Lock on ... working through the downturn

January is traditionally time for new year resolutions, but this year perhaps it is time not to make optimistic plans, with the economy in such difficulty.

Landscapers I have spoken to are noticing a downturn in trade but, equally, some are bucking the trend. Many are as busy with booked work as they were this time last year - however, without exception, new enquiries are dipping and are slower than last year. At the top end of the market the work is still there; it is the £15,000 to £20,000 projects that are slowing more aggressively.

We know about the doom and gloom - we read about it every day - but in times like this there are also opportunities to be had. A good spring will reinvigorate the market. The strong euro is likely to force many holiday-destination seekers to stay at home, increasing the likelihood of them investing in their homes as they spend summer in the garden, a traditional pastime in recession. Low interest rates and poor returns on investments mean it's actually a good time to spend to get value for money, particularly on high-value goods and services. There has never been a better time to spend and get a great deal.

Those firms that do spend will look for reassurance from standards schemes such as the Association of Professional Landscapers' (APL's) Customer Charter and TrustMark. In addition, many APL members are now realigning their businesses to meet the demands of the current climate and investing in marketing for the future.

Streamlining your business, working hard for each new enquiry, excelling at customer service and offering value for money will undoubtedly bring benefits. Dismiss no opportunity that presents itself and remain positive. There will be a drop-off of some competitors and, when the economy recovers in 12 or 24 months' time, your businesses and our industry will be stronger for it.

Do nothing, and you'll join the growing list of casualties from this economic downturn.

- Jason Lock is chief executive of the Association of Professional Landscapers and director of Deakinlock Garden Design.

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