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Garden centre group Dobbies has struck a five-year deal with online grocer Ocado to expand its UK deliveries.

The UK’s second biggest garden centre chain plans to launch the service early next year to serve the whole of the UK. Dobbies chief executive Nicolas Marshall called the tie-up a “huge opportunity”.

Garden centres currently do a “pathetically small” amount of business online compared to other retailers, Mr Marshall told the BBC.

About 40% of UK retail sales are online, but for gardening it is only a few percent, he said.

Garden centres make about £4bn in annual sales, estimated Mr Marshall, a former boss of the UK’s biggest gardening retailer Wyevale.

“If we can get to 40% of £4bn, that’s £1.6bn online, ten times our turnover – huge,” he told BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme.

Dobbies was sold by Tesco to a group of private investors, including retail specialists Midlothian Capital Partners, last year for £217m.

Dobbies’ new chairman, Andrew Bracey, a co-founder of Midlothian Capital, has links to Ocado. He was chief financial officer at the online specialist for three years until 2012.

Dobbies – which has its headquarters near Edinburgh – operates 34 garden centres in the UK.

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