How does Green-tech plan to hit its £20m turnover target?

North Yorkshire-based landscape supplier Green-tech has been on a roll of late. It recorded turnover of £12.7m in its last financial year, to 30 September 2017 - 23% higher than 2015-16 (£10.3m) and £10.7m in 2014-15.

Rachel and Richard Kay (front) with staff celebrate record results in November. Image: Green-tech
Rachel and Richard Kay (front) with staff celebrate record results in November. Image: Green-tech

Chair Richard Kay and managing director Rachel Kay say they are on track to reach their target of a £20m turnover by 2020.

The husband-and-wife team established the business in 1994 and believe continuous investment is key, particularly in IT and people. Green-tech has invested £100,000 in a new website alone that offers customers an easier and clearer e-buying process. Richard Kay says: "It has artificial intelligence, which flushes out data on customers so you don't have as big a drop-off when people leave the market." The company is still getting to grips with the site's substantial back-end capabilities, but he adds that the benefits are already clear. "We launched in March and there was a clear spike in sales."

Two years ago, Green-tech recruited a dedicated online marketing guru, Dan Burton, and last year the company did £500,000 in online sales, with that expected to rise to £750,000 this year. Green-tech also sells on Amazon and eBay, to both trade and the general public.

Following an easy ordering system, a seamless delivery is crucial says Kay. "Our deliveries are 98% on time. That's really important. We have three or four dedicated hauliers and we give them a lot of haulage.

"They ship a lot every day. Where there's a mistake or missed delivery, there's a good communication with clients. Just be straight with people, rather than give them a load of flannel. We've got some great, great customers that have been with us for a long time. We've got a great model."

Alongside the digital infrastructure there is physical infrastructure. The company invested £2.5m in its new Rabbit Hill headquarters in November 2015. This has been transformational "after 17 years of working in the mud in an old farmyard", says Kay.

"Moving seven miles has opened us up into a new geographical employment zone. It has been a lot easier to recruit people and all the staff love working there. There are a lot more pallet spaces and we are located three-and-a-half miles between junctions 47 and 48 of the A1, which makes delivering or collecting from us really easy."

Rebuilding process

The Kays "took a punt" on the land and existing warehouses and then worked with local council planning officers and the economic development team to gain planning permission, by agreeing to rebuild on the same footprint as two old warehouses. They knocked these down and replaced them with two new better-designed warehouses with 68kW solar panels on the roof, doubling capacity and allowing turnover to leap. Now they have planning permission to build three more warehouses in the coming months and are considering renting space to other businesses.

"I always think it's worth having a cup of tea with anyone anywhere in the country," says Kay. "We're better working with them rather than against them. You can waste thousands of pounds on planning fees to go back and forth every six months."

Kay values his "really good, motivated team" and puts part of the company's success down to "investing in youth" in the form of apprentices. Green-tech has taken on eight, and half of them have completed their training and secured permanent roles. Kay says they grow into valuable members of staff. "They are all very well driven and have come to learn the business." But he says to get the best from his apprentices, he and Rachel have had to adapt.

"They are millennials so we've had to change our management style. They are not so good at giving or taking bad news." A softer approach is necessary, notes Kay. "We talk to them. You need to be a bit of a mum and dad."

Staff motivation

Green-tech focuses a lot on motivating staff, increasing targets and promoting from within. It created nine new directors last year via a management buy-in of 49% of the business to future-proof it and incentivise colleagues to reach its £20m turnover target.

It has also been on a recruitment drive, most recently hiring Dan Hildreth and Sam Roddam in the dispatch and warehouse teams respectively. Earlier this year, Green-tech restructured its warehousing team and processes to accommodate the increase in orders that it was experiencing. The company expects to reach 90 staff by the end of 2018.

Kay says the landscape market is currently bullish. "There's a lot of work across the board. There's a lot of good business at Hinckley. It's clear now that people are recognising the health and well-being benefits of green infrastructure. There is lots of retrofitting. The green roof market is very buoyant."

He adds that the market in the south of England remains "very strong" but things are also "quite good in the west. Glasgow and Edinburgh are always good and continue to be good. We had a tough spring weather-wise, but projects are starting to come through."

Green-tech believes in the power of marketing through both old and new media channels. For example, its John Chambers brand was one of the first to exhibit at Horticulture Week's new curated trade show Parks & Gardens Live. "We do a lot of social media," says Kay. "We are continuing supporting industry events and shows. All the sales guys are encouraged to see their customers two or three times a year."

Green-tech's growth has also been powered by five acquisitions:

  1. Holdfast (tree planting) in 2004.
  2. Mona (irrigation systems) in 2008.
  3. John Chambers (wild flower seeds) in 2013.
  4. Regency Feeds (animal feed) in 2015.
  5. Flexible Lining Products (FLP) in 2017.

Kay says the £500,000 FLP purchase has been the best yet in terms of fit and integration, and is "bedding in nicely", adding 30% to turnover but also increasing sales of other Green-tech products. The Kays are still on the hunt for companies with turnovers north of £500,000 that might fit into Green-tech's broad range. "We are really good at running stuff from our Yorkshire HQ," says Kay. "If it was brand-orientated, that would work. If its manufacturing and the facility is working well, you could keep the facility going.

"We're 24 years old this year and have been at it a long time. One of the business assets is we are time-served — we know what works and what doesn't work. We've got a lot of plates spinning at the moment but ultimately it's a team effort. We've got a great business, great customers and great staff."

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