ISS Waterers Landscape rebrands to reflect its corporate ownership

Magda Ibrahim asks what a change of name for the former ISS Waterers Landscape means for the firm.

Vale of White Horse District Council uses ISS. Image: ISS
Vale of White Horse District Council uses ISS. Image: ISS

With a history as a family-owned firm, the landscaping division of ISS Facilities Services had traditionally kept the corporate world at arm's length.

But acquisitions meant the business snowballed and there has been a sea change in the firm's outlook.

This month ISS Waterers Landscape is rebranding as ISS Facility Services Landscaping, as it repositions itself to make the most of the corporate climate.

There are big advantages to the move, managing director Phil Jones claims, not least the backing of an international firm that can afford to invest in equipment and business development. In addition, the name ISS can hold significant sway with new clients, he argues.

"My challenge is in getting the best out of being part of a company like ISS, as well as keeping our own identity," Jones explains.

It is a difficult balancing act. After all, the firm has a strong affiliation with the name Waterers Landscape from the days when the brothers Peter and Mark Fane ran the business. Indeed, Peter continued to work for the firm until December 2007 - almost three years after it was bought by ISS - with Jones as second in command. Jones had joined when Waterers bought Berkshire-based Grounds Maintenance Services, where he worked, in 1994.

"At the stage we were at two years ago, there were three firms - Waterers Landscape, Mitchell & Struthers in Scotland, and JV Strong," says Jones. "We had outgrown the name Waterers.

"The corporate world is not everyone's cup of tea, but what has amazed me is how many people are up for it.

"There are people who have been with us for 10 or 15 years who have kept faith with what we've been doing over the past couple of years."

Different parts of the ISS business - which includes transport, security, and restoration - had their own names: restoration was called ISS Rainbow, while security was ISS Pegasus.

"We decided to re-brand as a common brand with a description of what each part of the business does, rather than what it was," explains Jones.

As the firm grappled with the challenges of retaining its identity as part of a large facilities management business, it continued to build on existing contractual relationships, as well as working to win new work.

"The point is to align our business with local authority objectives," reveals Jones. "The sales process has changed. For a new local authority contract, I will typically start at least a year ahead of any contract being advertised.

"By doing research to find out which contracts are coming to market, we can try to align ourselves with where clients are going."

Clearly the next few years are not going to be easy, as any firm tasked with local authority work knows. The squeeze has already begun and open spaces budgets are inevitably going to shrink.

"Will more local authorities outsource because they can't deliver the service as cheaply in-house?" asks Jones.

"That will happen in some cases and there will always be market testing. But the use of parks has increased through the recession and there is a need for high-quality green spaces.

"We have done value-added schemes, such as sponsoring projects with schools. One of the benefits of a corporation is that you have a strong thrust on corporate social responsibility.

"Working with the public sector is generally a rational approach; they tell us that they need to find 10-15 per cent savings and they expect us to work with them on that.

"It is a fool nowadays who doesn't take a long-term approach, particularly with public sector contracts."

That has meant turning some full-time jobs into seasonal posts and explaining to clients that smaller budgets might mean focusing work on higher-profile sites.

Another move the firm has taken over the past six months is to employ seven new business development managers across the country.

"Their role is not all about winning work," explains Jones. "In reacting to lower public spending and the recession it is not all about sales, but developing existing relationships.

"They sit down with our clients and look for opportunities, such as a refurbishment project or landscape scheme. It is already paying dividends."

The business moved to its current headquarters in Woking, Surrey, in 2007 from its former home in Windlesham.

"We were in a typical landscaping office and yard, with teams coming in and out daily," adds Jones. The new HQ could not be further from that image, with its crisp white furniture and glass-fronted offices. But Jones is keen to stress that the business's identity is unchanged.

"Although we are a national company, it is not really what our customers are interested in unless they have got a multi-site national contract," he points out. "But it does give them peace of mind that we are a sound operating company."

A specialist landscape forum, which Jones chairs, shares best practice with ISS arms in other countries - including Australia, the States, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

Jones says the firm aims to grow by 10 per cent in the next year and all of the recent changes are designed to help the company expand. With a new contract at Aberdeen City Council beginning now and several more deals expected in the coming months, that is not unrealistic.

The challenge now is in finding the balance between the corporate identity and the personal service on the ground.

"Name changes are emotional more than anything else," says Jones. "I am sensitive to the point that we need to retain our identity as a landscape business. We need to keep the balance right for our customers.

"I am not here to sell catering, cleaning or health care. I am here to deliver grounds maintenance and that is my sole aim."

ISS FACTS & FIGURES TRAP

- ISS employs 43,000 people in the UK - 1,500 work in the landscaping business

- Its head office is in Woking, Surrey

- It covers four regions and has 140 depots around the UK

- Key contracts include the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and the Ministry of Defence

- The landscaping arm was previously Waterers Landscape - run by Mark and Peter Fane - until ISS bought the business

- The landscaping business has a £51m turnover - up from £26m in 2005.


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