Have you been to Suffolk’s new garden centre yet?
- Credit: Archant
After facing some Covid-19 setbacks, Keith Bodsworth has finally been able to open The Potting Shed to the public.
With long, sunny days gracing Suffolk over the past couple of months, many people have taken to tending to their gardens while in lockdown.
Back in April, Keith Bodsworth decided to get green, and opened The Potting Shed - a garden centre based at Jimmy’s Farm.
To start with, The Potting Shed operated on a delivery and collection-only basis, supplying the people of Suffolk with everything they need to get their gardens in tip-top shape for summer.
However, with lockdown restrictions slowly easing, Keith has finally been able to see his hard work come to fruition by opening his doors to the public – and business has been blooming.
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“What can I say? The response from social media and the newspaper was just unimaginable,” Keith told the East Anglian Daily Times.
“Following the publication of the last article, people’s response to our predicament has been amazing. After the first day, we received an email a minute from six in the morning until ten at night, with requests for plant lists as well as offers of encouragement and support.”
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With an unprecedented response, Keith took to his computer in order to accommodate the sudden influx of orders.
“At first, this caused some sleepless nights - I’m not great at technology, and we were not set up for this level of response.”
But Keith and his partner Gemma managed to get themselves organised, and eventually responded to every enquiry that flooded in. “By pulling a few all-nighters, and with my amazing other half helping me at every hurdle, tapping away at emails, we managed to send lists to everyone. Soon, orders began to come in, and it became apparent that we might just be saved,” he said.
With his first set of orders in and ready to go, Keith was fortunately able to source some plant trollies from a supplier who had to furlough his staff, so he could transport stock around safely.
“We emptied my transit van of all the tools and went off to deliver. However, we soon realised that the plant racks would not fit in the van.
“The first delivery was a bit of a disaster - it involved a lot of back and forth, some wrong turns and a poor route.”
The Potting Shed’s first endeavour consisted of 20 deliveries, spanning from 8am to 10pm.
“We were exhausted, disappointed and tired. It was another sleepless night with worry,” Keith said.
Stepping up to the plate once again however was his partner Gemma, who came to the rescue and lent The Potting Shed her car and horse trailer. “It was tall enough to hold the plant racks and had a big boot to house the compost and bird table orders.
“We went again the next week, and every day we tended to the garden centre in the early hours, and delivered stock all day. We found a route planning app on our phones, and we slowly but surely became more efficient in fulfilling people’s orders.”
With Keith’s system now down to a fine art, there was still the occasional bump in the road that comes with the territory of making deliveries.
“There were moments of frustration and chaos along the way, as well as some real highs and amazing people,” Keith said. “With a truck and trailer, we are quite long, and offering delivery across the whole of Essex and Suffolk, we have been to some beautiful places that I never knew existed.
“On one journey, the SatNav took us to a beautiful cottage in the middle of an old town, with tight turns and not a lot of parking. Abandoning the car, we quickly dropped our stock off, thanked our client and followed the SatNav down the most twisted of roads, weaving inbetween parked cars and obstacles. We moved slowly - only to be met by newly-installed bollards blocking the road.
“With no way to turn around or unhitch, we began to reverse back up the road. With lots of ‘be careful’, and a near-divorce row later, we reached the top, and were met with a sea of applause from onlookers in lockdown who had their day brightened with our predicament,” Keith said.
Seizing an opportunity for potential new customers, Keith and Gemma exited their vehicle, took a bow, and a posted everyone along that road a leaflet for The Potting Shed. “We have been back down that road on multiple occasions since, and will not be making the same manoeuvre mistake again!”
Business aside, Keith has found that The Potting Shed is a great way to put a smile on people’s faces during lockdown - and has loved meeting every customer on his delivery routes.
“We’ve had it all,” he said. “From people’s support, kind words and messages about how the plants had raised their spirits, to a thank you for cheering up their elderly relatives they couldn’t see.
“A simple socially-distanced conversation to help someone’s sanity has truly made the experience somewhat magical.”
As the weeks went on, Keith and The Potting Shed were continually inundated with a steady stream of orders, thanks to the power of word of mouth.
“We were able to stay afloat, and were beginning to finally look forward again, invigorated by the hope that many of these people would come and see us when we were finally open,” Keith said.
As the Government announced that garden centres could open to the public as Wednesday 13 May, Keith and the team were taken by surprise. “We were caught out,” he said. “While trying to be a delivery boy, plant tender, grower and gardener on the side, Boris threw that curve ball.”
Rushing to get The Potting Shed ready for its grand public opening, Keith was astounded by his friends and family who came running to help.
“We had dismantled our displays to sell stock, and to be perfectly honest, were in a bit of a mess focusing on earning some money and staying afloat rather than the visual appearance of the centre,” he said.
“But again, this is where people have truly been amazing. Suppliers, stockists, family and colleagues all came to our aid in any way that they could - from many in lockdown helping with PR and ordering signs, to others who were writing labels for plants, and suppliers helping with stock.”
With everything ready and raring to go, The Potting Shed was finally able to open its doors on Saturday 23 May – and Keith couldn’t have been happier with the turn out.
“Lots of people we had visited during the weeks before had turned up - it was like a greeting of friends, and I am truly touched,” Keith said.
“My favourite customer quote has been ‘Harrods plants at Lidl prices’ - I love it. We are here, and we offer great plants at honest prices.”
The Potting Shed has free parking and is open every day from 9.30am to 4.30pm.
“We are observing all governmental guidelines, and have lots of open spaces for people to enjoy. With retail outlets now open as of Monday 15 June, Jimmy and his team are opening the outside takeaway restaurant and bar to help support the site in a safe way.”
With a real emphasis on shopping local and supporting Suffolk businesses, everything The Potting Shed sells is sourced from within 30 minutes of Keith’s front door.
“All of the furniture and bird houses are handmade by local craftsman.
“We have been surprised that the most popular selling items have been our hanging baskets and planters which have made up by the team - including Pimm’s buckets which have mint, strawberry and cucumber plants in them.”
Expressing his gratitude to everyone who’s been in touch and purchased from The Potting Shed over the past few months, Keith added: “I cannot thank the paper, the people, the plants, and my family enough.”
To find out more about The Potting Shed, visit www.thepottingshedjimmys.wordpress.com