For the final interview in this series, we speak to Tess and Andrew Johnstone from Johnstone Landscapes Ltd. Established since 1990, the company designs and builds gardens across the South of England, with a 50/50 between commercial and private work. It has eight staff and Tess and Andrew took the decision a few years ago to develop the business by focusing on the type of contracts that fit their portfolio rather than purely increasing the team numbers.
Tess explained that after the announcement by the government on Monday night (23 March), they decided to, where possible, wrap up on their current sites and put the team on furlough; The team have been fully supportive and understanding and they all want to come back stronger once we are through this.
The fact that the Job Retention Scheme guaranteed the team would receive 80% of their salary was a relief, certainly in the short term; long term there are obvious concerns as the country will need to somehow fund this.
“As a company we structure our contracts by phased payments; each phase is invoiced as agreed. By the time we decided to shut down, we had reached a natural place to invoice clients and put current projects on hold.”
“As a company we have also looked at all our costs and outgoings to find different ways of saving money; for instance, as all the staff are furloughed and will not be working, we have taken the vehicles off the road (SORN) which allows us to reduce the insurance cover to fire and theft. We are currently still working in the office; it’s month end so we are trying to get all our invoices out. We will then both take a break from the day to day work and have some unexpected planning time.”
“We will pay all our suppliers and make sure we have a clear deck. Not unsurprisingly, I have heard a few stories of people holding back payments – this helps no one. Due to the cyclical nature of the economy it is imperative to try and build a strong foundation in any business and to not penalise a supplier by withholding payments”.
“Looking forward we may see a shortage of plants; the supply chain could be slow to return to full capacity.” Andrew used the analogy of a Formula One race: “When the safety car is called out, all the cars have to slow down. It’s during this time that the driver needs to look after the car, and make sure that they are able to accelerate once the safety car gives the go ahead; however, it’s also important that the driver doesn’t just put his foot to the floor but gradually warm the car back to full speed.”
Tess adds: “One thing I would like to add is in these times you see the value of being part of an association. I’ve been in constant touch with the British Association of Landscaping Industries and have taken its lead on some of the issues. Landscaping and horticulture is a fantastic industry and we need to remember we contribute around £25billion to the national GDP as well as employing more than half a million people – we are going to come back stronger, we just need to hold our nerve.”