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SPONSORED CONTENT: Simpsons Garden Centre confident as it invests in the future


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Simpsons Garden Centre, Inshes, Inverness Picture: Callum Mackay.
Simpsons Garden Centre, Inshes, Inverness Picture: Callum Mackay.

Sponsored Content by: Simpsons Garden Centre, Inverness

The last 20 months have been a tough period for businesses of all kinds, but for Simpsons Garden Centre, it has also provided an opportunity to press on with plans for the future.

Construction is well under way on a 20,000sq ft extension, which will create a dramatic new entrance to a location which has become more than just a garden centre since it opened 21years ago.

The £1.5 million investment is not the only confident sign in the future for a company which started life in Inverness at the start of the millennium. A year ago Simpsons expanded with the purchase of a garden centre in Aberdeenshire.

Simpsons Garden Centre, Inshes, Inverness..Andrew Simpson...Picture: Callum Mackay..
Simpsons Garden Centre, Inshes, Inverness..Andrew Simpson...Picture: Callum Mackay..

These investments are a sign of Simpsons’ optimism in the future of the business, even though managing director Andrew Simpson admitted that at one point it was difficult to see any kind of future in retail at all, as lockdown took effect.

“Before lockdown, even on weekdays you would see a busy car park, and the garden centre a hive of activity, so to see it when the place was empty was really difficult,” he said.

“This has been my journey for over 20 years, and to see this threat to something you are so passionate about was just heartbreaking.”

The 2020 lockdown could also not have come at a worse time for the garden sector.

Simpsons has expanded into Aberdeenshire with the purchase of the former Happy Plant garden centre in Mintlaw.
Simpsons has expanded into Aberdeenshire with the purchase of the former Happy Plant garden centre in Mintlaw.

“In the middle of March, when we were forced to close, our stock levels were at their peak and fully charged for the season ahead,” Andrew said.

Had he not been through a similar challenge before, just as the centre was deep into its pre-build plans when the business was faced with the impact of the 2008 financial crash, Andrew acknowledged that he might have found the situation overwhelming.

“If we hadn’t already got through that, I don’t know if I’d have been able to roll my sleeves up and get through this one,” he said.

“We managed to get an online sales operation up and running very quickly and that, thankfully, was extremely popular. We were able to provide a much-needed service across Inverness and the surrounding area, which was hugely popular with our customers. We were still closed for the three most important months of the year, so we took a big financial hit.”

Simpsons Garden Centre, Inshes, Inverness Managing Director Andrew Simpson with some of his staff. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Simpsons Garden Centre, Inshes, Inverness Managing Director Andrew Simpson with some of his staff. Picture: Callum Mackay.

The situation was not helped by supermarkets and other larger retailers who were able to remain open as essential traders, but also being able to sell plants, compost and gardening products, while Simpsons and other garden centres were forced to stay closed.

Being able to reopen in June, helped by the good weather of last summer, enabled Simpsons to enjoy a reasonable season, before Covid restrictions forced the garden centre to close again after Christmas, leading to another four months of closure in 2021.

During lockdown people were forced to stay at home and spend time in their outdoor space, they came to appreciate their gardens more than ever. In fact it has been reported that three million people were new to gardening in 2020, with nearly 49 per cent of those being under 45.

Andrew said: “People now accept, despite the Scottish weather, they can spend time in the garden enjoy a glass of wine or a barbecue and the sun doesn’t have to be baking hot in the sky. A lot of people have added covers and fire pits, so they can sit outside and enjoy their outdoor space. It’s great to see so many people enjoying their gardens with friends and family. That gave us a lot of positivity about the future.”

An artist's impression of the new extension.
An artist's impression of the new extension.

The company was able to look ahead and make some significant decisions, including the purchase of the Aberdeenshire garden centre and the continued development of Simpsons Inverness.

The reduction in footfall at Inverness meant Simpsons was able to advance its construction plans at the site without any negative impact on day-to-day sales.

“All our planning and building warrant consents were in place, and with construction costs forecast to increase dramatically, the time was right for us to get going.” Andrew said.

“The new entrance will give customers the ability to socially distance undercover. We knew when we were faced with a pandemic that it wasn’t going to be over in a couple of months and the idea was to make sure that we still had enough outdoor space for customers to be able to enjoy the experience.

“This is something we have been dreaming about for the last five years.

An artist's impression of the new extension.
An artist's impression of the new extension.

“Our vision is to create the feeling of an undercover street. On either side there will be points of interest, including plants and the other ranges that we sell, enhancing the customer journey with each season – beginning under the canopy.

“The new entrance takes our plant offering right to the start of that customer journey. There’s nothing more enjoyable than being surrounded by plants, so a welcoming environment like that is the perfect introduction to what we do.

“What we are trying to create is more than a garden centre. It’s a destination that is very much embedded in the community where everyone can come and experience a different and welcoming environment, whether they’ve come for new plants, a cup of coffee or to browse our food hall.”

A major turning point for the centre, making it a visitor experience and not just a retail destination, was the investment in the garden centre and restaurant in 2010, with its spectacular views towards the Black Isle.

Simpsons Garden Centre, Inshes, Inverness..Emma Cameron and Mike Dignan...Picture: Callum Mackay..
Simpsons Garden Centre, Inshes, Inverness..Emma Cameron and Mike Dignan...Picture: Callum Mackay..

Today a Simpsons customer may be visiting for much more than some new plants or a cup of coffee and a cake.

From furniture for both indoors or out, its pet section as well as a fantastic gift and homeware department, there is plenty to choose from, with satisfied shoppers returning home after purchasing anything from a book to a garden shed.

“We have become very diverse alongside our gardening offering,” Andrew said.

“From the food hall to the fish keeper section, we are creating an environment where our customers can enjoy spending two or three hours with us. Quite often someone comes in for an apple tree, then often goes out with a birthday card and a candle at the same time.”

Simpsons is gearing up for another important part of its year, when the shop is transformed for the Christmas season.

Ongoing Covid concerns mean that the centre will forgo their usual Winter Wonderland extravaganza, instead retaining the amazing VR sleigh ride which was introduced in 2020. The full festive Winter Wonderland experience will return in 2022.

“As a local business, we feel very much a part of the community and want to support it as much as we can,” Andrew said.

Simpsons Garden Centre, Inshes, Inverness Picture: Callum Mackay.
Simpsons Garden Centre, Inshes, Inverness Picture: Callum Mackay.

“We have really loyal customers who enjoy the unique shopping experience that we provide that a multiple can’t. We are all about individuality and that is something a multiple can’t duplicate.”

Simpsons also benefits from a loyal award-winning team, with some 160 staff across its two sites, although Andrew expects to see that increase by a further 30 by spring 2022.

“We are very lucky to have the workforce that we have, and without them the business would not be the success it is. This became evident with their huge support and hard work by pulling together during lockdown, for which I cannot thank them enough,” he continued.

“We have a fantastic core team, many of whom have been with us a long time, we’re also excited to welcome the new and younger generation into the business, who have a lot to offer and learn from the industry. Some of the younger staff we have here have really made a huge contribution.

“That’s really important because it is vital to get young people interested and engaged to keep the business fresh and exciting.”

Digital marketing executive Lucy Taylor. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Digital marketing executive Lucy Taylor. Picture: Callum Mackay.

During the pandemic, the business saw a 35 per cent drop in turnover. However, after significant investment, next year’s turnover is on track to achieving £11 million.

Simpsons future plans do not end there, however.

“The economy is going through a shift and the biggest challenge now is adding to our already talented workforce and sourcing products through a difficult supply chain, but we do see a positive future for our industry and our centres,” Andrew said.

“Going forward, adding additional garden centres is never too far away from our thoughts. As the Scottish Destination Garden Centre of the year, we believe we have a good formula and would like to take this elsewhere.”

simpsons-new-logo
simpsons-new-logo

Simpsons Garden Centre, Inverness IV2 5BA

T: 01463 250 200

E: info@simpsonsgc.co.uk

www.simpsonsgardencentre.co.uk


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