Published: 19 June 2013
The Story of Homebase at Chelsea
Leading retailer Homebase was awarded a top medal for their show garden at Chelsea. We go behind the scenes with the people who made it happen.
The huge multiple retail chains are not often thought of as being associated with world class gardening activities. The image of stacking high and selling cheap is one that many are trying to distance themselves from.

One such company is Homebase and at the recent RHS Chelsea Flower Show they took another leap forward by winning the ultimate accolade in gardening, a gold medal for their show garden.
Much media attention has already been given to the garden, which is of course what the company hoped for, however in this article I am interested not only in the finished garden but in the people involved and how their involvement would benefit the stores and their customers.

Preparing for Chelsea

This project was more than a year long journey for designer Adam Frost. It included the detailed design, the research and sourcing for every aspect of the garden build plus being directly involved with store staff. 
Multi award winning garden designer Adam Frost was commissioned to design and project manage the garden.
From the early planning stages it was suggested that a group of garden centre staff would be involved in the build up, and also attend during the show itself. An early meeting with twenty staff took place on a cold, snowy day at Barnsdale Gardens in Rutland where Adam Frost has his offices. 

Here they were introduced to the concept and the plans for the garden and told what was expected from them; they were also shown many of the plants being specially grown in the glasshouses at Barnsdale. This was the first time most of the staff had been involved in such a project but they all entered into it with great enthusiasm.
Adam commented, ‘They all showed a real commitment and enthusiasm for the project, which was a great start for us working together,’ he continued, ‘Doing a Chelsea garden will be a great experience that they can take back to their stores, having been a part of it, and share it with colleagues and customers.’

One member of staff in the team was Scott Fraser, garden centre team leader at the Glenrothes store who said, ‘I was really excited about going to Chelsea as my grandma is a big fan of the show, so for me to go meant a lot to me’.

Building the Garden

CEO, Paul Loft [on right] commented that ‘I feel this is the garden that is closest to what Homebase does and goes to a new level that will give staff and customers confidence.’
During the garden build at the Chelsea site, the same twenty Homebase staff rolled up their sleeves to be hands on garden builders alongside the professional contractors. The tasks they carried out ranged from unloading and checking plants for quality, positioning plants ready for planting and helping with ground preparation to achieve the exacting details demanded at such a world class event. 
Certainly Adam Frost was impressed with their efforts by saying, ‘They all showed commitment and got stuck in, some staying on late to complete the task they were set.’ This sentiment was echoed by Jim Buttress who was closely involved in the construction and planting of the garden.
All the staff have been encouraged to go back to their stores and pass on their new knowledge and enthusiasm to their colleagues so as many people as possible felt part of the project.
Customer service assistant Michael Adams from the York store highlighted this point by saying, ‘I can return to my store and share the lessons from Chelsea with colleagues and customers. It’s exciting to say to customers that we have the [same] plants that appeared in the Chelsea garden, and to suggest things we wouldn’t normally do, like mixing vegetables and plants together rather than having them separate.’
The quality and attention to detail within the finished garden was of the highest standard, hence the gold medal.

Stimulating Interest

One of the key objectives of the show garden was to stimulate interest in the Homebase product and plant ranges that customers can see in the stores. 
Part of the Chelsea Collection display by Brendon Drewitt from the garden centre team at the Frome store in Somerset.
Those who saw the finished garden at the show, or on television may question the fact that no Homebase stores sell mature specimen plants, oak beehives or large timber arbours so where is the connection?  

I think the message from Homebase is that if you visit a store after seeing the show garden you will see smaller plants available in their ‘Chelsea Collection’ plus many other products that could be equally effective, especially when used in smaller gardens; but they would not have the huge price tag attached that the show items do! The show garden was there to inspire ideas, not to be recreated in its entirety. When visiting their stores many of the plants will be available, these can be used in different ways and in different locations but still achieve a pleasing result for customers. 
The show garden was also about stimulating customer interest and enthusiasm so they spend more time outside and also feel part of their own gardens, plus encouraging more interaction with the living world. Certainly the comments from the garden centre staff who were involved are all positive.

James Baldwin, operations team leader at the Eastleigh store with proof of winning a gold medal.
Cheryl Wattam, customer service assistant from Bradford commented, ‘I have already had experience at other flower shows, but to have been able to have attend the RHS Chelsea Flower Show was fantastic.’
Hearing these comments from staff makes me think that it is this aspect of gaining greater knowledge and enthusiasm that will lead to improved customer service that customers will also pickup on when visiting Homebase stores.

Homebase should be congratulated not only for their gold medal garden but also for the commitment to their staff, who were given a great opportunity to be directly involved in the world’s greatest flower show. 

 The final words should go to Bredbury store team leader, Claire Potts who said, ‘The fact that I was at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show talking about a garden I contributed to is great for my C.V and it was an honour to take part.’
My thanks to all the Homebase staff for their comments quoted above, plus Adam Manning from the Homebase PR company for arranging visits and interviews.
Reported by Chris Allen  

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