Listening to the radio early yesterday morning, I heard the story of Hillmount Nursery in the hills above Belfast as told by Robin Mercer the third generation of his family to manage the business. Contrary to the body of evidence that tells us that family business are most at risk of failing in the third generation, Robin has continued to expand the business. The fourth generation is already taking an active part in its further expansion into the future.
I have been a customer since returning to Belfast a little over 10 years ago. I have watched the enlargement of the shop, the car park and the restaurant. It’s where you can be excited by the arrival of all the colours of spring for your garden and where Christmas is incubated as Hallow’een passes. Crowds of children come to welcome Santa and enjoy the petting zoo. The massive car park fills to overflowing when all the Dads turn out on Father’s Day to enjoy the collection of cherished vintage cars that assemble for the occasion. The glass walled restaurant is filled daily by people like me who enjoy well cooked food served in front of a heartwarming rural view, flooded with daylight that lifts the spirits on the dullest of winter days.
Robin tells us that he left school at sixteen without an exam pass to his name. He wanted to get his hands dirty with potting compost and the raw materials of the nursery business he was born into. So how does a man of the soil run and grow such an enterprise that delights so many faithful customers week in, week out as the seasons turn? Continue reading