Wyevale, the garden centre chain, today said it had recruited 1980s pop icon Kim Wilde in the battle to win more customers. The company, which has 114 centres in the UK, said a Christmas advertising campaign featuring the former pop star was so successful it had decided to make her the "face of Wyevale" for 2005. The singer, who has ditched the microphone for a new career as a garden designer, will attend the relaunch of new centres, front a newspaper campaign and pen her own gardening column.
The moves were announced as the firm revealed that non-gardening ranges such as pets and gifts had contributed to an improved annual sales performance. These areas of the business, as well as Wyevale's restaurants, had helped reduce the firm's dependency on the British weather. Although pre-tax profits fell to £15.1 million in the 53 weeks to January 2, from £20.5 million last time, this was due to a £4.5 million hit from the closure of centres. Sales rose 1.3 per cent to £192.5 million during the year.
The company said that the sales improvement had continued into the new financial year with like-for-like sales 9.5 per cent higher in the nine weeks to March 6. The company is now planning to carry out a review of its strategy that could see it speed up the sale of underperforming sites. The review will also focus on three other areas - the acquisition of new sites, the further development of its retail format and on opportunities to realise more from its property portfolio. During 2004, Wyevale bought two new centres, closed one unprofitable site and sold seven which did not fit in with its core strategy. Wyevale said that it was set to benefit from the "greying" UK population, with nearly 43 per cent of the total population would be within its core target market by 2009, compared with 40 per cent today.
Over the past year the firm has been adding more non-gardening ranges, such as rabbits, mice and tropical fish in its pets range, as well as items such as pot plants in its gift section. The company saw a strong start to 2004 but poor weather in the spring made the year challenging. Like-for-like sales for the full year - stripping out centre openings and closures - rose 0.3 per cent. The total dividend was raised to 14.02p a share from 13.61p last time.
Wyevale shares stood 2.5p lower at 469.5p in morning trade.