Times they are a-changin’

By March 20, 2017Blog, News

Angus Lindsay considers how the industry has changed over the past few years.

Maybe it’s me becoming a bit more reflective as I get older, but our industry and those businesses which support it are definitely changing. Thankfully, in most cases it’s for the better, but not in all. Change is an inevitability which we have to accept in order to move forward. Making better use of technology and adopting new working practices should make us more efficient, more responsive and more profitable. Well, that’s the theory!

Over the last few years we have seen many businesses amalgamate into larger concerns to expand their coverage, increase turnover, and hopefully, become more cost-effective. It’s not just the private sector; Local Authorities and Housing Associations are also following this trend in an effort to spread costs against their ever-tightening budgets, through joint procurement and sharing support staff, and even Chief Executives. But amenity horticulture is a very localised and community-focused service, and we must all be careful not to lose the local approach which has been the foundation of our businesses for decades.

Integrating businesses is never easy, especially long-established and successful ones. The idverde team knows that from personal experience, with both The Landscape Group and Quadron being respected operators in their own rights. Each had systems which had worked well and got them to where they are today – it’s when you bring them together that the fun starts! Whose systems do you go with? Who looks after what, and who reports to whom? It’s a challenge which requires co-operation, communication, and a significant amount of understanding and diplomacy on all sides – not an easy task, and not one that should be rushed. In our case, the integration project was carefully planned over 12 months, and we brought in extra resource to manage the project so we didn’t jeopardise our service.

So if you get it right, you end up with a new generation of organisation, being led or supported by the very same people who helped develop the successful legacy businesses. These new businesses with their lower overheads and can-do approach now benefit from years of experience and a sound understanding of the industry, the local community and the people therein. As a result they are beginning to take significant bites out of even larger multinationals’ market share, and so the merry-go-round continues.

However, as part of the globalisation of vehicle and machinery suppliers we are seeing a new generation of sales people, who, in my opinion, really do need to listen more and understand their customer. It’s not all about today’s sale: supporting the product through its life is becoming a greater consideration, as is an appreciation of timescales, the individual needs of the clients we work for and the environments we work in.

I’m trying not to be overly critical, but in my world flashy showrooms, iPads, and shiny shoes don’t sell vehicles and machinery, and they certainly don’t fix things when they go wrong. There are businesses out there who have got the balance right and excel in supporting the product they sell, appreciating the pressures and pinch points, and pulling out all the stops to get a machine back on the road. In the ‘lastminute.com’ world we live in, focussed customer support is a real art and shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s relatively easy buying equipment, it’s not so easy getting the best out of it and making it last.

So maybe I’m just becoming a dinosaur who harks back to the days when vehicles and equipment were readily available, delivered on time and to specification, clients gave you lead times of months not days, and machinery was reliable for years instead of months. It all takes a bit more planning nowadays! With so many changes in legislation and EU-led directives, sourcing a 3,500kg tipper with the bodywork you want, and having it delivered when you need it has become a challenge rather than a task. But hey, maybe Brexit will make this easier? Let’s live in hope!

Angus’s blog article is also published in the March 2017 issue of Pro Landscaper magazine.