Garden centre brand expanding beyond its roots

EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Rachel Doyle, Arboretum

Arboretum founder Rachel Doyle

Arboretum founder Rachel Doyle

 

In 1977, Rachel Doyle set up her garden centre brand, the Arboretum, from her back garden. Today, Arboretum is a modern family business employing 90 people that has expanded beyond its roots in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow.

Ms Doyle’s brand now also has a store in Co Wicklow at the National Garden Exhibition Centre. Despite the ongoing expansion, Ms Doyle says “I honestly don’t believe I work”.

The company is in the process of scoping out a third site to grow the brand and, as e-commerce becomes increasingly important in this sector, Ms Doyle is focusing on improving the customer experience.

For her, gardening and horticulture is a passion from which she has grown a business and although her sons are now at the helm, she’s still heavily involved in the running of the brand she established.

Aside from developing and growing the garden centre brand, Ms Doyle sits on the board of the horticultural division of Bord Bia. In her spare time she tends to her own garden.

What was your light bulb moment that prompted you to start up in business?

I returned to college to study commercial horticulture at the age of 22 and achieved a first-class honours, not because I was particularly bright, but because I was passionate about nature, trees, plants and everything under the umbrella of horticulture. I had thought about opening a florist but decided to follow my dream and open a garden centre. My passion and self-belief led to the first raised plant beds in our half acre back garden. My garage became my shop and my potting shed. I loved it.

What was your back to the wall moment and how did you overcome it?

The development of the M9 motorway meant our business was physically bypassed. We knew it would affect business at Arboretum Leighlinbridge, but we didn’t realise just how devastating it would be. Literally no customers came.

We decided to rethink the catering offer and our phased action plan involved the revamp of the cafe, rebrand of Arboretum and a refit and redesign of the store. In the depth of the recession, we spent €750,000 revamping the cafe. I believed the phrase “build it and they will come”.

What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?

Our decision to sell the site in Carlow town to Aldi and move back to a 10-acre, green field site in Leighlinbridge was a definite turning point. We had money in our pockets.

Business people and friends said it was a crazy idea. However, I never doubted that it was the right move. The success of this made it possible to buy the National Garden Exhibition Centre in Kilquade in Co Wicklow.

How will your market look in three years’ time?

E-commerce will be an increasing influence in this space. The statistics of online sales is staggering. We have to make the “bricks and mortar” stores “experiential”. Retail is detail and we have to wow the customer.

How do you switch off from work? What are your hobbies?

I honestly don’t believe I work. My work is my hobby. I go for a swim at 7am to start my day. When I get out of the pool, I feel physically, mentally and spiritually rejuvenated.

Family and friends mean everything to me. I have five grandchildren whom I adore. Being part of their lives makes me feel privileged. I have a lovely garden and, when I’m in it, I get lost in time.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Dare to dream and you can make your dreams come true. I did!