Following a year of uncertainty and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Notcutts has now resumed their programme of garden centre improvements and redevelopments.
The 2020/21 financial year ending in February saw Notcutts Group Ltd make capital improvements of just £835k, which was largely for completion works on restaurant projects in Ditchling (East Sussex) and Woodbridge (Suffolk), compared to £9.2m in the previous year.
Nick Burrows, CEO of Notcutts, commented: “We are delighted that we can now get back on track with completing our company-wide redevelopment programme. Work is now underway with phase two of our three phase development at our Woodbridge garden centre, where a new external planteria canopy is being constructed along with a new customer entrance, a surface water attenuation scheme and improved customer parking. This project will complement the new, extended restaurant that was completed a matter of weeks before the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 and the woodland nature walk which we opened in 2019.”
Mr Burrows added: “At our Solihull garden centre, work will commence on a new glasshouse in November this year which will substantially increase our covered planteria, allowing us to offer customers wider plant selections over an extended season. It follows recent improvements made to the restaurant and car parking at this garden centre.
“We also secured planning permission for a substantial redevelopment of our Oxford garden centre in 2019. Having paused work on this project during the height of the pandemic, design work has now restarted for the multi-million pound redevelopment of this garden centre which will include a new planteria canopy, a new restaurant, extended retail space and a doubling of the car park size. It is expected that work will commence on this major project early in 2022.”
A number of other development projects, commenced or in the pipeline, will see further improvements at garden centres in St Albans, Dukeries (near Worksop) and Ashton Park (Ashton-under-Lyne).
The emergence of COVID-19 in 2020, as with other operators in the sector, had an impact on Notcutts’ performance in 2020/21. The effect of government-enforced closures of both retail and restaurant operations during the year saw Notcutts’ turnover decline by 15.6 per cent to £64.25m. In response to the sharp decline in sales volume, a restructuring and reorganisation exercise was undertaken to rationalise the cost base of the Group. These cost savings together with government initiatives, primarily business rates relief and the coronovirus job retention scheme, alongside an adapted approach to sales promotion strategy and a strong performance through the e-commerce channel, helped deliver an operating profit of £2.27m. This was an improvement of 32.1 per cent on the previous year. Land disposals during the year, including the Hazeldens former nursey, yielded gains of £5.223m. Profit after tax was £4.375m.
Commenting further on the past year, CEO Nick Burrows said: “Like others in the sector and the wider economy we had to respond and adapt quickly to the changing circumstances of the pandemic. A focus on colleague welfare and communication was our top priority, together with the provision of safe shopping and restaurant environments for customers in our garden centres for the periods when we were permitted to open. We worked hard to maintain our excellent supplier relationships which have been built up over many years, and this helped us achieve good supply flows during a challenging period. We also took the decision to move all our marketing to digital channels and to host our customer talks and presentations by video and online streaming. Our e-commerce channel had been operating effectively before the pandemic and this served us very well during the year as many customers switched to buying from us online.”
Caroline Notcutt, Vice Chairman, commented: “Maintaining morale throughout the year was very important to us and we endeavoured to ensure this extended to both our colleagues and the local communities in which we play a part. Plant donations and support to a variety of community groups were an important part of our programme last year.”
Bridget McIntyre, Chairman, added “As my first year with Notcutts, this was clearly no typical year. I am pleased with the resilience and dedication shown across the company at each and every level. I was also especially impressed with the influential role of the Horticultural Trade Association and Garden Centre Association which enabled gardening to be better understood for its crucial role in supporting mental health and wellbeing in such a demanding time for everyone.”