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The founder of Dobbies Garden Centres was James Dobbie, born in 1817. Gardening was a hobby he enjoyed to the full, being the star of several gardening shows. In 1865, James decided to give up his normal job and turn his hobby into a business. He was enthused to do this in 1865 when he produced a pound in weight of seeds from a leek he had grown. He marketed the seed under the name "Dobbies Champion" and settled into seed production business full time.
In 1887 James Dobbie, now at the grand old age of 70, sold the business to his younger partner, William Cuthbertson. The name of the business from this point on was to be Dobbie &Co. Strange that the name of the founder only became the trading name after it was sold! James Dobbie died in 1905, eleven years after the company was granted a royal warrant.
Dobbie Garden Centres continued to grow and in 1934 expanded into new premises at Melville near Edinburgh. It continued to operate primarily as a nursery, breeding new varieties of seed until 1984 when the company was purchased by David Barnes, then managing Director of the Surrey based horticultural company, Waterers.
It was at this stage that Dobbies moved into the garden centre business, opening five new garden centres in Scotland by 1989. Further injections of capital and the floating of the company on the Stock Exchange in 1997 led Dobbies down the road of taking over existing garden centres in England and Scotland.
In 2007 the Chesterfield branch of Dobbies was opened which was a combination of garden centre and shopping mall. This combination appears to be way that Dobbies are going in the future and the formula has still yet to stand the test of time.
In 2007, Dobbies Garden Centres was effectively taken over by the massive supermarket, Tesco. This has resulted in a further massive injection of capital (£150 million) which should ensure its future for many years to come.
The Takeover of Dobbies Garden Centres was not a simple matter. By May 2008, the entrepreneur Tom Hunter, who also had a controlling interest in Wyevale, had built up a 29.2% share in Dobbies. The presumption is that he wished to take over Dobbies Garden Centres or, at least, prevent Tesco from taking it over.
Previously, Tom Hunter had rejected a £15 per share offer from Tesco. On 22 May 2008 he accepted a lower offer of £12 per share when Dobbies threatened to issue a £150 million rights issue. This would have forced Tom Hunter to raise £44 million in order to maintain his % shareholding at the time. He decided not to do this and sold his Dobbies Garden Centres shares instead.
Is the change from traditional nursery to massive shopping centre tacked onto a garden centre a change for the good? You be the judge. We have our review of the Aberdeen branch of Dobbies. It is still very much a traditional garden centre. Compare that to our review of the Chesterfield branch and make up your own mind.
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