Having recently celebrated half a century in business, Ransoms Garden Centre is one of our islands best-known family businesses. Established by David and Janet Ransom, the garden-centric business is now in the hands of their three daughters. We sat down with two thirds, Katherine and Sarah, to hear how they have successfully grown the business; drawing on their individual strengths to develop not only the Garden Centre but also the much-loved Ransoms Courtyard, home to Ransoms Tearoom and The Potting Shed gift shop that sits alongside.
As we sit down in the recently refurbished Ransoms Tearooms, Katherine and Sarah playfully bicker, contradict, agree and chuckle as they reminisce over the business that has shaped their entire lives. Established by their parents and grandparents in 1966, the business has come a long way from David’s initial idea of offering container-grown plants to the local market. As a result of Sarah’s establishment of the tearooms with their mother in 1991 and Katherine’s opening of the Potting Shed gift shop in 1994, the two sisters have a wealth and breadth of knowledge in navigating a successful family-run business.
David and Janet Ransom met during the late 1950s, while David was studying horticulture at Kew Gardens. After graduating, he made the decision to follow Janet to New York, where they later got married on Christmas Day, before packing up their possessions to start a life in California. It was here that David found work in a nursery near Longbeach, where he soon learnt of a practice which involved growing plants in containers; enabling the business to sell its products year-round, as opposed to the narrow autumn-to-spring window adopted by most British nurseries at the time.
It was this practice that became the seed of thought for the garden centre that we know today, and when David and Janet returned to Jersey with their infant daughter, Katherine, David had a yearning to experiment with an idea for a business that had been planted during his time in the States. At the time, there were about a dozen nurseries in the island, but no garden centres. In fact, there were very few garden centres in the whole of the British Isles, and so the Ransom’s saw an opportunity.
Janet’s parents, Fred and Alice Sales, moved to Jersey in the early 1960s. With the well-known Fred Sales tack shop, Alice and Fred brought with them a wealth of knowledge in running a successful business. And so, with a combination of experience, optimism and passion, David and Janet, with Alice and Fred, purchased a 15th century farmstead in St Martin, with 37 vergees of land. They moved in on their wedding anniversary – Christmas Day 1965 – and opened to the public as Ransoms Garden Centre just five months later.
As with any new business, the first few years were tough for the Ransoms. As their business grew, so did their family, with the arrival of three more children, and so David and Janet would work long hours into the night, potting plants after the children had been put to bed.
“Because our parents worked so hard, we spent a lot of time with our Grandmother. She taught us from an early age what it meant to work and be paid, motivating us with sweets mainly,” says Katherine with a giggle as she turns to her sister to elaborate.
“I remember Grandma bribing us on walks with Polo Mints. Her mission was to wear us out, so she would say ‘when you get to the top of that hill you can have one’. We were then told to make it last, as we wouldn’t be getting another. I guess that’s where the development of our work ethic all began,” says Sarah.
As soon as the girls were old enough, they would help out in the garden centre’s potting shed – potting plants and stuffing straw into their wellington boots to stay warm. They would be paid in sweets, occasionally a few pennies, little known that they would be developing their own ideas into extensions of the business in the decades to come. Trained as a patisserie chef, Sarah, alongside her mother who is also a trained chef, opened Ransoms Tearooms in 1992. Having taken on the buying element of the business, Katherine would often see products that she thought the Ransoms customer base would like, but were not necessarily the right fit for the garden centre. It was then in 1994, in the same potting shed that she and her sisters would pot plants in exchange for sweets, that the Potting Shed gift shop was opened.
“We’re very lucky that our parents did all the hard work,” Katherine says, modestly, before looking at Sarah. “It can sometimes be a f**king nightmare working so closely with my sisters, but we have a healthy respect for one another and have been able to expand the business based on our individual strengths and weaknesses.”
“True – except I don’t have any weaknesses,” jokes Sarah, before the pair erupt into laughter.
As the two sisters tell me their story, it’s impossible to resist the warmth that they exude; trumping each other with tales of their childhood that have shaped their loving commitment to continue their parent’s dream. With a sound understanding in ever-changing consumer demand, David and Janet’s hope to innovate is as strong and consistent today as it was in 1966 because their business lies in the hands of their three strong-willed daughters; dedicated to continuing Ransoms legacy.