Local nursery Coolings is celebrating the crowning of  young employee Sophie Liebthal as the UK’s 'best young garden centre employee' in this year’s Garden Centre Association Rising Stars competition.

The Rising Stars programme, run by Westland Horticulture and supported by the GCA has been running since 2009. Its aim is to develop the best new talent in the garden centre industry through a year-long training course.

The course helps candidates understand the importance of merchandising, teaching them what they could implement at their own garden centres and how to measure results.

The training programme included three merchandising masterclasses, one of which demanded Sophie undertake a project at Coolings.

Sophie said: “I implemented the techniques I had learned on one of our masterclasses to completely overhaul our fencing and timber area and merchandise our products in a different way. The change created instant results to our sales and I am now completely responsible for the running, sales and purchasing of that area."

The six finalists out of the initial 31 rising stars were announced back in October. Their final challenge took place in January at the GCA conference in Brighton. Each finalist made a presentation to an audience of over 300, covering their achievements over the past year and how they have worked to improve sales figures and customer experiences within their department. Conference delegates were given the casting vote for an overall winner.

Coolings managing director Gary Carvosso said: “The Rising Stars programme gives promising individuals in the industry a great opportunity to develop their merchandising and leadership skills. We are very proud of Sophie, it is a wonderful achievement.

"Sophie joined us in 2010 and resonates with me in that I also joined Coolings straight from school. Sophie is a credit to our company, and was in fact the youngest finalist. We look forward to supporting her on a long and successful career."