Peter Fane of Nurture Landscape spoke to The Sunday Times about how Nurture was founded and how it has grown.
The arrival of his first customer caught Peter Fane by surprise.
It was May 2008 and Fane’s second landscape gardening venture, Nurture Landscapes, was touting for business — without success.
That was probably just as well; it did not yet have any gardeners on its payroll, Peter told The Sunday Times.
So when the insurance giant Axa asked Nurture to spruce up a garden outside one of its offices in Guildford, Surrey, Fane had to do it himself — and rope in his 16-year-old son, Max, to help.
“We weren’t used to hard labour,” he told The Sunday Times. “We had to get our act together.”
It made pre-tax profits of £2.2m on £73.1m of sales in the year to March. Fane, 57, said to The Sunday Times that after a string of acquisitions, sales should top £80m this year.
Fane grew up near Sunningdale, Berkshire. His father, Mike, owned a chain of garden centres. “Flower power is in the family,” he told The Sunday Times.
He went to Eton, where he was in the same year as Alexander Cameron, the barrister brother of the former prime minister. Then, after his father died from a heart attack at the age of 51, the teenage Fane decided on a business studies degree as he “wanted to understand more about business and the paperwork dad’s executors were putting in front of me”.
On graduating from Bristol Polytechnic (now UWE), he worked in human resources for the mining giant Anglo American in South Africa, before coming home to join the family firm in 1987.
By then, most of the garden centres had been sold off, but the Fanes had kept ownership of Waterers Landscape, which did private work for the garden centres’ more well-heeled customers.
Fane and his elder brother, Mark, changed its strategy to focus on more lucrative business customers, building annual sales to £25m before selling to the facility services giant ISS in 2003. Fane stayed on; he had to “put a suit and tie on and be corporate for a couple of years” he told The Sunday Times.
By 2007, though, he was tired of the “numbers, numbers, numbers” culture of a big company. He and his brothers used £1m from his ISS windfall to set up Nurture. “I didn’t have to do it financially,” Fane said, “but I was in my forties and still had fire in the belly.”
Peter told The Sunday Times, he set out to distance himself from the “large, rather impersonal facility managers”, saying: “We felt there was an opportunity to go back in time and start up a single-service provider that was really focused on quality and excellence.”
He hired three former Waterers staff, then decided that the quickest way to grow was to buy up family-run gardening businesses whose owners wanted an exit because they were “a bit tired”. The first was Andrew Chittenden, which Fane bought in December 2008, giving Nurture 20 years’ worth of contracts and £1m in annual sales overnight.
“They trust me to look after their team,” Fane said of other gardening founders. “They don’t want to sell to any Tom, Dick or Harry.” Nurture has bought 22 firms in its 11-year history, and now has national coverage.
Fane’s family owns 54% of the business, while the private equity firm Graphite bought 20% of the shares last October for £10m.
He lives in Berkshire with Jacquie, his second wife, and their two children, Olivia, 10, and James, 6. He also has four grown-up children from his first marriage.
Fane, who is managing director, put his success down to a single-minded focus on Nurture’s strengths. “We stuck to our knitting. I have seen so many people go off on tangents, and it increases the risk of something going wrong.”