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Branching out brings opportunity

As council-owned greenspace and conservation specialists, Nelson-based Nelmac branched out to commercial landscaping work 27 years ago. Led by contracts manager Euan Milne, the division has gone from strength to strength. Here, Euan gives us insight into how and why

Euan has always loved the outdoors and working with his hands, and after returning from an OE in the early 90s, he landed the ideal job.

“I was given an opportunity to work with a local landscaping company and ended up staying with them for several years. When that business closed, I was offered a job with Nelmac to help build its landscaping presence.”

Euan has been working for Nelson council-owned Nelmac for 27 years – six of them on the tools and the rest in management.

“I now look after our landscape construction, maintenance and nursery operations,” he explains, “but at the start, I was the only one in landscaping in the business.

“We’ve grown from a one-person landscaping business to a team of up to 30 staff. We’re one of the bigger players in Nelson now, so it’s been a journey! I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I guess you could say I’ve been the driving force behind the growth of the landscaping division of the company.”

Part of the successful growth has been recruiting good staff to come along for the ride. Euan laughs when asked to reveal the 'special sauce' behind finding employees like that, but did share a few tips.

“It would be remiss of me to say we’ve found it easy to attract qualified, skilled landscapers. Those types tend to run their own businesses!

“However, a strategy that has proved effective for us is to work with agencies to get people who have spark, a building background and a can-do attitude on temporary contracts. We get them up to speed as quickly as possible and offer them permanent, full-time work if they’re the right fit.”

Euan also isn’t scared of hiring apprentices or tourists on working holiday visas to fill gaps as required.

“We’ve noticed we’re getting more calls from backpackers now that borders are open. They’ll generally stay with us for three or six months, which works well if it’s only a few staff.

“There are five apprentices on our books and we’re advertising for another one. We like taking on apprentices, because we can make sure they’re being trained to our standards, which means we can be sure of the quality of our staff.”

Large contract experts

His staff work across all aspects of landscaping – construction, planting and maintenance – though most of Nelmac’s jobs normally are in the commercial sector. The business is currently working on the landscaping for two retirement villages, which Euan calls “cookie-cutter stuff”.

However, there’s enough diversity across jobs to keep everyone engaged. Nelmac tends to work on bigger contracts where smaller firms might struggle to meet certain requirements.

“When it comes to working with companies like Fulton Hogan or Downer, they need to tick a lot of boxes, so they want to work with landscapers who have quality assurance and health and safety systems and protocols in place – which we have. Smaller companies can struggle to provide that.”

When asked what’s changed the most in his 27 years at Nelmac, Euan doesn’t hesitate – he says it’s the legal requirements around compliance and the expectation that firms consider the environmental impact of their work.

“We’re thinking more about where materials come from, how it’s made and the carbon footprint of the product. We’re trying to look at local materials rather than shipping in from overseas.”

And luckily for Nelmac’s labourers, Euan reckons the physical parts of the job aren’t as intense as they once were, thanks to the developments in machinery and tools.

To help get the job done without the need to call in additional subbies, Nelmac’s landscaping arm can call on a plethora of machinery.

“We have excavation specialists and own six diggers, nine Class 2 trucks, a couple vans, six utes, a front-end loader and an 8T wheel digger.

From eyesore to family favourite

One job Euan is particularly proud of is Te Pā Harakeke in Nelson. “The site used to be a modellers’ pond. It was really old and weed infested and has been a sore point within the local community and council. We were asked to redevelop the site and make it into a family-friendly space, which we’ve done. It was a really cool project to work on.”

Euan is thinking of entering the project into the 2023 Landscapes of Distinction (LOD) award – the annual awards ceremony run by the Registered Master Landscapers (RML). Despite being a member for several years – since RML was called Landscaping Institute New Zealand – this would be the first time the business has entered.

Euan says it’s not because they don’t think the awards are a great part of RML, but it wasn’t the original reason for becoming a member – it's more of an additional perk.

“We originally pushed to join the organisation because we wanted to be part of a national body,” says Euan. “I believe that being part of an organisation like RML gives the business some important recognition and shows our clients that we operate at a high standard.”

Being a member has done that – and more.

“It's helped us win council contracts, because they choose to consider RML members first when they receive tenders for jobs.”

With RML membership as a key tool in his kit, Euan continues to ensure that Nelmac’s landscaping division is well-equipped in a competitive industry – and maybe even on the winner’s podium at this year’s LOD awards. Watch this (green) space!


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