“It’s the people that make up the business that are the most important thing.”

Meet New Hopetoun Gardens – one of the astonishing businesses who through the pandemic found new ways to manage unexpected challenges and increased demand. Find out how.  

When New Hopetoun Gardens in Broxburn was initially forced to close its doors to the public last year, they understandably underestimated the impact on the business. As lockdown became more permanent, pressure grew on how to manage a closed business and in particular the emotions surrounding who to keep on as a core team.

In another unexpected twist, another challenge they faced due to lockdown was one of demand. In a reverse of what most businesses experienced in the region, demand actually went up.  How to manage that – whilst in the middle of a pandemic – was therefore at the heart of their lockdown learnings.

What they did differently during lockdown:

“Who’d have thought our biggest support would come from the competition.”

Keeping in close contact with the competition. The garden centre business community, through their links to the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), are seen as one big extended family. They all shared supporting information on supply chains and general advice and using at its peak three separate WhatsApp groups. With a sense of ‘friendly rivalry’ the power of collaboration drove a renewed sense of community. 

Deliveries. This was a real exercise in keeping it simple. To protect sales they actually reduced the ways customers could order. This meant all orders could be met, keeping those in desperate need of garden improvements on their side for the long term. With this single-minded approach they managed at their peak to deliver 15 orders a day to customers across Edinburgh. 

Using social media as an advertising tool. They used Facebook and Instagram to advertise their delivery service and products, as well as new formats such as Facebook live for their ‘Talk no tea’ initiative. The advertising worked so well it would only take 5 to 10 minutes after the weekly Monday morning post for the phone lines to start ringing with people trying to place orders.

Embracing technology. They were particularly worried about staff morale and whether they were coping with lockdown. Using WhatsApp and emails to keep in touch with their staff on a regular basis meant they could digitally replicate the contact that came so naturally when the centre was open, strengthening the confidence in the sense of team.

Adopting a flexible approach to job roles. Like many businesses, they tried to keep on as many staff as possible, even if that meant shuffling people around. They managed to keep eight full-time staff working with many exposed to learning so much more about the business, even if that meant the chef ending up with green fingers working on the garden centre shop floor.

Looking forward:

“If there’s one thing we’ll do more of in the future, it’s talk.”

It’s clear that the biggest learning curve for the centre was just how important communication within the business is. As an employee ownership trust and in a similar vein to speaking with the local garden centre community, they are determined to focus on leading as a whole rather than from the top, increasing the cohesiveness between the staff and the two businesses: tea rooms and gardens.

Adding to that a newfound faith in what technology and social media can do to promote connectivity and augment their advertising potential, the future could be smelling of roses sooner than they thought.

Good news for future business growth, and good news for Edinburgh gardens everywhere.

Person holding a pox of plants in a garden centre

Morag Macrae, joint owner, New Hopetoun Gardens

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