Recovery in bloom at garden centre supplier

A horticulture supplier aiming to capitalise on the reopening of garden centres has traded through COVID-19 with the support of a £500,000 loan.

BHGS has seen demand slump since the coronavirus hit the UK as its customers – including independent garden centres, National Trust estates and growers – cancelled or deferred orders.

Revenues are down by about 30% in the past three months, normally BHGS’s busiest period as people gear up for summer. The company has been forced to furlough nine people from its 60-strong workforce.

But now, buoyed by the easing of some lockdown measures, the Worcestershire-based company is hoping to return to normality. Garden centres have reopened in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, though they remain closed in Scotland.

BHGS has secured a £500,000 loan from Lloyds Bank via the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) along with an increased overdraft facility, should it be required.

The extra liquidity has allowed it to offer flexibility on payments to customers, some of whom were due at this week’s Chelsea Flower Show before the event was made virtual.

The company supplies products including pots and containers, fruit and vegetable packaging and gardening tools to customers across the UK. It also sells direct to the public from its garden centres in Evesham, Chichester and Hayle in Cornwall, and has been offering a delivery service during lockdown.

BHGS was founded in 1908, originally as a cooperative of local growers. Though it demutualised in 2001, it remains owned by about 500 small shareholders, most of whom are in the horticulture industry.

Turnover rose to £14.1m in 2019 from £12.8m in the previous year, boosted by customer wins.

Nigel Letherbarrow, group company secretary, said: “So far it has been horticulture’s annus horribilis with COVID-19 coming at the worst possible time. The spring months are usually our busiest, with both our wholesale and retail customers buying supplies as they prepare for summer. That has been difficult in lockdown.

“The Lloyds Bank loan has been crucial. As well as helping with our own cashflow, it means we’ve been able to support customers who have struggled with their payments. We remain a business with a cooperative ethos so it’s really important to us that we’re loyal to those we supply and offer them help in any way we can.”

Mark Smith, relationship director at Lloyds Bank, added: “BHGS is a pillar of the community in its Worcestershire heartlands so we were keen to do all we could to arrange some additional financial support during COVID-19. It’s great news that, with most garden centres now reopen, it can begin to generate revenues at this crucial time of year for everyone in horticulture.”

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