for years to come.