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“Banks will only ever lend you money when you can prove you don’t need it” – CEO Q&A: Fin Hayes, Fin’s Garden Centre

By Business & Finance
30 May 2018
Fin Hayes, Fin Garden Centre, plants
Fin Hayes, Fin’s Garden Centre

In our next CEO Q&A, Fin Hayes of Fin’s Garden Centre speaks of the challenges in running your own business and coming out the other end of Storm Ophelia.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

They are what any business managers would be – to make sure all aspects of the business are running smoothly. This means dealing with staff, suppliers, customers and everyone in between. I believe it is my job to bring the best possible products to our customers, at a great price.

My primary goal on a day-to-day basis is to look after both my staff and my customers. If you have motivated and productive staff, and happy customers, then I think from that everything else will follow, to some degree. If this means spending late nights emailing and working to get things done, then it must be done.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

As ‘CEO’ of a garden centre and nursery, my biggest challenge is to make the business weatherproof. This is an extremely seasonal business and relies heavily on the Irish climate. When the sun shines our plants pretty much walk out the door – when it rains, there’s not as much of this activity.

So, I’ve had to come up with new and novel ways of bringing people to our business in all weather. In the quieter seasons, our café and play area for children are the main attractions.

I’ve also spent a lot of time organising and developing on-site ‘events’ – be they demonstrations or courses. We have a steady stream of events planned for later in the year which I’m really looking forward to.

Managing staff and accounts is pointless if you don’t have customers.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

That part comes pretty easy to me because I am so passionate about what I do and I think that rubs off on the people I work with. Though, to be fair, anyone who has ever worked at the garden centre has brought a passion of their own.

A shared dream and the drive to succeed are great motivators.

My team took a knock following the devastating damage caused by Ophelia, but they rallied and threw themselves into their work. Over the last year, they have all invested a lot time and energy in the business.

I think when someone feels appreciated and part of the business, they are naturally motivated.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

As with a lot of industries, regulation and restrictions are going to cause big problems.

Some people blame supermarkets for the challenges faced by traditional garden centres – but I don’t agree. If we are doing our jobs right, people will always want to visit a garden centre – people don’t come just for plants, they come for expert advice, quality and a pleasant shopping experience that you just won’t find in a supermarket.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Thanks to social media, especially Instagram, we have seen an increase in sales in indoor plants, succulents and herbs. It is now ‘trendy’ to have a plant on your office table or have a box of herbs on your window. And I am all for it – a greater awareness of the importance of plants can only be a good thing.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Yes, I would like to see a change in the way the sector approaches online content. The horticulture industry has traditionally been the preserve of the older generation and while this is changing, this cohort of people still make up a very large portion of the industry.

Many of these people are not familiar with social media and/or online retail and so these businesses and experts are really missing out on opportunities to communicate with, educate and sell to potential customers.

I would also like to see a greater industry-wide effort in promoting Irish-grown plants and the benefits of plants and gardening.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

Yes – the lack of skilled people in the industry is growing year on year.

Working in a garden centre is not an easy job, in hot summer months. Sales are in full swing, shelves need restocking and everything needs watering. It is a long 12-hour shift during the summer.

For these reasons, people have been turned off a career in horticulture retail. But greater work needs to be done to educate people on the plus sides of working

in this industry – of which there are many.

Horticulture is an extremely rewarding career. Whether it’s planting seeds and growing them into a fully ‘saleable’ plant, or helping a customer with a problem, you get a satisfaction from it. My two favourite sights are trolleys full of plants going through the till, knowing we grew them from a seed over six to 12 months and now someone is going to buy them and enjoy them for years. It’s also very rewarding to see customers return with a smile saying: “It worked – my plant is thriving now!”

Every day is different. For someone like me it’s perfect – I am not an office person. I could not go into an office every day and do the same tasks. Plants are living and demanding, so every day brings with it new and exciting challenges and this is what makes it most enjoyable. That, and the amazing supportive people in the industry – I have made friends all over the world through horticulture.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Brexit has had a big impact on my business as we buy a lot of materials in for the nursery from the UK – they are Ireland’s biggest seed and plug plant suppliers. So, we deal a lot in sterling, which has cost us quite a bit. Trying to predict which way the currency will go is difficult to say the least.

But we are finding ways and means to work around these challenges.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Being self-employed can be extremely difficult, so I think just being in business one more day is a success in itself and I commend all those who run their own business.

As for what drives me personally, it could be that I like to prove people wrong! It’s probably not the best reason to do anything but it has served me well to date.

Obviously, that’s not the only reason I do what I do. I have always wanted to be self-employed and at the age of ten I was diagnosed as extremely dyslexic and I can remember my teacher at the time telling me I would never be a manager or never run my own business. Fast forward a few years and not only am I running my own business, but my hard work was recognised by my peers and they have awarded me with the title of Cork Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2017.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

I think the best piece of advice I was ever given was from my grandfather – he said banks will only ever lend you money when you can prove you don’t need it!

After that, if you believe in something and truly want it – never give up.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

One must be the opening of the café. It took a lot of work but to see it pay off was great, as we sold 1,500 coffees the first day it opened, and the garden centre was packed.

However, the biggest highlight for me was being awarded Cork Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2017, not just for me but for the team. This business has an amazing group of talented and dedicated people behind it and to me that award was for all of them as well.

Q. What’s next for your company?

We have big plans for the future; we plan to launch a full online garden centre by the end of the year.

We also have plans to expand the range of products we offer in store, along with an outdoor furniture display area, garden ornaments and water features.

I plan on making our centre not just a plant centre, but a true garden centre offering everything you could possibly need for your garden.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2018?

Through a long, hard winter, somehow I have remained optimistic. I see a lot of plans for growth for the coming 12 months. We are looking forward to a busy summer season for our café.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Quite simply, I would just like to see it trading well with the same team (maybe plus one or two) behind it. I have always dreamed big and continue to dream big, but after the rough six months of damage and disaster to our business, managing to come out the other side with all the team intact and the business trading is a big achievement.

As for in 24 months, that’s a different question. Next year will see a massive expansion to our nursery again. But let’s get through 2018 first.

Horticulture is an extremely rewarding career. Whether it’s planting seeds and growing them into a fully ‘saleable’ plant, or helping a customer with a problem, you get a satisfaction from it.

Fin’s Horticulture is a Cork-based company comprising of a garden centre and a plant nursery.