Business Wales spoke to Huw Jones of Shipshape Landscape in Llandudno, where he gave us an insight into his experiences of starting a business in north Wales. Huw started Shipshape Landscape over 10 years ago and he covers everything from a simple garden clearance to a total garden make over.
What inspired you to start your own Landscaping company?
I had been working in retail since leaving college and an opportunity arose to start my own business again based on my retail background. Unfortunately, the deal to purchase a business fell through and it was at that stage I decided that now was the time to make a complete break from retail and go in a different direction. I had done joinery at college and fancied working outdoors so decided initially to start a decking business. Over the years I have had to develop the business due to decking going out of fashion and therefore today cover the majority of garden maintenance and construction.
What has been the biggest challenge and would you do anything different with hindsight?
There were a few challenges in the beginning. Time management was one. Suddenly from working 9 to 5, 5 days a week you're working 8 till 8, 6 days a week. I was doing the garden work during the day and visiting prospective customers and doing the quotes in the evening. Another challenge was being able to say ‘NO!’. I was taking all work that was thrown my way for fear of not having work, but you soon realise there are only so many hours in a day and people are not really willing to wait that long especially when the weather is good. I realised I was going to do quote for every enquiry but when informed of how long their wait would be they didn’t want to proceed. So I decided to inform prospective customers from the initial call how long of a wait they would have and therefore save me 2 to 3 hours of visiting the property and quote time on jobs I would never have got.
What is your greatest achievement/proudest moment to date?
One of my greatest achievements was working in a local primary school. The head teacher wanted to create a forest school. This involved building outdoor classrooms, area where they could teach children how to cook outdoors, a nature path created through some trees that they had on site, raised beds and Polly tunnel for the children to grow fruit and veg and a chicken coup and run for chickens. The area was then opened officially by a local MEP and the local newspaper ran a piece on the opening.
Can you give us your best marketing advice?
This publicity is great and is great for marketing as it goes out to a large amount of people and most importantly its free! Marketing costs a lot and in the early years I was spending roughly £200 per month to bring in the business, but over the years you learn and speak to a lot of other people and realise there is a lot you can do to get your name out there without having to spend a great deal and the internet is one of them. There are a lot of internet sites that you can put your business on for free, also for a little outlay you can have a website created. I found this has become a great shop window for my business. Finally, the cheapest form of advertising is word of mouth. Do a good job and people will always tell other people.
Can you offer any top tips for setting up a successful business?
The marketing would be one tip I would give any business to get sorted from the get go. Get your name out there because at this stage you don’t have a great amount of word of mouth customers. Also listen to your customers, make them feel confident with the service you're providing.
When I get the go ahead from my customers to do a garden make over I always ask for feedback such as Where did they hear about me? - To find out which of my marketing is working because I could be spending too much in one area and not enough in another, and Why did they choose me? - to see if I was the cheapest or the one who gave them the most confidence in the work they were having done. All valuable to help your business move forward.
I also find that being a welsh speaker helps with the local welsh speaking community. People who speak welsh as their first language always like it when I can speak welsh back to them and 9 times out of 10 will give me the work because of it!!
Do you have any plans to develop your business further?
At the moment I have no great plans to develop the business but it is definitely something I would like to look at in the next 5 years maybe going into the supply side of the landscaping business.
By Huw Jones, Shipshape Landscape, Llandudno