Karl Baker - General Manager Ottery St Mary - Otter Garden Centres
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Karl Baker – General Manager Ottery St Mary

From Sainsburys to all things garden centre

Karl Baker Otter Nurseries General ManagerEducation

O Levels in English, Maths, Sciences & Geography

Plant Knowledge Qualification

Food Hygiene Level 2

My career background

I was born in Torquay, Devon, moving to West Sussex to join the Sainsburys Trainee Management Scheme; I worked  in East Grinstead, Bromley, Peckham and Forest Hill as a Department Manager. I relocated back to Devon after two years and continued to work for Sainsburys for a further 17 years.

During my time at Sainsburys I was a Department Manager then covered 15 sites coordinating, management training and implementing a new ordering system. I managed product ordering and display for store refits at Marsh Mills in Plymouth, Worle near Weston-Super-Mare and new store openings including Sherborne, Newton Abbot and Truro. I became Fresh Food Deputy Manager in the senior team at the new Alphington Road store in Exeter, and was then promoted to Senior Duty Manager – managing Pinhoe Road, Exeter for 5 years.

From Sainsburys I moved to the Sportsman Gun Centre for a few years as Retail Manager of their new Exeter showroom, before joining Heart Radio as an Account Manager.

It was through this position I found out that Otter Nurseries was looking for a new Retail Manager for the Ottery St Mary site. I met with Sean Duff Operations Manager then Jacqui Taylor MD and I was delighted they wanted me as their new General Manager.

In my 24 years of retail experience I had never managed a Garden Centre, but the role is more about working with colleagues, products and processes to deliver a memorable shopping experience for customers, rather than having an extensive knowledge about plants!

A typical day

Each morning, I walk all my departments checking we are ready to trade, looking at availability and talking to colleagues about what they are planning to achieve that day. From 8.30am I am on hand to support my team by personally helping them or finding support from another department.

I manage the rotas for the retail departments, any personnel issues or recruitment needs including interviewing potential employees. I also conduct performance reviews for the retail managers and work closely with them to achieve our business plan for the year.

I do a lot of forward planning looking at colleague rotas and shop floor layouts ready for our seasonal moves to accommodate Christmas and Summer displays.

Styles of working

Being a manager and a leader is all about having a positive metal attitude and a passion for working with people. I wouldn’t ask someone to do something if I couldn’t do it myself.

‘There are farmers and there are prospectors”. I like to consider myself the latter; I look for opportunities in people and enjoy coaching and supporting them to achieve greater things.

I want my team to be happy at work and proud of their achievements.

What I like best about my job

The business still has a real ‘family feel’ and I know our customers love the fact we have been here for over 50 years offering such a friendly service. We consciously make time to have fun at organised colleague events, raising money for our chosen charity of the year.

I am extremely proud of the team at Ottery St Mary, we support each other across departments and are always looking to improve the customer’s experience.

No two days are the same, which I enjoy as variety is the spice of life. The pace of the business seems to get quicker every year and I am always looking at least three months in advance ensuring we have everything planned.

Advice for someone looking to become a manager

Being a manager is about working with people, listening, understanding and coaching them to achieve their goals. Anyone can be a manager but to be a manager achieving results you have to enjoy working with people.

Higher Education focusing on Business Studies and Economics is one way but more young people are now doing B.Tech courses, Apprenticeships and ‘work-based’ placement schemes to start their management careers. I suggest speaking to your Careers Advisor at School or College, ensuring all the options are explained to you before you decide which route to take.