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Garden gurus have the answers

WHILE The Water Corporation’s water restrictions might be causing headaches for local garden enthusiasts, they’ve created big business opportunities for a couple of Perth horticulturalists-turned-TV-stars.

The Garden Gurus (aka Trevor Cochrane and Neville Passmore) launch their fourth Gardening WA series next month and are in discussions with Channel 9 to create similar programs for the South Australian and Queensland markets this year.

“Like WA, they have unique environments, so we can focus on local issues and provide local advice,” said Mr Cochrane, a former Bunnnings garden product category manager.

Mr Cochrane and Mr Passmore (a horticulturalist) devised the TV program to provide positive advice on managing gardens while using less water.

The Channel 9 program has become a ratings success, attracting an average audience of 105,289 viewers in its last series.

But it’s not just the program that’s proving popular in the Western Australian market.

Their company, The Garden Gurus, was officially created in February last year to promote its growing businesses under the one brand name. The company publishes books and a newspaper, has a landscape and design business, and a range of merchandise.

And more offshoots are planned.

Sales are tipped to reach $5 million annually within three years, according to Mr Cochrane.

“It’s profitable and it’s growing at an incredible rate,” he told WA Business News.

“We launched the paper in March and we did four editions. What has happened internationally is that newsletters are important to garden centres and we knew people were screaming out for information,” Mr Cochrane said.

“They would ask for fact sheets so we launched the newspaper and the website.

“We did 50,000 copies and distributed them to garden centres and about a third of the State’s hardware stores.”

The paper will increase its print frequency this year to eight issues, having already attracted international investment interest.

“We’ve had interest from someone offshore to become a partner in it,” Mr Cochrane said.

Messrs Cochrane and Passmore attribute a great deal of their venture’s growth to their breaking of traditional business rules.

For example their second book, The Garden Gurus Guide to Water Wise Gardening, is sold to book stores by quantity numbers rather than on consignment.

“They didn’t like it but they saw the benefits in doing it. One book store didn’t take our book and rang us up saying they wanted it because we had promoted it on our show and said it was carried by all good book stores,” Mr Cochrane said.

“They [the book stores that bought books] liked it because we could promote it on television, on the website and in the newspaper.”

Printing the book in Singapore significantly reduced the cost of production, Mr Passmore said..

“It’s nice to write a book but it’s hard to make money out of it if you do it the traditional way,” he said.

“If we printed it here the retail price would have doubled.”

The book was in the top five best selling books in WA Dymocks book stores and Angus and Robertson book stores during December.

“We’ve been told by some store owners that it is the second most profitable book for them,” Mr Passmore said.

The pair’s first book, a much smaller offering, has sold 14,000 copies.

Sales since the December launch of The Garden Gurus Guide to Water Wise Gardening stand at about 17,000 copies.

The web site has received 3.6 million hits and more than 600,000 fact sheets have been downloaded since it launched in mid-2003.

“The people who host the site for us tell us it’s one of the most popular gardening websites in Australia,” Mr Passmore said.

DVDs have also been launched, as well as gardening products.

“We saw that there were no top-end gardening tools in the market,” Mr Cochrane said.

The TV series, Gardening WA, commences its 2004 season on February 29.

The show originally screened on Channel 7 but the network could not offer the pair a commitment for a new series. Channel 9 could.

 

“ ... we can focus on local issues and provide local advice.”

-         Trevor Cochrane

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