Repaying £146K furlough cash ‘right thing to do’

THE owner of Le Friquet garden centre has repaid £146,000 of furlough money to the States of Guernsey – saying it was the ‘right thing to do’.

Blue Diamond Group managing director Alan Roper. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 29578665)
Blue Diamond Group managing director Alan Roper. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 29578665)

Blue Diamond managing director Alan Roper said the pandemic had seen Le Friquet’s doors close due to lockdown and uncertainty over reopening – while following Covid-19 regulations – to ‘turbocharged’ transactions in-store as people focused on their homes and gardens during the pandemic.

‘Nobody was going away, everyone was spending their money at home and garden and we benefited.

‘Because we benefited overall, we felt that even though Le Friquet had been affected, it was right and proper that we that repaid the furlough money.

‘So we repaid it all because the States need the money,’ said Mr Roper.

‘You go from that fearing the worst, as I did, and then we go and we have a record year in the end of it.

‘Everything flipped.

‘Customers, when we did open, embraced us and we managed it well.

‘We complied with all the Covid regulations, but we managed to process all the customers through efficiently – more than the industry did – and customers seemed to enjoy coming to the centres. So we did very well.’

Blue Diamond’s overall performance from its Channel Islands and national stores had been reflected in a jump in average spend caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – with ‘phenomenal’ amounts being spent by people.

‘In 2019 average spend was up 5%, last year average spend was up by 28%.

‘The average spends increased due to the filtering out of the browsing shopper, which shifted the shopper type to the must-have shopper,’ said Mr Roper in the group’s latest annual report covering 2020.

‘The average spend increase turbo-charged sales to enable the garden centres to deliver a turnover of £181m. (excluding restaurants), which was nearly £7m. above the original sales budget and £35m. ahead of 2019.’

Like-for-like garden sales were 9.7% up against the industry performance of 2.7%.

The restaurant part of the overall business however was hard hit and closed for five months in 2020 – meaning restaurant like-for-like sales dropped by 46%.

This reduced the gross profit contribution against budget by £14.1m.

The deficit was partly offset by government business support initiatives, which totalled £10.1m., said Mr Roper, with the year ending with a successful Christmas trading period – which saw sales up 29% compared with the industry average performance of 10.5%.

Mr Roper also noted how well 16 former Wyevale garden centres that Blue Diamond purchased in 2018 and 2019 were now performing.

The first nine Wyevale centres purchased in August 2018 were up 83% in gross profit from £11.6m. in 2018 to £21.2m. in 2020.

n In a sign of the business’s resilience, this year will see the ground broken for two new Blue Diamond centres in the UK – one at Scotch Corner and the other on the Elveden Estate in Suffolk. Two garden centres in North Devon are also being purchased, with the deal expected to be completed within weeks.

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