How to Grow a Business

Guernsey’s Blue Diamond Group has blossomed into one of the UK’s biggest garden centre operators with a predicted £150 million turnover over the next 12 months. Its success, as Will Green found out, is down in no small part to visionary cultivation by its managing director Alan Roper

‘A garden requires patient labour and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfil good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.’

It might be a quote from an American horticulturalist, Liberty Hyde Bailey, about gardens – but it neatly sums up the singular vision and dedication of Alan Roper to growing the Blue Diamond Group, which is proud of its Guernsey roots and retains its headquarters on the island.

When he joined the company as its retail director in 1999, turnover was around £7.9m. on the garden centres. Turnover over the next 12 months, is expected to exceed £150m.

The company has also recently completed a £40 million-plus deal to buy nine former Wyevale garden centres in the UK. Blue Diamond will have a total of 30 stores by the end of September 2018 – 28 in the UK as well as its St Peter centre in Jersey and Le Friquet in Guernsey. Overall headcount will increase to around 2,700 people, of whom 150 are in Guernsey.

Further growth is also predicted to come online as the recently acquired garden centres are given the Blue Diamond touch. Annual turnover is expected to go over £200 million  within the next five years, which could make the group the second biggest garden centre operator in the UK.

So, what’s the story behind the success of a company that has its origins in the Fruit Export Company founded in 1904? The answer lies in the seed of an idea by the man now heading Blue Diamond and the implementation of that vision.

A blossoming business

The story begins 23 years ago, with Alan opening a new-build garden centre in the Cotswolds in the UK. Built with private equity money, it had a seemingly simple concept at its heart – a retail offering that grabbed the attention of ‘aspirational’ consumers.

‘I developed an AB1 concept. So we had the gardening, we had the home offer, we had the children’s offer. We had a 200-seater restaurant, which at the time was really unusual, all home cooked food. It was all very much an AB1 offer because in the Cotswolds where it was based, we had the mothers in their four-wheel drives taking their kids to private school. So I aimed for that market,’ says Alan.

‘The shares were valued at £1 when we set it up and then we sold it three years later for £2.97 per share. So, we effectively trebled the investors’ money and I did put some money into it as well.’

At this point, it just so happened that Alan and Blue Diamond’s paths then crossed via the regional garden centre association. He began working with Blue Diamond on using data to add value to their offering. Getting to know them, he then set out his bigger vision to the group.

You can read the full interview in the October 2018 issue of Business Brief