Belfast Telegraph

'We were never allowed to lie around the house'

Q&A: Alan Mercer

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

This Week: Alan Mercer

Q: What's the best piece of business (or life) advice you've ever been given?

A: Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life!

Q: What piece of advice would you pass on to someone starting out in the gardening retail business?

A: Be patient and always prepare for a rainy day. The garden retail business is really weather-dependent. Good weather in April and May can have a huge affect on the year's trading. It's also important to know about plants. You need to have the right plant at the right price at the right time of year.

Q: What was your best business decision?

A: The best decision we made was to double the size of our cafe at Hillmount Belfast in 2012. It was a huge decision for us. The recession and housing market crash were really starting to become a reality but we went ahead and the cafe's turnover has doubled. It also increased our footfall, allowing the shop turnover to increase in a period when other retailers were reporting huge drops in turnover.

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Q: If you weren't doing this job, what would your other career be?

A: I would imagine that I would be working somewhere in the garden centre supply chain. One of my heroes growing up was John Stanley. He is a New Zealand-based garden centre consultant who travels the world advising garden centres on market trends and in-store layouts.

Q: What was your last holiday? Where are you going next?

A: My last holiday was to Toronto and, yes, we went to see some garden centres. I have two boys (Jack is one and Olly is two) and a third baby is on the way in January so we are thinking about going to Tenerife.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests?

A: I enjoy running. My wife Ciara and I try our best to make it to Parkrun when possible. We take it in turns to push our two boys in the running buggy. I was really proud to see Ciara complete her 50th Parkrun with her double running buggy while being 24 weeks pregnant.

Q: What is your favourite sport and team?

A: I really enjoy watching Formula One but I never get to see it as I work most weekends.

Q: And have you ever played any sports?

A: As a child I raced Minis and go karts. I was terrible at it in comparison to my two older brothers.

Q: If you enjoy reading, can you recommend a book?

A: I recently read how the billionaire and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX Elon Musk is shaping our future. It's a really interesting read as it shows how much technology and lifestyles have changed in 30 years.

Q: How would you describe your early life?

A: I had an amazing upbringing in a loving household. We were never allowed to lie around the house on weekends. You were either really busy doing something important or you were expected to be in the garden centre helping out. As a child this was brilliant as it meant you got paid weekly for helping out in the family business. I remember my brother and me making 'dens' and 'huts' below the benches in the greenhouses. The worst thing was then being picked up from school by my granda in the van. He would always have seven messages to do before going home.

Q: Have you any economic predictions?

A: It's hard to even imagine what will happen next year, let alone in the next five years. As a business we concentrate more on trying to work out what our customers want. We feel doing this means the business will be a success no matter what's happening in the UK economy.

Q: How do you sum up working in your specific retail sector?

A: I feel lucky. I work in a beautiful work environment. Every day is different, every season is different and we are always planning for the future.

Belfast Telegraph