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How has this family business survived two world wars, the great depression and two recessions?

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It’s a story of entrepreneurship and, resilience.

One hundred years ago, William Richard Warner stepped off the boat from England with his two children in tow. Just six weeks later on 4 March 1914, he opened the doors to a humble nursery shop in Burwood Road, Auburn.

Today a full century and four generations later, and with seven of W.R Warner’s great grandchildren at the helm, Warner’s Nurseries has endured two world wars, the great depression, two recessions, numerous deaths in the family, droughts, floods and political upheaval without ever closing its gates on a business day.

Set on two properties over 20 hectares in Narre Warren, Warner’s Nurseries has over the years forged a reputation for quality plant production and innovation in cultivating new plant varieties in line with changing trends.

Competently keeping up with the times

In recent years the nursery has explored new horizons, collaborating with Hassell at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival to supply many of the plants for the celebrated Urban Coffee Farm in 2013 and The Immersery this year.

It is also a favourite among Australia’s best landscape designers, supplying plants to many of the award-winning gardens at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show.

Not only has the business survived multiple climatic and economic challenges, but multiple location upheavals as well.

“From WR Warner’s original nursery in Auburn the business operated out of Camberwell until the late 30s before expanding to Burwood for sixty years until 2000. Today, four locations and eight properties later we have settled into our new home in Narre Warren North,” Warner’s Nurseries managing director, Michael Warner revealed.

“Some may call us nomadic but others may be kind enough to call it expansion and initiative. We say we are just looking for further opportunities. We are a modern business with demands on our time but for us the plant is king and everything we do is about the growth and development of our product,” he explained.

How has Warner’s Nurseries managed to last 100 years?

It’s not every day that one comes across a 100-year-old business so we were keen to know how Warner’s Nurseries has lasted this long and this is what Michael had to share.

First of all, we have modified our range to suit the fashion of the day. We keep a keen eye on the market and remain relevant to our customers. Simply put, if the public wants a particular tree, shrub or perhaps a solution to a modern landscaping problem, we grow it.

Better still, we develop a better looking product than what’s currently available and promote it to the market to create sustained demand for the future.

Secondly, we engage with and contribute to the industry, so that we always know what is going on and where the opportunities are.

This started with the nursery’s founder, William Richard Warner, was carried on by his grandson Max Warner (my father), and is still a focus today with my brother and fellow director John Warner on Nursery & Garden Industry Victoria Board, myself involved with the National Advisory Board and Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show and Andrew Smith on Landscape Victoria Board.

Thirdly, we always strive to provide a great customer experience. In relation to this, we also treat our staff well, and are hence rewarded with loyalty and long service.

Lastly, we are protected from overseas imports and cheap labour markets, so generally we compete on product, innovation and effort. And these are qualities we can relate to.

On the subject of future plans for the business, Michael told Anthill, “We want Narre Warren North to be the ultimate one–stop–shop destination for professionals working in the landscape and garden industry within the next 30 years.”

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