Colemans Garden Centre doubles staff as it unveils £5m expansion
A Co Antrim garden centre has unveiled the results of a £5m expansion which has been in the planning for 15 years.
Colemans Garden Centre in Templepatrick has doubled its workforce from 50 to nearly 100, as well as adding 32,000 sq ft to the premises.
The addition has brought new retail space including concessions like Menary's and a farm shop as well as more space for selling plants.
And its managing director Richard Fry said the changes were bringing Northern Ireland's garden centre sector "20 years into the future". He said the addition of a farm shop was emulating the approach of garden centres in England.
"Garden centres in Northern Ireland and Ireland have been years behind what's happening in England. Where we are now is where they were 20 years ago," he said. "Now in England you have farm shops in motorway service stations. And what we have done here in Colemans has bypassed the last 20 years and brought our garden centre right up to date."
The new farm shop includes a seven-metre meat counter run by a butcher from Doagh, as well as a dry-ager for beef.
It's stocking produce from a range of local suppliers including William Sprott, Finnebrogue, McKee's, Draynes and Ditty's in Magherafelt.
Mr Fry said the £5m investment in the site had been planned for 15 years. "It's taken until now to get this built due to reasons such as planning, and it's all been done through private funding," he said.
He said the centre had a loyal customer base and was now targeting the tourism market as a secondary source of customers.
"Tourism has expanded greatly in the last five years, and we see it very much from the cruise ships coming in to Belfast. With the research we've done, we have coach tours coming from Ireland driving past us every day on their way to the north coast," he said.
"Now we want to be servicing them, and we have a 200-seater restaurant and ample car parking to do so."
He said the garden centre business had evolved in recent years due to competition from the internet and supermarkets. "Twenty years ago, people just wanted a cup of coffee and a bun, but now they're looking for meals, freshly cooked on the premises, so that's the line we have gone down," he said.
"Garden centres to survive have upped their game."