Case study

Leigh Boekestyn: My experience of Help to Grow

Leigh Boekestyn is the UK Commercial Manager for Plants365, a supplier of high-quality plant material, including mixed berries, currants, asparagus, and top fruit ranges. He completed the Help to Grow programme in January 2022 and more than a year later, reflects on the experience.

Key motivations and benefits

After 20 years of working in horticulture, Leigh joined Plants365 when it was still a very young company — only two and a half years old. He recalls his key motivations for joining the Help to Grow programme:

“I was keen to help grow the business the right way, and make sure we could manage any extra workload we took on. I also wanted to build a more professional image for existing and new clients.”

Leigh feels the programme has delivered and is “well worth the money, if you can devote the time to it.” He explains that it’s helped him to think about things differently and in more detail — such as the company’s USP, market strategy and brand — and made him a better manager.

“I now have greater empathy and am more approachable,” he says. “I encourage people to come up with their own solutions. It’s also helped me develop better external relationships.”

Leigh standing in the middle of the Plants365 nursery
Leigh at the Plants365 nursery

The value of mentoring

The Help to Grow programme includes ten hours of one-to-one mentoring. Leigh was paired up with Tim Sutton, a coach and Non-Executive Director who is experienced in supporting family/owner-managed businesses with scaling up and succession.

Leigh says:

“Tim was fantastic. I couldn’t speak highly enough of him. Whenever we had calls together, he challenged me. His background made me sit back and think ‘all of this is achievable’. He seriously knows what he’s on about."

"Whenever I’m having a hard time, Tim’s words come back to me and reassure me. Tim has even come to the nursery once or twice since I finished the programme, as he lives locally. It’s nice to keep that relationship with him, and know that I could always get help from him if I needed to.”

The peer group and networking

The Help to Grow management programme is delivered through blended learning, including online sessions, face-to-face workshops, one-to-one mentoring and peer group support. Leigh says he found the face-to-face elements and peer group support particularly useful:

“The tutors that we had and the knowledge they were giving us, changes your mind and way of thinking about things. In my peer group, there was an eclectic mix of people — 4 of us — and they were all quite vocal and chatty. People throw different ideas that are out of your sector, which stops you getting blinkered.”

And the networking opportunities didn’t stop once the programme was over. Leigh was invited to an event in London recently for Help to Grow graduates from all over the country. “There must have been 200-300 people there,” he says. “We had networking sessions and really inspirational keynote speakers. I’ll try to keep in with this alumni group.”

Applying the learning

Leigh has been using the insights from the programme to improve aspects of the Plants365 business, especially customer relations and marketing. “We have better relationships with people now,” he says. “I’ve been focused on creating regular touchpoints with customers — reminding people we are still there. For example, I send regular newsletters and hand wrote 83 Christmas cards with personal messages; I also sent each customer a pen with my name and email address on.”

Although Leigh isn’t directly responsible for operations in his role, he feels he’s had an impact here too: “I like to think I’ve improved operations by challenging people’s thinking. For example, I’ve encouraged better recording of costs and urged people on the ground to come up with ways to improve things and have ideas. The Help to Grow programme covered how to empower people and made me realise that I need to be a role model for high performance.”

Evolving the business

During the pandemic, Plants365 grew significantly by supplying online retailers such as Thompson and Morgan and Mr Fothergill’s. But when garden centres and nurseries reopened, online plant purchases tailed off and the business needed to adapt its market strategy.

Having completed Help to Grow, Leigh wasn’t fazed by this challenge and has now been able to build relationships with bricks-and-mortar retail stores: “Online retailers’ sales have dropped but the extra retailers I’ve gained has filled that void. I think that’s pretty good since ‘normal’ has resumed and there are now lots of places open where you can buy plants.”

Recommending Help to Grow

Leigh has already recommended Help to Grow to a colleague he used to work with, and to another employee of Plants365 (who has since taken the programme). He says:

“I personally got a lot of value from it. You remember a lot of the content, and I still look back at the notes I took now!”

Leigh's initial impressions of the programme

This video interview was taken just after Leigh began the Help to Grow programme — hear what his initial impressions were then.

Video interview with Leigh Boekestyn