A new £8m garden centre is set to open in Lisburn in the autumn, creating 120 full-time and part- time jobs.
The 48,000 sq ft Dobbies Garden World will be built on a 13 acre site at Strawberry Hill on Saintfield Road and will also include a farm foodhall, restaurant, gift department and a visitor attraction of display gardens and a labyrinth.
James Barnes, chief executive of Dobbies, which has 25 stores in England and Scotland, said: “This is a project of regional significance for Northern Ireland and we believe that the community and the economy will benefit greatly from the Garden World and the 120 jobs that will be created.”
Mr Barnes described the centres as “leisure destinations”. “You go to a garden centre because you want to so we have to create the right ambience,” he said.
“Around 20% of our sales comes from catering. People often come for a cup of coffee and a scone, and we pride ourselves on the wholesome and simple quality of our catering offering.”
Getting the right site was crucial he said. “We are in a particularly good location on Saintfield Road — it’s highly accessible and very visible. Like most of our stores, it’s standalone.”
The company was set up in 1865. Mr Barnes’ family bought it in 1969, with Mr Barnes acquiring it in a 1994 management buy-out.
It was publicly quoted in 1997 then acquired in Tesco in 2008 after advances from “a number of potential suitors,” Mr Barnes said.
“Tesco own us but we are run as a separate company. We can draw on Tesco expertise and a lot of how they do things. We can also have access to capital so that’s all very helpful.”
He said Dobbies would use Northern Ireland suppliers as far as possible — “it makes commercial sense” — and a horticultural buyer will visit Northern Ireland next week to meet growers at a trade fair. An autumn opening would bring practical benefits. “Opening in the autumn is good from one point of view as it’s a time when people are planting and tidying up the garden, and we are also a destination at Christmas time for trees and decorations.
“If we have an average customer, it would be a 55-year-old but it depends on what day and what time of day you come. We plenty of young families at weekends. But there are very few teenage gardeners,” Mr Barnes added.
Recruitment has already begun for the store and he said the company was considering locating a second store north of Belfast.