At the recent Nursery and Garden Industry Awards in Melbourne, Queensland’s Brookfield Garden Centre was awarded both ‘Industry Business of the Year’ and ‘Large Retailer of the Year’. I happen to know this garden centre very well as its my ‘local’ – the nearest garden centre where I can get my garden fix. For years the site in the western suburbs of Brisbane was run down and over grown. The eight years ago, it was reborn, when owners Robin and Scott McLay purchased the business. From that time, it has gone from strength to strength.
However it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. I first met Robin and Scott at a Horticultural Media event at the centre in 2011. This was shortly after the floods devastated Brisbane. We were all dumbfounded by what had occurred and how quickly they had opened the doors to the public again.
Located adjacent to a tributary of the Moggill Creek and in a low-lying area, the nursery was devastated by flooding and all the stock was destroyed. Robin recalls:
“it was heart-breaking to have to throw away every plant. Neighbours returned pots and plants that had floated streets away”.
The floods completely submerged the main building and even flooded the restaurant building on the hillside above. 100 local volunteers helped with the massive clean up. Today it is hard to imagine such devastation.
A recent addition to the site is the ‘botanical bistro’ Wild Canary, which has just celebrated its first birthday and has become an icon in the local dining scene. Diners can sit inside the building or outside on the terrace, beneath the old Canary Island date palm (the ‘Wild Canary’) in the shaded courtyard. Open 7 days a week, the restaurant draws diners from all over Brisbane.
Chef Glen Barratt, ensures there are lots of delectable and irresistible items on the menu. Glen is a great fit as, like Robin, he is a passionate gardener and maintains his own ever-extending vegetable garden at the family home in Samford.
Unlike many other garden centre restaurants (which are run by tenants), Wild Canary is owned and managed by the McLays. Robin considers that the garden centre and restaurant impact upon one another and it is thus important to have input into the direction of both businesses.
Between Wild Canary and the garden centre are the organic vegetable and herb gardens, chockablock full of fresh produce. You will see staff out there picking herbs and vegetables for the restaurant. These gardens are used as the focus for regular workshops and demonstrate how to grow superb vegetables all year round in subtropical Brisbane.
So what makes a great garden centre? As any retailer will attest, it’s a lot harder to grow a business these days. Not only do garden centres have to compete with the big box retailers, but also with online retailers and nurseries who deliver plants and product to the door.
However Brookfield Garden Centre is buzzing every time I visit, and I sometimes have to go to the back of the car park to locate a parking space. The plants look fresh, are well presented and grouped to complement one another. There is a lot of cross merchandising – pots with plants, pest netting near vegetables etc. These displays provide inspiration and give customers ideas for their own gardens. Robin likes to keep it fresh and focus on new release plants and products. She suggested I come and take photos on Friday when the fresh stock had been set on display. She was right, it looked fabulous but by the end of the weekend there will be a lot less stock on display.
Over recent years the garden centre has started to provide branded products. The specially blended potting mix is very popular, and they have released their own cards, candles, and tea towels, with more products planned for the future.
The friendly staff obviously enjoy working at the Brookfield Garden Centre and they know their regular customers by name. They are qualified horticulturists and have been provided with additional on-the-job training. When the centre opened they had 4 staff, today they have 60. Robyn believes that each staff member has expertise in different areas and the secret to their success is “recognizing this expertise and letting them run with it”.
April Simpson manages the marketing for the business. This is done entirely on-line using social media – facebook, instagram, a blog, and Youtube videos. They feature new plants and products, seasonal gardening tips, and notices of regular events.
This marketing is aimed at younger gardeners (particularly 20-30 year old women), using snippets and images for inspiration. The focus is on a destination-based experience – the restaurant, the gardens and the garden centre.
Robin is passionate about the industry and considers that garden retailing has a great future. She believes that the public is crying out for inspiration for their gardens and interiors. However she also considers that retailers must move with the times and continue improving their businesses.
“The industry moves at a fast pace and what is new now, will be dated in 12 months time”.
This positivity filters through to the staff and the public.
If you are a keen gardener and live in, or are visiting Brisbane, head out to the western suburbs and check out the Brookfield Garden Centre for some fresh inspiration, a good coffee or a delicious meal.