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Love in bents years on Bents Garden Centre is now the size of a village and is run by the third generation of the same family. Bents runs a massive operation. It covers a acre site, employs upwards of staff and attracts around 1. But despite such proactive and innovative efforts to make it an all-year-round destination, managing director Matthew Bent admits success and failure is still at the whim of the temperamental British weather. This winter has been terrible, so we are hoping for a decent April and May.
It started through a simple but profound love of gardening where day after day Alfred and Margaret Bent would tend to the roses they grew and sold. The Second World War put the brakes on the business, but it took off again and the Bents bought some land nearby and started growing rows and rows of roses. Although the sulphur from nearby industrial Leigh was a health hazard for residents, it was fantastic for the roses.
By things had got more serious. Alfred and Margaret bought a shop and in the early 50s snapped up a further 16 acres of land where growing began on a larger scale. The decade saw the Bent family business specialise predominantly in rose bushes, but also fruit trees, ornamental trees and bone meal as well as a small range of additional gardening products.
Despite the growth, trading was tough and seasonal. The fields were still weeded by hand with everything planted in winter or spring, so earnings had to last all year round. This really affected the business and forced the decision to diversify into selling seeds, compost and exotic plants, bedding plants and hanging basket plants.
By the early s 13 people were working on the site — which covered 55 acres. In John and Ron bought the business from their parents and triggered two decades of ificant growth as it changed to meet demand. One of the biggest decisions they made was building their own water storage facility to become self-sufficient.
The lake eventually provided a capacity for around three-million gallons and to this day, is filled by redirecting all drainage water from the nursery. By the end of the s business was booming, but it was still a seasonal affair, so Ron and John started looking at Christmas for a trading boost. They started by selling Christmas trees and then moved to selling decorations, setting up a company called Christmas Decorations Wholesale, to get access to trade fairs. Bents not only bought for themselves but also sold to other centres; some of which were sceptical about the concept. Garden centres over the region were buying Christmas trees and decoration and racing back because they had sold out.
What started as an initiative to increase sales during the quieter, non-growing seasons has now turned into a year-round commitment and Bents now has a dedicated Christmas team who travel the world to source decorations which completely transform the centre during the months of October to December.
It was the introduction of food and catering on site which went on to change the face of the industry for ever. By Ron and John had built their first purpose-built garden centre Love in bents within two years plans were in place for a cafe which was a huge success. It has become a leisure destination with its dinosaur crazy golf course and play area for the children.
Future plans for Bents include the further transformation of the existing centre, creating a larger contemporary retail space with a two-storey glazed atrium and escalators leading up to 3, sq m of retail, leisure and educational space. We have seen costs go up, which means we have to pass that on to customers. Labour costs, wages, have gone up.
The internet has made things harder. It means we have to be about more than just shopping for the garden. We need to develop Bents to keep encouraging people to come and visit us. Matthew isn't alone in his task. His three sisters are also involved in the business: Helen, marketing; Katherine, HR and Love in bents, Christmas and visual merchandising.
Meanwhile their father Ron is chairman and is still involved with the overall strategy for the business. In the meantime, the Bents will continue to be the family who checks the weather forecast more than most. By Stuart Greer. Subscribe We use your -up to provide content in ways you've consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info. Thank you for subscribing We have more newsletters Show me See our privacy notice.
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