Vyvian White moved his garden and landscape design business, Lotus Landscape Design, from France five years ago where he had run a business for some 10 years with clients in salubrious locations such as Monaco, Antibes and Nice and some clients spending upwards of €300,000.
Since moving back to Ireland, White has grown his Enniskerry-based business from scratch, growing 25 per cent year-on-year. He now has three members of staff on the books as well as employing a team of sub-contractors on a project basis.
What sets your business apart from the competition?
I am a member of the Garden Landscape Design Association and the Association for Landscape Contractors in Ireland. There are a lot of landscapers out there who do not do the design side of things and there are a lot of designers who don't do landscaping whereas we design and build.
My experience from abroad makes our aesthetic different to others in terms of expertise in Mediterranean planting and irrigation systems. There’s a trend towards artificial lawns but also for irrigation systems linked to rain harvesting tanks to drip-feed plants in extreme conditions.
We have incorporated technology into the running of our business in order to make it more efficient. Xero. com allows me to streamline everything from accounts to wages to invoicing.
On the design side, everything can now be shared using file sharing software which makes things more efficient – a key aspect of growing the business.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
'If your heart's not in it, get out while you can.' Although I had previously studied horticulture in Reading University in the UK, I worked for KPMG for two years out of college and my manager there advised me not to stay in a job that I didn't like. I'm an outdoor person and I didn't see myself sitting behind a desk for my whole life.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Employing the wrong staff. It is something you really need to watch out for as a small business owner. In France, there were further challenges with the social employment laws. Do your research on the people you are employing, ask the right questions and trial them. Having people that you can trust is vital to a small business.
And your major success to date?
I sold many of my contracts in France but kept a team there for a year commuting back and forth to Nice. Moving back to Ireland and starting my business from scratch was difficult because I had not done horticulture in Ireland, only in Britain and France. When you are starting out and have no professional network, it is very difficult.
I had registered the company here and set up bank accounts here. It’s one thing getting a sale but if you have no credit with suppliers, you have to pay for everything upfront.
My biggest success has been bringing the family and business back from France, starting from scratch and growing the business year-on-year.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
I admire my father, the founder of LVP Conveyor Systems Limited. Building his business from nothing 50 years ago, I admire the fact that he built a sizeable business in which two of my brothers are still involved. We discuss business regularly and I have learned the value of planning and loyalty from him.
What one piece of advice would you give Government to help stimulate the economy?
I feel the Government should support people more when it comes to returning from abroad to establish businesses here.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
I had two full-time staff in France and we were looking after some very high-end properties so I needed to make sure that they were competent when I was back in Ireland trying to set up the business here whilst commuting back and forth.
In the end it was too difficult to maintain the business in France while building my business in Ireland. I had a well-established business in France, and had a lot of nice clients and gardens there, and walking away from that was very difficult. Having said that, it is easier to run a business in Ireland, so it was the right decision to make.
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
It looks very good. I like spreading the risk, so we work for a wide variety of clients, including homeowners, rather than focusing solely on developers.
Brexit should not have a major impact on supply for us as Britain is more of a bridging point. Most plants come from Italy and other parts of mainland Europe and our tiles etc. come from Italy or India.
If anything, we are trying to steer the business towards being more sustainable by sourcing more locally anyway and that includes Irish-grown plants.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
It’s not for sale.