Barton Grange Garden Centre has been the most inspirational destination for top quality plants and everything you could need for your garden for 60 years now. Famed for its annual Christmas display, we find out more about the centre’s long-established success from managing director, Guy Topping
To say you have been working in your business since you were four years old is no mean feat, but Guy Topping has been involved in his family’s businesses since before he started school.
The story of Barton Grange Garden Centre started more than 70 years ago when market gardeners Edward and Ada Topping, Guy’s grandparents, bought a large mansion in Barton with a plan to turn it into a hotel. The Barton Grange Hotel opened in 1951 and was to become the place to get married with a reputation for high standards of customer service.
Meanwhile, son Eddie studied horticulture and once qualified, set up a market garden in the five-acre grounds of the hotel, going on to create a landscaping business. Growing success resulted in Eddie opening the first garden centre in the North West. Guy said: “My grandma was the real driving force in the businesses. She was a perfectionist with a real passion to do the best she could and I think that has rubbed off on all of us.”
Guy worked at the centre through his childhood returning after studying horticulture at college. Dad Eddie asked Guy to work for the company and so he and took charge of the second garden centre in Bolton in the Nineties. “Dad gradually handed over the reigns to me and my brothers – Ian, running the hotel and Peter, the nursery and landscape division,” Guy said, “and I did consider expanding to open more centres than the three we had at the time, but I decided to concentrate on the expansion of one new site and 15 years ago, we moved onto the current plot at Brock.”
A new site was needed as the original centre at Barton was out-growing the space and more car parking was needed. The new site had 50 acres – more than enough space for a large centre complete with a planned marina and with room to grow.
The new site was opened by HRH Princess Anne in 2008 and a particular highlight for Guy: “It was an amazing day,” he said, “and one I will never forget.”
Now of course, the site includes a homeware section, farm shop, café and restaurant gift shop and pet supplies. Plus, The Flower Bowl entertainment centre and the only curling rink in the UK, with people travelling from all over the country to play and compete.
The business also prides itself in supporting local communities, helping wherever they can. Guy said: “We grew up in Barton and love the community and being part of it. We’ve always tried to help with various charity events and fundraisers and I do talks to various groups. We all enjoy giving back to the locals and people who have supported our business over the years.”
When it comes to Christmas, a visit to the Barton Grange display is a must. The sheer scale of the many sections of the Christmas wonderland means that the team start before the previous festive period. Guy explained: “The pandemic meant that supplies were harder to secure and so now we make our orders early to ensure we can get what we need in time, so we are working about 15 months ahead. The orders are delivered in July when we start to sell smaller items like Christmas cards. We start with a vengeance in September with six to seven weeks of intensive building for completion by October half term. Several teams get involved with creating the different areas and our display team love being let loose to create something spectacular.”
There is a dedicated system too. Every hook and shelf has a product number so that the team know exactly where each item will go.
“Childrens Christmas events are also a big part of our festive offering and we are always working to make them a great experience. I’m always mindful of these events being the best they can be, because I’d hate to mess up someone’s Christmas visit. So, we pull out all the stops and I am particularly proud of what we provide.”
As for continuing the family business into the next generation, there are already three younger Toppings working in the business. Guy added: “Our strong family values permeate throughout the business. We have some very long-standing members of staff and some very loyal customers who travel from all areas of the UK to visit us. When I walk around the centre, it’s heart-warming to hear customers showing their friends around describing the items and highlighting the separate areas like they feel they own part of the place – it’s brilliant. If grandma Ada could see this now, she’d be tickled pink.”