Now trading for over 10 years we talk to Managing Director Manni Keates and Sales Director Harvey Keates about their family business – CORE Landscape Products
How was the company formed?
Manni – Our dad started his landscaping company up in the early 1980’s and I actually went off and completed a law degree – however, the industry was too ingrained in me and I could not stay away long. Dad used to complain about the lack of decent products available – or how badly designed the existing products in the market place were. I saw the opportunity to work with factories to re design products with the installer in mind – making small changes to improve install time, save on packaging or provide a longer lasting product and so forth.
As a family business do you find it difficult in separating work and family life?
Harvey – not really, we both moved out from home quite a while back now but having grown up together we know how to press each others buttons to wind each other up in typical brotherly fashion! However, the flip side is we know how each other thinks – so we often come to the same conclusion when we have to make a decision and are quite good at listening to each other’s point of view and understand each other’s thought processes.
How has the business changed and evolved over the past 10 years?
Manni – Initially we set out with a basic website and selling from our mum & dad’s garage – most of the designers and landscapers we still work with today remember the early days of sitting in our parent’s kitchen having a cup of tea while we ran around picking and packing their order for them! We now have a dedicated 30,000 square foot warehouse with separate office and 11 staff.
Harvey – The business has evolved in keeping with being more conscious about our own environment – hence looking to offer as many products as we can from recycled materials, reduce our packaging where possible and use recyclable packaging. With recently taking on new sales staff we also made a companywide decision to only purchase electric vehicles going forward.
What would you say the company ethos is?
Harvey – To supply the very best products we can – which are designed with the installer in mind, and deliver them on time, every time. We are widely known for our excellent customer service and product knowledge and with both of us coming from a landscaping background it enables us to give installation advice – so it’s a full end to end service.
What unexpected challenges did you find along the way?
Manni – The main challenge is balancing staffing numbers and we learnt early on to have multi trained staff – so if we are busy any of us can jump into the warehouse to despatch orders or hop on the forklift to offload containers. We also grew so fast that we needed extra warehouse space early on – luckily the site we are on had several other units become available so we could expand into extra space easily as we grew – and keep everything on one site. If we had ended up with separate warehouses all over the county it would have been a nightmare!
How has the company’s marketing and literature changed over the years?
Harvey – Early on it was just Manni who would put the brochure together (and usually complain about my photography skills!) and now we have one full time marketing executive who works solely on all our literature. We now have a dedicated trade brochure for designers, landscapers, architects, contractors & specifiers – and an additional full range of specific literature for the equine industry, house builders, golf courses, hotel sectors and so forth. The B2B side of our business has taken off along the B2C revenue stream – so it’s a juggling act ensuring we cover both bases in terms of literature and information.
Is there any advice you would give to other young people considering starting up a landscape products company?
Manni – Don’t be afraid to ask for advice – when we started out, I asked not only my dad but all his contemporaries in the industry. Also – get a really good accountant who explains everything, this is critical as it put us on a good financial footing from the start. And finally, don’t be too rash to make decisions – often sleeping on a problem overnight really does give you a clearer perspective in the morning.
How did the company cope in the recent pandemic and post Brexit period?
Manni – Luckily we had just increased our warehouse capacity and stock holding as the pandemic hit – so we did not have any issues with stock and we were able to then hold our prices when the Brexit issues with shipping and containers hit. Now things have levelled out at a bit we, like nearly everyone, has had to increase our prices a little due to raw materials and manufacturing costs going up. We have grown dramatically during the past 18 months – and had to take on 2 new sales staff to cope with the increased levels of interest and orders across the board – from merchants and wholesalers to designers and landscapers.
How important are social media platforms to the business?
Harvey – Our social media platforms are just as critical as the industry shows (both trade and public) and our brochure. Social Media gives such a fast paced flow of information on both products and projects alongside who is using our products and why. Instagram is the most successful for us – as it is such a visual way for our all our clients to interact with us. We recently supplied products to one of The RHS Young Designer of the Year Finalists for her garden at RHS Tatton – and the exposure was phenomenal.
What does the future hold for CORE Landscape Products?
Manni – to continue to grow organically and listen to our customers and their needs, we are always looking out for products that can be improved in terms of design and sustainability.
Harvey – to grow on our strengths and become the ‘go to’ supplier for sustainable landscape products.