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Featured Business: Owen Chubb Garden Landscapes Limited
Name: Owen Chubb, founder, Owen Chubb Garden Landscapes Limited
Employees: Five full-time (double during high season)
To make a garden stand out, you need a creative eye. Hand in hand with creativity is innovation. It is an innovative approach to business management and development that helps differentiate Owen Chubb Garden Landscapes from competitors.
Prior to starting his business in 2002, Owen had graduated in Industrial Design Engineering at University of Limerick and National College of Art & Design, Dublin. He pursued a career in product development and international marketing with the Irish Trade Board.
Subsequently he worked briefly for Enterprise Ireland and later as market development manager with Baltimore Technologies.
Having quite a bit of experience working for different organisations and in different roles both at home and overseas, Owen decided to start his own business. He decided to work on the basis that “If you want to start your own business, look at something you enjoy doing” and saw a market opportunity for high-end garden landscaping.
Business to him is about delivering a superb new garden for the client. It’s a great privilege to do landscaping, he believes, as you are making an impact on a customer’s personal space.
In 2005 and 2006, Owen’s business won in two categories at the Association of Landscape Contractors of Ireland Awards – a great accolade for such a new company. Once he got past the first three years of business he focused on becoming one of the leading garden design landscaping firms in Dublin – that has been the main driver of continued success. He puts great emphasis on teamwork and the team’s role in establishing the reputation for the business.
Over the years, he has diversified the company’s business. This includes being appointed the Irish distributor for Light Symphony, an innovative range of wireless garden lighting control products.
In 2012 Owen established a new company, Victorian Garden Buildings, to market and supply a range of high-end bespoke cedar garden buildings in Ireland and UK markets.
Unusually perhaps for a landscaping business, he has a 3,000 square foot showroom – “Garden Studio” – in Terenure, which prospective customers can visit by appointment to preview a wide range of the company’s products.
Interview with Owen Chubb
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
The main inspiration was to find a role that I felt comfortable and confident with, where I had something to offer. I felt I would have a competitive advantage by bringing together my creative, technical, business development and marketing expertise to sustain a new business.
How did you initially fund your business?
Personal funding. My approach to business and this development has been to be cautious. I was always conscious of the importance of cashflow, not to put too much strain on the initial stage with high borrowings.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
Victorian Garden Buildings was launched in late 2012. It was established, created and marketed by myself. It was the first significant diversification for the landscaping business. Over time we have continued to expand our business horizons. Our core business remains garden design and landscaping.
What have been the highlights to date?
Surviving in an extremely difficult economic downturn that impacted across the board. Garden design and landscaping is very much a discretionary business. To come through virtually intact, leaner, fitter and also more confident is reflected in the very strong demand for our services at this early stage.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
It’s the excitement, the uncertainty of starting each year almost with a blank sheet and not knowing how we are going to fill our order book by the end of it. We’re like a fashion business in many senses. Every season you bring out a new collection and hope it sells.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I am constantly reminded of, and inspired by, many Irish entrepreneurs – and what many share is the passionate drive for success and to excel.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
It’s important to keep abreast of the developments within the industry but it’s also important to keep abreast of trending customers’ requirements. This involves ongoing research of market reports and trends, and attending and participating in trade and consumer exhibitions.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The biggest challenge for business viability has been working our way through the downturn that took place post-2008 and that is still lingering to some extent. There is light at the end of the tunnel. That has been the biggest challenge – refocusing and being leaner and more competitive. On a broader front, the challenge has been to see over the horizon and see other, newer opportunities by diversifying our service offering and including very significant new products to make us a more viable and competitive company.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
A significant challenge for many companies is financial viability; some companies have order books but don’t have the financial independence to fund their working capital and are dependent on other entities to help do so.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
I’m very confident dealing at the front end. Our customers say to us they are very surprised and impressed that I’m the first point of contact. I’m very much involved in the sales and marketing aspects of the company. I’m responsible for most of the design and then I’ll be involved hands on, to some extent, in some of the projects. That has impressed a lot of customers. It reassures them.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
The most fulfilling reward has been that we’ve managed to do it. We’re still standing and that is a very exciting place to be right now.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
I knew from college days that there’s a significant new business failure rate within three years. The initial benchmark was to get through that period. It seems a bit abstract but once we came through the three years, it accelerated our confidence and we thought “Maybe we’re pretty good, maybe we can go further with this.”
How did you scale/grow your business?
From the very outset we have tried as best we can to fund any expansion, any new development, through our own resources. We’ve always taken a very conservative approach to managing our financial affairs – realising the importance of working capital and the idea of a rainy day. That has stood us in good stead.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
The only obstacles we’ve confronted is the competitive nature of the marketplace, which is a given.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
Doing research, tracking what’s happening at home and other geographic markets.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
The excitement of the challenge. To be given the challenge to design somebody’s front or rear garden that can impact on their personal space and their enjoyment of their living environment. That has always been a very profound and stimulating experience for me in running my own business.
What’s your vision for the future?
I’d like to see new opportunities to broaden our horizon and improve the standard and quality of the specifications in private gardens. I’d like to do that by using materials where craft has been brought to bear – to create discerning environments that would withstand the test of time, with minimum impact on the environment.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
I’ve had no direct contact or experience with a mentor. I’m aware of the mentor schemes available and think they are very valuable.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
If you enjoy doing what you do, do your best and that will stand you in good stead.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Be brave, be confident, be pragmatic, be your own worst critic. Do not overlook the vital importance of financing the business. This is the lifeblood of the business. If the finances aren’t in order, it’s going to undermine everything else.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
One I always say to people on the garden mechanics is from Alan Titchmarsh: “Spend twice as much preparing the ground, i.e. digging the hole, as you do on the plant.” To me that’s a very fundamental philosophical position to maintain insofar as if you only focus on your product or service, you may miss other important aspects. So if you could clear the ground by preparing the business – the finance, the marketing – when you come to deliver your product or service, everything else will work.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
Often I say I wish I could have started sooner, e.g. when I started college. But people say “Then you might have had different experiences. It’s the experience you’ve had that’s led you to this particular point in your career.” My business is probably better for it.
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