Three times the green expertise

Three times the green expertise

Bob Douliez, CEO of the Garden Center Holding, talks about the new Belgian garden centre concept Oh’Green, which has emerged from three formats Four months ago in Aarschot, the Garden Centre Holding put the first pilot store of its further developed sales concept Oh‘Green into the running. Three months after the opening of the first pilot store, CEO Bob Douliez takes stock while looking to the future.
The Garden Center Holding is the result of a fusion which three investors have driven: the Hubo group – the number 2 in the Belgian DIY market – and the investment fonds Pentahold and E-Capital. Hubo and Pentahold each hold 40 per cent of the shares. The pilot project in Aarschot provided the opportunity to completely reposition the concept and ultimately to also introduce a new logo: Oh!Green (with exclamation mark) is now Oh’Green.

The cards are being reshuffled
The Belgian garden centre market with almost 600 independent outlets has been going through a remarkable transformation for almost a decade, which has been moving it more towards retail trade. The first wave was triggered in 2008 by the involvement of two investment companies, namely Pentahold and E-Capital, and subsequently through the takeover of five garden centres in 2015, which belonged to the Hubert family (Hobby Garden, Goldie, Superjardin, Vive mon Jardin and Coin Vert). In 2011 the joint venture led to the introduction of the brand Oh!Green with annual sales of around EUR 28 mio. Hubo brought the second wave into the arena in 2012 with the takeover of the nine Walter Van Gastel garden centres (annual sales EUR 23 mio) and three garden centres from the Dutch Intratuin group (EUR 18.5 mio) in 2015. Finally, the third wave last year, with the fusion of Garden Vision (five Oh!Green locations) with the Hubo garden centres, ultimately brings Garden Center Holding onto the scene with a total of twelve outlets and sales of almost EUR 70 mio. The opening of the pilot store opens up new perspectives for a market which had remained apathetic for far too long.

Concept store or development lab?
Bob Douliez (52), a real swashbuckler of retail trade – he has been on the management board of Ikea and the furnishings store Casa International – came to Garden Center Holding in 2015. Together with Erwin Van Osta, the CEO of the Hubo Group (annual sales EUR 650 mio), he was supposed to write a concept, the likes of which there had never been before in the Belgian garden centre industry.
He formulates his order like this: “Our ambition was to create a garden centre that optimally met customers’ expectations. The ideal garden centre concept brings together four components: living greenery, cut flowers, garden accessories and decoration.
With the integration of the three formats which emerged from the past, we especially inherit three areas of expertise: Intratuin – market leader of the Dutch market with 60 garden centres – strengthens us with its retail vision of the garden store; Van Gastel brings the savoir faire in all things floristry and floral decorations; and Oh‘Green brings along the plant know-how. The concept store at Aarschot there-fore forms a well thought-out mixture of emotions, seduction, well-being and economic dynamics.
Based on the principle of ‘Imagine your dream garden’, the great variety of successful initiatives in terms of merchandising and shop-in-shop experiences fulfil these expectations. The reactions of the customers three months after the opening appear to show we were more than right.”

The vision of the future
“More fixed points will be at the centre of our activities with the expansion project – Oh‘Green is beginning with the work for 3 000 m2 more retail space next September: the catering factor with the cafeteria, the price perception, the technology for supporting the service offer, even special attention to the customer who has no garden, but only a patio or a balcony, for whom the realisation of their dream is just as much on the agenda, for example the city gardening concept.
We are on the eve of an enormous transformation in the retail trade universe which the garden centre industry will not be able to escape. Consequently, we are also thinking about the value one must place on certain parameters – including high-tech – in order to produce the concept of the ideal garden centre.
When talking about living greenery, it is without doubt that our garden centre has to be equipped with reliable technology for the process of plant cultivation, traceability, the connection for our customers’ smartphones…
Last but not least, in view of the emerging sharing economy, we are asking ourselves with which further dimensions we can expand the garden centre in order to create a platform for en-counters and exchanges … a real Oh‘Green community.”

Oh‘Green team
“Today, the team at the Garden Center Holding is made up of al-most 300 employees, who we included in this dynamic of change right from the start. The heritage of Intratuin is this spirit of team work which we have taken on for our corporate culture at Oh‘Green.” The fact that Bob Douliez is bubbling over with energy and passion is obvious. For this vehemence, he says, he would like to be locked in a freezer for twenty years to stay fresh and in the position to ensure the continuation of his vision for the future. “Above all, I am a full-blooded retailer with green fingers…; I keep on dreaming… if I could only ask future generations for advice…”