Lock on ... landscaping in uncertain times

A colleague of mine recently attended an eastern region Landscape Business Improvement Scheme (LBIS) meeting, which is run through the HTA by Neville Stein, a regular contributor to the opinion column.

We were hosting the meeting around a garden that had won an Association of Professional Landscapers award earlier in the year and, through discussion, were trying to gauge the "state of the nation" given the economic uncertainty. The meeting was attended by 15 people representing a number of contractors, all of which were fairly coy about their level of business and confidence in the short to medium term. This cautiousness was also borne out by a recent meeting I had with a contractor who had a number of large projects that were about to start and that were all suddenly put on hold for six to nine months.

With the housing market slowing down and many housebuilders reducing output one can understand this cautiousness from those attending the LBIS meeting.

However, there was a common thread - flexibility. All of the contractors represented at the meeting stated how, over the years, the size of their workforce had fluctuated with the level of business - and that will be the key to their success or failure in the future.

Now is the right time to take a hard look at their businesses and focus on their core strengths and profitability, and to cut any weak links. It is also the right time to look at all business costs and identify those that are essential and add value and those that do not - make the business lean, flexible and profitable. If the available market shrinks, which it could do, businesses in middle England are likely to be hardest hit. The leaner and more flexible your business is the faster you will be able to react.

From those commentators and practitioners that I speak to, the consensus is that the economic situation could get worse before it gets better - act now and with any luck you'll emerge stronger on the other side.

- Jason Lock is director of landscape at Notcutts Landscape & Garden Design Consultants.

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