Landscape suppliers Green-tech celebrate its silver anniversary

Founded in 1994 by Richard and Rachel Kay with nothing but bags of ideas, energy and determination, Green-tech has grown from humble beginnings in Yorkshire to become a leading supplier of landscape products . Maggie Walsh discovers how the husband and wife team have built up their business, which celebrates its 25 anniversary this year.

Tell us a little about who you are and what you do for those who may not be familiar with your business.

One of the main aims when we founded Green-tech was to provide the UK landscape market with a one-stop-shop for landscape supplies; delivered to any site at a time to suit the customer. Today we are the largest supplier of tree planting products and soft landscaping materials to the UK landscaping, amenity and forestry industries. We have over 13,000 products to protect and enhance trees and their environment and are able to offer next day delivery on many of these items, using various modes of delivery to suit the site and offload requirements 

Who are your customers?

Landscape contractors, architects and designers from across a range of industries – landscape, amenity, forestry, construction, groundworks, specification, grounds maintenance and horticulture. 

What was your background before founding Green-tech?

Richard: I did a National Diploma in Agricultural Marketing and passed my BASIS exam at Brackenhurst College in Nottinghamshire. I left in 1989 as a qualified Agronomist and worked in Agriculture for four and a half years, selling chemicals into the landscape industry before joining a well-established company Joseph Bentley’s of Hull as Sales Manager for their amenity division. When the company went into receivership Rachel and I decided to join forces and set up in business together.

Rachel:. My background was agricultural. My father was a farmer and Richard and I both shared a passion for it. I was a qualified accountant and worked in the motor industry as an accountant before moving into private practice. It was extremely interesting working with businesses of all sizes providing accountancy and business support but Richard and I had often talked about working together so when the opportunity came along, we grabbed it.

What challenges did you face when starting out?

Rachel: Mainly space, we had a two-bedroom bungalow at the time. The crunch day came when we had four reps in the house for a sales meeting with a supplier. I came home for a meeting with an accountancy client and had to use the spare bedroom. That was the moment I said “things have got to change”. We put a portakabin on my father-in-law’s farm in 1996 but we outgrew this in a few years. We were lucky to find a local farmer who had space and was willing to allow us to convert a building and then keep extending it as we grew!

Green-Tech’s first van

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Richard: There’s just so many things we are proud of that it’s hard to single one thing out. Growing the business as we have, employing in excess of 80 people, the business acquisitions, winning the principle BALI award for Affiliate Exceptional Service, being invited onto the BALI Board are all things I’m immensely proud of.

Rachel Just seeing how Green-tech has grown and developed is something I’m incredibly proud of. We are supported by a great team of people who are each developing in their own right. I love to see people growing and fulfilling their potential. Building our own purpose-built business park which is home to our offices and warehouses as well as several other local businesses is also a huge achievement. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears but when I look at what we’ve achieved in 25 years I’m just so proud.

In your day to day work, what’s your favourite part of the job?

Richard: No two days at Green-tech are ever the same. It’s such a dynamic fast-paced business and I love the buzz that’s always present in the office. My back ground is in sales and so I always have a keen interest in how the sales team are doing and what orders are coming through. I get invited to many events and I really enjoy getting out there and meeting people. It’s what it’s all about – talking, swapping ideas, finding out what’s going on in the market. It’s the best industry to be involved with.

Rachel: Ienjoy working with the teams to find solutions to problems whether it’s 

product-based, operational, logistical or technological. I am very hands-on and enjoy developing individuals. I’m a great believer that we will always find the right role to fulfill a person’s skill set. A lot of our team members have started life at Green-tech in one role only for us soon to discover that their passion lies with another area and we have adapted or changed their role accordingly. 

What issues do you see facing the landscaping industry in the future and how do you feel they can be addressed?

Richard: I believe they’ll be a few main areas that will present challenges and opportunities. For example, Government policy changes as a result of Brexit. The uncertainty surrounding Brexit is creating by the lack of clarity, which is 

without doubt making it difficult for many companies to plan. The lack of skilled labour is affecting the labour supply but projects such as BALI Go Landscape are starting to change the mindset and encourage students to consider a career in the landscaping industry. 

Rachel: I think the concern over the environment and the trends towards reducing plastic will become more prevalent over the next few years. The demand for less plastic will encourage suppliers, such as ourselves to research, source or manufacture viable alternatives.

Recruitment, finding adequately trained candidates and retaining staff appears to be an industry-wide problem in landscaping. Is this a problem you come up against and if so how do you overcome it.

Richard: Fortunately, it’s not something we’ve suffered with but I do agree that there is a skills shortage out there. For a long time, working in landscaping wasn’t particular sexy or well-promoted however I think that has all changed with the 

the introduction off apprenticeships. The younger generation is the future so these schemes and ones like the Pro Landscaper 30 under 30 which Green-tech sponsors to recognise the talent in the industry are crucial to raising the profile of a career in this industry. 

Rachel: We are an ageing industry and I strongly believe that the next generation will be the future of Green-tech. We have an active recruitment drive to take on apprenticeships. We took our first apprentices on in 2017 and they proved to be successful so we currently have another 2 apprentices and we’re advertising for more at the moment. We promote internally so our people rise through the ranks which is part of the reason that Green-tech has a high staff retention rate.

Clearly, you’ve created a successful business model. What advise do you have for people looking to start up in the landscaping industry today.

Richard: Have a robust business and financial plan to work to. Test your plan to ensure the demand is there and cost and sales model stacks up. Deliver amazing customer service. Profit – don’t be afraid to make it. Join industry groups where you will meet like-minded people and network, network, network. Take advantage of technology – use social media to promote yourselves for low cost big exposure and use software such as quick books or sage to ensure you have accurate data. Finally learn from your mistakes but most importantly have fun and enjoy building your business. 

Rachel: Work hard, get out there and meet people and don’t be afraid to push the boundaries, think outside the box and take calculated risks. 

10 . Finally, running a business of 80 plus staff must take up a lot of time and energy – how do you relax? 

Rachel: Ha ha, there’s not a lot of time for relaxing with three children, 2 dogs, 3 alpacas and Belted Galloways to look after. But when we have a moment Richard likes to work out his stress at the gym and I like to paint. 

Richard: We like to take time to get away from it all, so travelling and holidays are high on our agenda.

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