QUIET CONFIDENCE FOR 2012……..Carol Dutton reports

Despite the fact that the recession shows no signs of receding, the Landscaping industry is not only weathering the storm but looking towards 2012 with quiet confidence Carol Dutton reports
“This is a great year for BALI as it’s our 40th anniversary,” says Wayne Grills, the association’s Chief Operations Officer. “We’re celebrating with a gala dinner in June on the first evening of the BALI Landscaping show.” The fact that the show was re-introduced in 2011 after many years and is set to continue is an encouraging sign. “We felt that the industry needed a specific show for landscapers,” Wayne continues “and although, to be fair, the inaugural event was not planned to be huge, things are already looking good for this year with new exhibitors and last year’s exhibitors taking larger stands.” A new seminar program is planned as well as a series of demonstrations.
Looking at the health of the industry in the future Wayne is adamant that one of the association’s most important tasks is to keep lobbying MPs and local government on the importance of green space. “It’s up to us to ensure that the green space agenda is kept at the forefront. As a member of the European Landscape Contractors Association (ECLA) we are a representative for the UK,” he says. “Europe has been leading the way and we need to keep pressing the message home that green space is good for both the environment and healthy living.” As members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Garden and Horticulture (APPGHG) BALI is swiftly provided with aspects of new policy and given the chance to put their case directly to ministers. “This is a good opportunity for a collaborative approach with other associations,” he continues. “We have a much greater voice together than alone. We have very close links with the APL (Mark Gregory, the APL Chair is a BALI member) and we have the opportunity to work together more closely.” On the subject of a possible merger of the two associations in the future BALI will be guided by the wishes of the membership. “If this is something that our members would like us to work towards then we will continue to explore the possibilities,” he says. Wayne also stressed that whatever the outcome of a potential merger, it was absolutely crucial that the associations work more closely in the short to mid term.
BALI membership grew in 2011 although the attrition rate was slightly higher. “It’s a very tough market and we cannot forget the problems brought on by the economic climate. These have a larger effect on the smaller companies, some of whom have unfortunately had to close down which explains the slightly higher attrition rate,” Wayne explains.
In order to help the majority, still in business BALI is introducing a new financial service to run alongside their insurance scheme which entitles members to reduced premiums. “We’re in the process of looking at market research to find out which services and products we can add but the most important thing we can do is continue to promote the expertise and professionalism of the entire BALI membership. There are signs that Local Authorities are consulting residents before embarking on new landscaping projects and larger contractors are working with smaller companies. This is a trend that could possibly increase and our latest ‘Whos’ Who’ directory will point members to other members.”

Perhaps one of the most encouraging signs that Local Authorities are heeding the importance of green space issues is the fact that the Grand Award winner of 2011’s BALI National Landscape Awards was the Salford Quays project, Manchester, and that wasn’t the only award in which public money contributed.
Barton Grange Landscapes the family business which has been operating in the North West for 55 years and has an impressive annual turnover of between £1.5million and £3 million has held up despite this year’s government cuts to Local Authorities. “We do a lot of local authority work and we expected it to be a lot worse than it is,” says M.D. Peter Topping. “There’s a lot in the pipeline, new commercial developments and plenty of enquiries coming in. The local authority cuts have not really shown themselves in the landscaping sector as yet although we anticipate that they will. Nevertheless we’re quietly optimistic.” Barton Grange Landscapes is connected to the Barton Grange Garden Centre which moved to a new 50 acre site 3 to 4 years ago and is doing well. The company’s domestic landscaping wing benefits from this connection. Retail did well last year and Peter expects this trend to continue in 2012.
Another family firm, albeit a smaller concern with an annual turnover of less than £100k is Blue Dane Landscaping and Civil Contractors based in Solihull, West Midlands. M.D. and owner David Grenfell has been successfully running his company for 30 years working mainly in the domestic market. “We haven’t been too bad,” he reports. “Things have been fairly steady, mainly because we do work for two or three builders. They all have good reputations and one of them was crowned Solihull Builder of the Year. I think because of the recession a lot of people aren’t moving but making the most of what they’ve got. It’s a case of ‘we’ll get the garden done, we’ve waited long enough.’ Although it was quieter last year I don’t think it’s going to get a lot worse. There’s nothing like recommendation for bringing in business.”
This time last year, Rigby Taylor, a well-known major supplier of consumable products for the management and maintenance of sports turf surfaces launched two new seed ranges specifically designed for landscapers. The Environmental Range of grass seed and the EuroFlor range of wild flower and annual flower seed mixtures have both been met with a positive response which bodes well for 2012, but the question remains, why now? Why choose the middle of a recession to break into a new market? “Five years ago we identified that to maximize our strategy for growth we needed to access additional market sectors,” explains Richard Fry, Rigby Taylor’s Marketing Director. “We were not well known in the landscaping sector and we needed to up our profile. To this end we approached BALI and it was agreed that Rigby Taylor would take on that year’s headline sponsorship role for the annual BALI awards. This increased our profile at a stroke and gave us the confidence to enter a long term agreement with BALI and Horticulture Week to sponsor the awards. As a result many products successful in the sports turf sector have been introduced into the landscaping market and new introductions developed specifically for use in this area.”
Working with their French grass seed supply partner Top Green, the company identified a range of grass seed cultivars that offer significant environmental benefits. “For example,” Richard continues, “it has been shown that these species have the ability to sequestrate CO2 and to that end provide opportunities to lock up carbon in the soil. This has exciting implications for local authorities in urban areas.” Other grass species included in the Environmental range need less frequent mowing and clipping, saving landscapers and local authorities time and disposal costs.
The EuroFlor range of mixed annual and wild flower seeds is aimed at L.A.s as a cost effective alternative to bedding. Supplied either as seed to be sown directly onto prepared soil or impregnated ‘mats’ the range contains species with short, medium and long term emergence to ensure a full season’s display that changes from month to month. EuroFlor can also be used to add extra colour to herbaceous borders and was even in evidence on the ‘London in Bloom’ float in this year’s Lord Mayor’s Show.
Looking forward to 2012 Richard Fry is confident that both new introductions will continue to do well, despite the government cuts, “EuroFlor has been used by both Torbay Local Authority and Brighton, and other authorities are currently discussing their requirements for next year,” he says. Asked if the cuts are affecting business as a whole, Richard is honest but philosophical. “Of course,” he replies, “but grass has to be grown and replaced, weeds have to be controlled and it is more cost effective to spray than to use hand labour. Rigby Taylor has invested in organic composts and fertilizer ranges in response to local authorities with a green agenda and our belief in the ‘personal touch’ with technically qualified personnel calling regularly on landscapers and local authorities has been well received. I think 2012 will be tough but full of opportunities.”
By Carol Dutton

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