Planting the seed for staff growth

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Linda Cook, the new owner of Big Jim’s Garden Centre, put herself and two employees through the NZ Certificate in Horticulture (Level 3) at WITT to fill in gaps in her team's horticulture knowledge and increase their confidence with customers.

“New staff come with other skills and attributes from the likes of hospitality and retail and only have basic plant knowledge and some have more, but everyone has the right attitude and wants to learn,” says Linda.

She’s made it a requirement of her team to all have a minimum of the level 3 qualification and foots the bill for the training, seeing it as an investment in her team and business. This year she has two more employees enrolled on the programme.

“Our customers are loyal and they come to Big Jim’s for our range, plant knowledge and our service so as the owner I am going to ensure we maintain the standards they expect,” says Linda.

Linda’s team tell her that they feel more at ease and confident with customers now they have the qualification behind them.

“I hope by joining the team and investing in my staff it not only increases their knowledge and builds their confidence but it makes them feel good to work at Big Jim’s and feel valued.”

The relationship with WITT has now evolved into more than just a formal student-tutor arrangement with tutor Carl Freeman taking other ākonga on his horticulture programmes to the shop and nursery on field trips.

“Taranaki has a rich horticultural history, with Big Jim’s very much at the centre of that story. It has been wonderful to see Linda and the team’s thirst for knowledge and their commitment to continuing high-level customer service during the programme,” says Carl.

He adds that the Tuesday night part-time programme is perfectly timed for those in employment and it covers off the essentials for those who want to care for plants and soil.

An avid gardener, Linda and her son and daughter-in-law bought Big Jim’s from long-term owners Vince and Ann Naus in October 2022.

Linda says owning the business is a ‘breath of fresh air.’

A nurse by training, Linda has ensured she’s observed all four seasons in the business, looking for improvements and adding her own stamp to Big Jim’s.

“I am always asking ‘why’, is there a better way”.

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