Braehead garden centre takes Dobbies back to roots

01 Dec 2009

Dobbies is planning to create a new garden centre at Braehead in Renfrew - the town where James Dobbie started his horticultural business in 1865.

The company, now owned by Tesco, has unveiled plans for a £10 million investment that will see a 45,000 sq ft outlet created next to Ikea at the shopping centre.

Dobbies has 25 outlets in the UK. The proposed garden centre is a replacement for the company's smaller centre at Dykebar, on the outskirts of Paisley, which is on land earmarked for housing.

Dobbies director of properties, Stuart Wright, said: "The proposed Dobbies Garden World at Braehead will give the people of Renfrewshire and the surrounding area the very best garden centre."

If it goes ahead the centre will create 120 full and part-time jobs. Staff at Dykebar, described as a more traditional centre, will be offered posts at the new outlet.

"We are also keen to play our part in the local community with new jobs, opportunities for local companies to provide us with goods and services, and gardening demonstrations and a children's club encouraging them to take an interest in gardening," said Mr Wright.

In June last year the company hit the headlines when Sir Tom Hunter sold his 29% stake in the chain to Tesco for £35m after an abortive takeover battle that cost him £9m.

While many retail operators have suffered during the recession, Dobbies seems to be weathering the storm.

Milngavie Dobbies manager John Paterson, who has been with the company for three years, has noticed changes in customer behaviour over the last 12 months. "The biggest thing has been the increase in the Grow Your Own range; that's been one of our biggest growth markets this year," he said. "Garden centres in general have benefited from the fact that people are more eco-conscious and self-sufficient. We've done a lot of work on promoting that."

In May this year Dobbies announced £1m sales of the range or 82% like-for-like growth on last year. Plant sales are also up in Milngavie, according to Mr Paterson, who believes customers are focusing on enhancing their homes during the recession instead of moving. However, it would seem that plants are only part of the appeal of the garden centre.

"It's becoming more of a leisure experience; it's much more a destination. You get people from all over the Greater Glasgow area. People come here to shop but it's a place where they can do it at a nice easy pace," he said.

Mr Paterson said he is not worried about customers being lured away to Braehead. "They can both exist quite easily, I don't see it being too much of a problem," he explained. "We have customers who don't wish to go to Braehead. We've got a different clientele here including people from the north of Scotland and others who travel from Argyll."

Students Emma Bicker and Karen Raeburn were yesterday at the Milngavie centre to find their tree. "I come here with my gran quite a lot. We go to the cafe," said Karen, 22, of Anniesland. "The fact it's out in the countryside means that you get a bit of a run as well. My mum comes up from Strathaven and gets quite a lot of Christmas presents."

Dobbies was founded 144 years ago by James Dobbie, a keen amateur horticulturist whose full-time job was Chief Constable and Public Prosecutor in Renfrew.

Dobbie started the company with 16 ounces of seeds from a leek, which he sold under the name 'Dobbies Champion', and they sold out in two days. Encouraged, Dobbie started to take a more professional interest in seed-growing and propagation.

But tragically, just before his 50th birthday in 1866, the son he hoped would run the business died. As a result, Dobbie resigned his post as Chief Constable and Public Prosecutor and devoted himself entirely to J. Dobbie Choice Seeds and Flowers.

An exhibition about the proposed garden centre will be at Braehead Shopping Centre on December 10.

Reproduced with the permission of the Herald and Times Group.

  • Plans unveiled for a new outlet next to Ikea