BALI and Lantra event advises on ways to make most of recession

Landscapers can ride the recession by cashing in on customers who are looking for ways to invest savings while interest rates languish.

But while there is work available, landscape firms need to keep a tight rein on spending and ensure client and supplier credit health.

That is the advice from horticultural business adviser Sam Jackson, who spoke last week at a BALI and Lantra industry day held on 26 March at Otley College in Suffolk.

Jackson said firms need to focus on good cash flow and maintaining a strong professional image to beat cowboys in the market. He said: "We are lucky in the landscape and horticulture business because our customers have a bit of money. People who would have put money into savings might as well spend it on something they can enjoy."

He added that rising unemployment figures would impact on the sector as the jobless tried to find work. "The jobber gardeners who are able-bodied and have a lawnmower are the biggest worry," warned Jackson during the event. "There is a chance of serious competition undercutting professionals. But that is where bodies like BALI come in and the cowboys cannot take that protection from you."

Jackson said the biggest risk during a recession is not being paid. He advised landscapers to try tactics such as asking clients to pay for materials upfront or getting phased payments rather than waiting until the end of the job.

In addition, firms should run credit checks on both suppliers of materials and clients to ensure they are good for the job. "It would be folly not to follow up on this," explained Jackson.

Follow and update cash flow on a regular basis and keep a log of debtor days - the amount of time it takes a client to pay - to help survive the recession, said Jackson.

BALI chairman Richard Gardiner agreed: "Debtor days are one of the key indicators in our business."

Every aspect of the business should be run as efficiently as possible and employers need to make sure they are keeping staff motivated. "You need to make sure employees are on your side and realise that if they do a good-quality job on time there will be more jobs to come," said Jackson.

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