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Freddie Blackett, founder & CEO, Patch

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business? 

At Patch, we believe that plants bring homes to life. However, in recent years, we’ve observed a widening gulf in the gardening industry – between its retailers and customers. Populations are increasingly urban – 85% of Western Europe will be urban by the middle of this century – but horticultural retailers are moving in the opposite direction. The real estate opportunity is no longer available to them in major conurbations so they’re focusing even more on suburban and rural populations, which is reflected in their branding, marketing and product range. These demographics may be their bread and butter but we see that it’s leaving behind a lot of latent demand. People love to spend time in and with nature. Just because they measure their outdoor space in square metres, if at all, doesn’t make them less interested in the opportunity for gardening to become a hobby – a passion even.

Since we were established four years ago, we’ve focused almost entirely on London as our target market as this ‘urban gardener’ profile is so concentrated here. But urban gardeners are underserved across the UK, and indeed Europe so we see our opportunity being to grow and improve our ability to serve them with our products and services.

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

Plants are not your usual ecommerce product. They’re very fragile and hard to package up. As a result, it has taken a lot of time and care for us to reach a position where we can deliver a quality of customer experience that we’re proud of to an audience outside London (where we deliver our plants by hand). 

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

We tested the continental European market in 2019 as we were keen to assess demand before Britain left the EU. In hindsight, we didn’t need to rush it and should have focused on the UK market before expanding into the continent (a strategy that we’re now focusing on). But we’ve set up our supply chain to facilitate European expansion so it won’t be long before we get our passports out again!

4. What is the future of the physical store and the high street?

I’m bullish! It just might be a bumpy journey. Across the UK there is a shortage of affordable residential property, while demand for commercial property has been falling. Covid has just accelerated this. So we can expect a higher residential mix on the high street. But people won’t move to those new ‘villages’ unless they have an attractive mix of shops that meet their needs. 

In my sector, I can’t see how retailers will be able to return to town centres and shops unless those shops are complementing a strong online offering. But I certainly see a continuing role for good horticultural retailers outside towns. I’d love to see nurseries (i.e. growers) being empowered better to sell directly to customers. There’s so much support out there now from the likes of Shopify and Stripe – in time those services will become more accessible to very traditionally offline retailers.

5. What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?

Top-secret ones! More seriously, we have a clear customer value proposition around Inspiration, Convenience and Confidence so we’re always working on how we can use technology more and better to deliver those benefits to customers.

6. What other retailers/brands do you admire?

I grew up watching my father working with hundreds of household names on their branding. I then spent the first six years of my career in the same industry, so I’ve always had a passion for great brands. The direct-to-consumer space is especially exciting for this because its success stories have often done a great job of taking categories where ‘brand’ plays a relatively small role in a customer’s decision-making process, and elevated that role.

In our space, for example, consumers have traditionally been influenced more by the location of their nearest garden centre and the convenience that affords them. The brand of that garden centre is rarely a driver of that consumer’s choice. We can see in our data that customers go out of their way to shop from and recommend Patch – so we’re on the way in that respect.

Bloom & Wild have done this brilliantly with flowers, to the point that they’re now retailing in Sainsbury’s alongside the supermarket’s own-brand offering. They know that when a customer is at the point of making a decision they will likely pay a premium for the Bloom & Wild brand because they trust that the quality and curation will be superior. Mous is another example of this. In a short space of time they’ve taken a category with no clear leader and told a story of why their products are worth a premium and, in doing so, created a brand of choice.

7. Who would you place in the Top 25 Movers & Shakers in Retail?

The leadership team at Made.com have been great supporters of ours since the beginning – more generous with their time and advice than I could have ever imagined. I couldn’t name just one of them but Nicola (COO), Jo (Chief Creative) and Annabel (Chief Commercial) in particular are superb leaders. I have huge admiration for them and know that they’ll take that amazing business onto even greater heights in the years to come. 

This is one in an ongoing series of profiles with individuals that are featured in the annual Movers & Shakers report. Here’s the link to the 2020 edition. (sponsored by K3 BTG).