The grounds maintenance and vegetation management side of Glendale is responsible for around £50m of turnover this year, managing director Andy Corcoran explained. He has been directed to move cautiously but stay competitive.
"We've grown quite a lot this year so for me we've been very successful. However, the market remains fiercely competitive so we're quite happy round our £50m mark."
Glendale became a privately-owned company in 2014, as being publicly listed was both unnecessary and expensive to administrate. The move gives Glendale freedom not to chase share price growth at the expense of sustainability, said Corcoran. The company has a strong order book and is continuing to diversify into new private sector work to ensure that it is protected from the shrinking local authority market, he said.
That has required some upskilling among managers because they need to manage far more and different work and clients, from vegetation management for utility companies to grounds work at academy sports facilities.
Speaking to Horticulture Week late last year, Corcoran warned that margins were so low they were threatening the sustainability of the sector, leaving little room for training or innovation.
But he has sympathy for local authority clients, many of whom are faced with a choice between horticulture in parks and statutory services. A year later, while margins on public sector contracts are still small: "I'm also seeing a positive change in the contracts that are given out, in that they're often a little more about quality than price."
Local authorities have decided they have pushed prices as low as they can go and the tender process has accurately gauged the market, and are increasing their emphasis on quality, he added.
Councils and contractors working together more to gain efficiencies has also been positive - although sharing business across local authority boundaries "is not a marriage made in heaven".
Living wage - Little impact but higher rates for seasonal staff
The National Living Wage will have little impact on Glendale, managing director Andy Corcoran has said. Although it will push up the wages of seasonal staff, "our average pay is above the National Living Wage so the impact across the entire Glendale business is quite small", he said.
However, all contractors will be impacted because "if you bid for a contract historically at a certain wage level it’s moving quite considerably up. That has to be funded by someone."
Glendale is currently planning for how to maintain the pay differential between employees once the lower rate of pay increases.
The Government’s upcoming introduction of an apprenticeship levy and horticulture and the arboriculture Trailblazer boards have the potential to "rejuvenate the industry" said Corcoran.
Glendale already trains high numbers of apprentices and expects that the new policies will make training both cheaper for the company and more attractive for potential apprentices who will come away with a recognised qualification.