Arriving at Corker HQ near Paddock Wood on the day of our SO photoshoot one April afternoon it’s fair to say the place is positively buzzing.
The sunny weather has obviously prompted plenty of customer orders as there are lots of the specialist garden landscaping business’s lorries arriving and leaving Corker’s huge builders’ yard, piled high with everything from branded bags of topsoil and aggregate to carefully stacked porcelain tiles and smart composite decking.
Despite the busy scene I easily spot Mick Corkery and his son Oliver who own and run Corker as they have big smiles on their faces. It turns out they have a lot to be happy about right now.
We last met a year ago when Mick, his wife Alice and their sons Harry and Oliver told us all about how they transformed their Small Loads business which was established in 2001 into Corker, a hugely successful alfresco lifestyle and specialist landscaping suppliers.
And now the SO team is back at their site on Whetsted Road to discover their latest plans to make Corker, which was founded in 2014, the very best in the garden construction industry.
As we move from doing a fun few pictures of the Corker team, which now amounts to 25 staff, we head over to the customer-facing show gardens area which has helped Corker elevate itself from being a run-of-the-mill landscaping supplier to a bona fide lifestyle brand specialising in creating the most desirable outdoor spaces imaginable.
“We’re actually in the middle of refreshing a few of our show gardens at the moment,” explains Oliver, who won the Times Business Award for Young Business Person of the Year earlier this year.
“We decided that after five years it was time for a few of them to be switched up. But we always ensure that whoever we ask to do one is hyper local. We’re all about championing designers in our delivery radius and giving them our support.”
Those designers have included the likes of Garden Creations, Fairweather Garden Construction and Gardenproud’s Tim Sykes who actually came up with the name Corker – a clever play on the family name Corkery. The company’s strapline is ‘Make Your Garden a Corker.’ So far, so well executed in terms of good branding.
“We’re always innovating, always developing further,” continues Oliver. “This year we have three key things going on. As well as changing a few of our show gardens we’re increasing our 13-mile radius to 18 miles and we have just launched our new bespoke design service Corker on Demand.”
As we sit down to chat in Corker’s onsite office Oliver shows me a map on his phone where you can see the existing radius and then the extended one, which goes into areas as far as East Grinstead, Tenterden and the Medway towns.
“Our technical analyst Ben came up with this software. It shows where we’re currently selling and where we aren’t. Over the last three months these are all our orders,” says Oliver pointing out various pins on the map. “The cluster in the middle is where we are dominant and have been for years but then beyond that is where we’re not selling. So instead of wasting money on mass marketing we are now able to target directly.”
Oliver reveals that the new radius increase will double the postcode area they deliver to, which is why they have made an investment in a large 26 tonne lorry which can carry more goods.
“Instead of going out three times a day we can now load up and go out on a big round – it’s a lot more cost effective and will save on fuel,” explains Mick, who has been in the construction industry for decades.
“We’re obviously keen to make the company bigger but it’s crucial to maintain our rock-solid reputation. We’ve never really liked using third party couriers so by having a bigger lorry we’ll be able to control service and experience and that’s why we’re happy to extend the radius. If it proves successful then we’ll invest in more lorries.
The other exciting update the family-run business has to share is the news of the aforementioned ‘Corker on Demand’ which Oliver says will be a total game changer for them – and also the industry.
“We’ve created a bespoke service where we bring our goods to you.
“We’ve invested in another new vehicle which contains a number of good sized samples of the goods we sell. It’s been fitted out by a local carpenter so it is completely tailormade for us. The idea is to get it in front of people, inspire them and give them honest advice about how we can help them create the outdoor space of their dreams.
“Most people who we talk to here on site really like our business and our values but some customers we can only speak to on the phone. So it’s about giving them the same experience they’d get here, on their doorstep. We want people to know that we’ll literally go that extra mile for them. At the moment we’re starting with our retail and trade partners but the idea is to eventually bring the Corker on Demand service to people’s houses.”
Oliver says that as the business grows further and they come to update their website once again, in addition to the usual ‘add to basket’ button there will also be the opportunity to book in a personal consultation and also benefit from a discount.
“It’s just thinking about the long game really,” Oliver smiles. And given how innovative and dynamic he and the team have been in creating the Corker brand thus far he is definitely on track to achieve bigger and better.
“We’ve been roaring along for the past two years but obviously we can’t stand still. The price of products will go up and there is currently a cost of living crisis going on so we need to make smarter decisions all the time. We’ve had the foresight to invest quite a bit and we want to keep building on the momentum we have.”
Oliver goes on to say that their plans don’t just stop at what we’ve discussed so far during our chat. They have extremely ambitious ideas for where Corker goes next and having told me off the record what they are I can honestly say they are hugely exciting and prove that Corker are utterly committed to elevating the ordinary to the extraordinary.
In the meantime, the team are doing what they do best: providing their customers with quality products and inspiration in order to create an alfresco oasis worthy of any show garden on Chelsea Flower Show’s famous Main Avenue.
“Despite all the price hikes and the dreadful things going on in the world right now we still want to try and inspire people. Your home and your garden is still the most important place for most people,” Oliver states.
“We all saw during the pandemic how gardens became a sought-after sanctuary,” adds Mick. “We all know how good they are for your general well-being and we don’t want people to forget about that. Many people are still working remotely so we want to say the best place to invest your money is in your home and garden. It’s your own oasis.”
And that definitely comes across when you tour Corker’s 15 stunning show gardens. From Japanese-inspired zen dens to country cottage style and on-trend summer kitchen garden set ups – complete with a bar area – there is something to suit every taste. But Mick and Oliver never rest on their laurels which is why they have decided to change a couple of them.
“The original show gardens have been in situ since we launched five years ago. We have so many new customers now and a waiting list with at least 50 to 60 landscapers wanting a garden here,” states Oliver.
“The new people we currently have coming on board include people like Cameron Trend who’s a brilliant young designer. Then there’s Will Buss, Paul Wood Landscaping and Jake Fairweather, but the ones who have been here from the start are still like family to us.”
It’s crystal clear from chatting to Mick and Oliver they are passionate about their business and also ‘on the same page’ when it comes to how to drive it further and galvanise its future.
“We work very well together. You hear so many stories where family members don’t like one another’s ideas or one of them gets shut down but dad doesn’t do that – we’re on the same page.”
“We could talk all day – as you can probably tell!” laughs Mick before adding that at the heart of all the ambition is the fact this is a family business.
The pair are hoping to host a party at the end of this month and are currently chatting through lots of ideas for it.
“After two years of not being able to hold any proper social events we are determined to kick off our new season in style and say thank you to our trade partners and customers,” Oliver says.
“We’re all about the people first, then come the products and then the place. In fact our motto is ‘people, products, place.’”
How did it feel to win not just one but two prestigious Times Business Awards I ask? “It was so lovely. We entered in 2019 and didn’t come away with anything so it made us more determined to win this time round! It just shows the progress we’ve made from 2019 to where we are now – and of course it’s also very good for our reputation as a local business.
“We’re really focused on growing the business but behind the scenes we’re also trying to bring in the right partners to start to really create something special and show people how things can be done. We want to make working with us or buying from us an enjoyable experience. If you come here on a Saturday it’s exactly that: You bring your kids, the dogs, have a coffee and a chat. It’s so much more than a builders’ yard,” smiles Mick.
“We want to inspire you to spend more time outside, whether your space is huge or tiny. We want you to enjoy it with your family and friends and to ultimately relax.”
As previously mentioned, Oliver has hinted throughout our chat that they’ve been busy formulating some very innovative plans to boost Corker’s success – and its share of the product and lifestyle market – but for now everyone will have to watch this space…
“We’re always testing out ideas, then we get the data and we see what works. The big plans we have are something that has never been done with gardens before and it’s super exciting. All I’ll say is just wait till you see what we do next!”
“We’re obviously keen to make the company bigger but it’s crucial to maintain our rock-solid reputation”
“We always ensure that whoever we ask to do one of our show gardens is hyper local. We’re all about championing designers in our delivery radius and giving them support”
“We work very well together. You hear so many stories where family members don’t like one another’s ideas but we’re on the same page”
“The plans we have for the near future are something that has never been done with gardens before. It’s super exciting. Just wait till you see what we do next!”
Outside Edge – What’s new at corker for 2022
Increased delivery radius: The company have upped the area they deliver their goods (such as topsoil, concrete, porcelain and timber) to. They have increased their 13 mile radius to 18, which means they have doubled the amount of postcodes they can reach and will take in areas such as the Medway towns, East Grinstead and Tenterden.
Corker on Demand: this is a new bespoke offering which Oliver says will be a total game changer for the business – and also the industry.
“We’ve invested in another new vehicle which contains a number of good sized samples of the goods we sell. It’s been fitted out by a local carpenter so it is completely tailormade for us. The idea is to get it in front of people, inspire them and give them honest advice about how we can help them create the outdoor space of their dreams.”
Best in show gardens: Anyone who has visited Corker will know that their collection of 15 gardens are the big draw for customers looking to update or enhance their gardens. They work with a number of talented local designers who have created everything from tranquil Japanese style scenarios to a super cool alfresco entertaining area complete with state of the art BBQ and bar area. They are currently refreshing a few of them to introduce new designers to their portfolio and to further inspire their clients.