To understand where we started our journey, we have to go back to 2001. Three long-term friends, Edwin, Peter and Frank, were working on a website for their local football club. They were only 18 years old and played in the same team and felt their club needed a website so members could communicate in between matches. So they built one, voluntarily.
After completing this website, a local company asked the 3 friends to build them a corporate website. After finishing their second website, another company called them. And another one…
Peter, Edwin & Frank as 18-year-olds, promoting their first voluntarily website
So, whilst studying at Uni, the friends decided to start an online marketing agency called Bratpack.
We had coloured photography when we moved to our second office in 2003, but it looks authentic in black & white too!
Why garden centres?
After a few months in business, a relative said they needed a company that could build websites. This IT-manager happened to work at the biggest buying group of garden centres in the Netherlands with about 300 members.
Bratpack built a website for one of their members… and a few more. Two years later, 18 centres had websites built by Bratpack. The first garden centre website we've built is www.tuincentrumdaniels.nl and we're still helping Daniëls with their online marketing.
Fortunately for Bratpack, the buying group didn’t fancy offering online marketing services to their members and they decided to cancel this service. Bratpack took it over from them in 2006 and started to deal with their members directly.
A few years later, over 60 garden centres from the Netherlands and Belgium commissioned websites from Bratpack and the 3 friends realised they could offer the same services to garden centres further afield.
The foundation of Garden Connect
However, using the Bratpack-brand caused some issues. Working for 60 garden centres, many local businesses and some of the biggest charities of the Netherlands wasn’t necessarily a good marketing story to tell.
In 2011, Garden Connect was born which was just a subsidiary of Bratpack and servicing 60 independent garden centres in the Netherlands and Belgium.
And, per 2020, 56 of those 60 are still using our services.
During a trade event in the UK, Garden Connect was introduced to a British e-mail marketing provider who specialised in garden centres. The 3 friends had a joint venture for 2 years with the company but experienced slow growth. They decided to buy the shares in that company and rebranded it to Garden Connect UK.
Back then, Garden Connect UK was servicing 25 British and Irish garden centres.
The year after opening the British Branche, Garden Connect UK won an award for the innovation it introduced in the UK.
On the right Sir Geoffrey Adams
Directors & friends
Since we started Garden Connect, we have kept the company focus on independent garden retailers. We also decided to keep banks & investors away from our company. We don’t need them to grow and allows us to focus on what matters most: our team and customers.
We were able to grow the company from 70 to 150 garden centres in a few years and it was at this time that Peter decided to leave the company to look for his next adventure.
We (Edwin and Frank) invited Jeffry, who had been working for the company since 2002, to join the board. So we’re still 3 and in fact, we all have bloodlines with each other.
That’s what happens when you grow up in a small town!
Left to right: Edwin, Jeffry and Frank
The Garden Connect platform currently hosts over 450 websites and webshops - including many of the leading garden centres in Europe. It is integrated with over 40 partner-platforms, many of them don’t have standard plugins so we decided to build our own platform, and we’re glad we did.
From day one we tried to avoid talking about technology, whether it’s Wordpress, Joomla (we were found in 2002 remember!?), or something else.
When we talk to customers, we talk about goals, ambitions and the marketing we need to do.
We don’t want to talk about which plugin or template is best to use. We want garden centres to excel and we believe our own platform is the best way to do that… and we agree to disagree if you have a different opinion – people looking to spend a lot of time figuring out which standard plug-ins works best just aren’t our customers!
The Awards we've won are a confirmation we're on the right track.
Garden Connect was the first winner of the Innovation Award, voted for by Dutch garden centres
Completely aware of the culture of the garden industry, we endeavour to be professional yet laid back and relaxed when possible.
(We only wear ties for funerals, for example. )
Even with 300 customers, we know all our customers & contacts personally and we wouldn’t want to change this.
We feel very fortunate to be surrounded by successful innovators and partners in the industry. In all countries we have excellent relations with the trade associations, we’re part of the EFSA network and we enjoy connecting with industry-leaders via the IGCA.
Part of our philosophy is to share some of the valuable knowledge we have: if we share, garden centres can grow, the industry will grow and that will eventually be beneficial for Garden Connect.
The owners are also very Dutch, "If you act normal, it’ll be crazy enough” is what we say over here!
As normal as we are, we tend to be a bit over-the-top after a day of skiing in Austria!
Is it the right thing to do?
So back to square one. Garden Connect wasn’t started as a business. Our first website was a project we did voluntarily, just because it was the right thing to do for us. We still support many local charities in our community since we know how important it is to help the people around us.
You never know what happens if you do good and spend some time on things without getting something in exchange for it but if we hadn’t done that in 2001, we wouldn’t have Garden Connect today.
Every time we have to make a decision, we just ask ourselves, ‘is it the right thing to do?’.
This has helped us grow since 2002 and so it will in the years to come.