Interview - Mark Whiting, director of landscaping, Rigby Taylor

Rigby Taylor branched into landscape products late last year with a catalogue that notched up big sales. It also prompted cautious optimism for the new year from director Mark Whiting. The landscape expert is pinning hopes on more Government and private-sector spending on infrastructure and an ongoing spin-off from last year's London Olympic Games. He also swears by industry events such as the BALI National Landscape Awards, which his firm sponsors and which, he says, give welcome lustre to the landscape sector.

Mark Whiting, director of landscaping, Rigby Taylor  - image: RT
Mark Whiting, director of landscaping, Rigby Taylor - image: RT

Q: Why did Rigby Taylor move into the landscaping sector?

A: The company has always had recognition and a strong customer base in non-product areas of chemicals, grass seed and fertiliser. But there was potential in ground protection, ground cover and tree products like shelters and anchors. We can now offer pretty much everything for most landscape situations. I'm not sure there has been anybody bringing together everything like this and certainly not with our credibility.

Q: How is business going right now?

A We've had lots of interest from local authorities, contractors and sports clubs. We launched a 34-page catalogue in time for the tree-planting season from December to March and had notable successes. One was for 70,000 tree shelters for the expansion of the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland. We've started with two telesales staff but aim to have eight by the third year.

Q: Was it risky expanding in such a bad economy?

A Yes, but there's still plenty of activity and we expect more in 2013 and certainly 2014. The work in Scotland is indicative of a north-south split. We are encouraged by the number of enquiries we've received and it seems quite buoyant north of the border.

Q: What needs to happen to jump-start the economy?

A: Several things, but from a commercial and personal viewpoint the road system has to be developed. The A1 extension around North Yorkshire, for example, needs to be continued up to Newcastle, and how many similar stories do people have from all around Britain? There's lots of talk of capital projects but they need to happen immediately - roads are getting too overcrowded and journey times too long, which is bad for the economy.

Q: Where does landscaping - often an afterthought - sit in all this?

A: Right in the middle. The Olympic Park is an example. People derived so much pleasure from being in landscaped areas and did you notice that all the TV teams backdropped their commentary with trees, flowers and sweeping landscape? I'm hoping part of the legacy will be to ensure landscaping becomes integral, rather than an add-on, to projects large and small. It needs to be at the forefront of design and act as a showcase. All too often it gets impinged on as soon as capital costs overrun.

Q: Meanwhile, the sale of sports pitches bodes ill, doesn't it?

A: It's not a good sporting legacy and I hope another spin-off from the Olympics will be more investment in sport and leisure and pitches. Part of the problem is not just lack of investment, but planning and education policy. I've always been uncomfortable with schools selling land, while sport has been downgraded. We need to safeguard pitches and build on brownfield land to try to preserve the green belt.

Q: Can awards ceremonies such as BALI's help?

A: It was good to see all those companies who pulled together the Olympic Park win recognition at the awards last month. They are so important for a sector that doesn't receive its due. People don't seem to have a problem recognising public art for what it is, yet we have excellent design and construction skills married together that often go totally unrecognised. If we want to raise our profile and share ideas, this is one good way of doing just that.

Q: What's in store at Rigby Taylor in 2013?

A: We are going through a big branding exercise and launching new fertiliser products - we've been working with the Sports Turf Research Institute on various feed mixes. In 2011, Rigby Taylor was bought by Dublin-based Origin Enterprises, which supplies fertilisers and animal feeds, and it has invested a lot of money in development.

Q: How will European directives on chemicals affect you?

A: Legislation on chemical usage is constantly changing and affecting everyone in the sector. We work with the Amenity Forum to make sure our views are represented and always look at alternative products.

CV

1995-2000: Senior account manager, Tomy UK

2000-01: Business sector manager, Tefal UK

2001-03: Sales director, De'Longhi

2003-06: Joint sales director, Morphy Richards

2006-12: Sales director, Green-tech

2012 to date: Director of landscaping, Rigby Taylor.


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