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Be Inspired Series

Alan Mercer

Hillmount Nursery

Completed a BSC in business management and horticulture at university in Essex as well as the Scotts Lawn Care Masterclass in the US

What does your job entail?

Working in a garden centre you never know what you will be doing next. Recently I managed a £500,000.00 extension to the cafe within Hillmount.

I found this a great challenge as we were always pushing to stay ahead of the build. It was crucial to ensure materials and skilled contractors were on site on time as we were on such a tight time schedule to deliver the finished product.

I'm one of six partners at Hillmount and I manage the garden centre on a day to day basis. I am responsible for buying products for different departments of the garden centre, online retail, advertising sales and promotions, health and safety and human resources.

We tend to plan nine to 12months ahead as all seasonal goods are bought this far in advance. This includes artificial Christmas trees, garden furniture, BBQ's and even handbags.

Is it 9-5?

Due to the seasonality of the business sometimes it's more like 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, 9-5pm on Saturday and 12pm-5pm on Sunday.

How did you get into this line of work?

My family have developed Hillmount from a market garden in 1940 to what it is today.

Ever since I was a child I always wanted to work in the garden centre.  I'm a fourth generation Mercer and have a keen interest in plants. 

I always enjoyed sowing seeds and pricking out as a child. As I got older I got a bug for retail. The challenge of buying a product and displaying it fascinates me to this day.

Due to the seasonality of the business every day is different.  I love meeting new people and helping customers to get the most out of their garden.

Outline your career to date?

As I grew up, I worked part time in the garden centre on the weekends doing all the mundane but important jobs - helping customers with compost, brushing up and painting fences.

When at university in Essex I worked for two multinational garden retail stores. I really benefited from this as it let me see what it was like to be an employee in a multinational retail chain.

The formalisation of induction and training programmes for staff and the management structure were a great learning experience.  I apply this experience in my current job. It also made me realise how important it was to get a uniform to make you feel part of the team!

Tell us about your qualifications/training.

I completed a BSC in Business Management and Horticulture in Essex. I travelled to Ohio and completed the Scotts Lawn Care Masterclass, I've undertaken a health and hygiene course and I also took the Weber BBQ course in Denmark. 

I'm committed to personal and professional development and I have fork lift truck and high access equipment licences.

What qualities are required for your job - personal and professional?

Within garden retail you have to be self motivated and patient. The business is very weather dependent. If it is a dull wet day you have to motivate yourself and your team to get ready for the next busy weekend. However, if it is a great sunny day, you have to help ensure every customer who visits has a great experience. This requires you to have the patience to leave another important job until the next wet day!    

What is the best advice you ever received?

"Do what you love and you never work a day in your life."

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy hot air ballooning. After two years training I finally got my private pilot's licence in 2009.

Unfortunately my hobby, like my job, is very weather dependent.  You need light winds and clear skies. It's a beautiful way to relax and you tend to travel about seven miles per one hour flight.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I have completed my free fall sky diving licence.

Who has inspired you most in your life?

My father, Robin Mercer, has been an inspirational figure all my life. He has always shown me that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

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