Interview - Andrew Halksworth, managing director, Tendercare

Andrew Halksworth has big plans for this year. The managing director of Uxbridge nursery Tendercare reckons the sector will see cautious recovery, has recently become a distributor for a horticultural acoustical screen to bolster his niche for living and pocket walls, and has launched a new trade-consumer show for Easter with two other companies. When you are chasing the good times, he insists, it helps to "hunt in packs".

Andrew Halksworth, managing director, Tendercare - image: HW
Andrew Halksworth, managing director, Tendercare - image: HW

Why are you so big on green walls?

Our unique selling point is tailored horticulture — finding interesting things to do with plants, whether pruning them or making them grow in interesting places. It's what we do. We've worked on climbing plants at the Imax and the Oval cricket ground, both in London, and are interested in the vertical walls of Patrick Blanc.

What is so special about the acoustic walls?

Tubes of recycled plastic covered by coir and draped in ivy and other plants look good and work fantastically. They can reduce an 80db motorway to 30db — the level of a quiet dishwasher. You have double glazing to control noise inside, so why not something outside?

Why do you think the acoustic barrier will work?

It's straightforward to put up and doesn't need a lot of maintenance. Part of the problem of living walls is 30 per cent of the overall cost is required for maintenance. With this you put it in the ground, plant it up and walk away — maybe do a little tidying up in the smartest urban situations. It's easier to get capital than maintenance budgets. People don't like to allow for upkeep.

Who precisely are you aiming this at?

For the last three years the high-end domestic market has grown in importance for us, going from 40 to 50 per cent of our market. After 2008 the commercial side started to dwindle. Many of our clients were small-scale developers, building up to 20 houses at a time and spending a lot on landscapes. They've all gone and, while the commercial sector for offices is not coming back at all yet, there is evidence the housing sector is slowly reemerging. The big housebuilders, who are sitting on land, are starting to build again but not in a big way. This makes sense — you can hardly say we need more offices but we definitely need more housing.

So when do you envisage that things will get better?

I'm cautious but I think things will pick up this year. Good times, however, can be more dangerous than bad times because big expansion can be hard to maintain. We were fortunate to establish our company in the recession of the early 1990s. It made us cautious — we didn't suddenly grow at 30 per cent a year. This means if something happens and your business shrinks by 10 per cent, you're in a better position to adjust. I think we can grow 10-12 per cent a year — that's very doable.

What do you see as the next big thing for Tendercare?

We're looking to forge partnerships with other people in the sector to share promotional activities and target specifier and lifestyle markets. We teamed up with Easigrass and Crown Pavilions to attract landscapers and consumers with a weekend Easter Garden Show on 23 and 24 March. Stands showed off products from the three companies and in future we hope to tee up displays and advisory sessions from a selection of landscape designers.

What is the point of working with other companies?

We are looking for the same kind of customers and want to show people how our products can be combined to create an effect. By bringing all of our products together we can better promote ideas and create aspiration. We have worked in the past with the sculptor David Harber and HSP Garden Buildings. We are not trying to sell their products for them but by working together we can help them to sell their products and us to sell ours. Sometimes it's good to go hunting in packs.

What would really help your business right now?

To be given a clearer direction on green policy. We are encouraged to look at our green issues and run our vehicles on alternative fuels. We recycle materials and use peat-free growing, but it's a struggle because there is no clear direction. Recycling plants are being shut down so recycling plastics is hard. We wanted to use LPG in vehicles but then they abolished the congestion-charge exemption. Likewise the push for biodiesel — this encouraged small companies to produce the stuff only for the Govern­ment to change the tax regime and kill off interest. They keep shifting the economics and investment, but if they want us to look at energy consumption then we need a fairly unambiguous direction for the next 10 to 15 years.

CV

1970s Architecture, University College London; postgraduate ecological landscape design and maintenance, Wye College

1980s Landscape architect, local authorities and George Wimpey

1989 Co-founder, Tendercare


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