Girls on Grass joined Registered Masters Landscapers (RML) this year, bringing fresh attitudes around sustainability and recruitment
Founded by Emma Kunac in 2009, Girls on Grass is distinctive for being all-female and (nearly) all-electric. The team of 15 women specialises in garden maintenance, garden design, lawn mowing and commercial grounds care at hospitals and polytechs between Whakatane, Taupo and Tauranga.
Emma says she didn’t start out with the intent of being ‘girls-only’ – at the time it was to create jobs for her and a friend – but she quickly realised it was a unique point of difference.
“There aren’t many all-female landscaping companies and customers say they love the fresh make-up of the team, so we decided it was the way to go as we expanded. Plus, the name really says it all.”
Joining the RML alliance
One of RML’s newest members, Emma heard about the organisation a few years ago from an existing member.
“He said it was fantastic networking with other landscapers and a great way to stay up to date with new technologies and products,” Emma says. “He strongly recommended it as a fantastic business tool that I would benefit from.”
A month into the membership, Emma says it’s already living up to the hype.
“The whole team is very proud to be a member of the association, as we feel it sets us apart from our competitors. Being aware of the association’s preferred partners, such as Husqvarna, gives me confidence in their products, and I’m really enjoying the material sent from the association, as it’s highly relevant to our business.”
Emma’s passion for landscaped greenery – at least playing on it – started early.
“I learned to play golf from the age of 11 and was soon representing Bay of Plenty competitively,” she says. “I worked at Wairakei International Golf Course for five years, and was then was offered a professional golfer’s apprenticeship to become a teaching pro.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t quite finish due to a bereavement. Instead, I moved to Ōhope and started mowing lawns as Girls on Grass. I noticed a gap in the market for garden maintenance, so I started concentrating on that while still involved with golf, managing the Bay of Plenty golf team for several years.”
Starting out with a borrowed ute, $1,500 and a box full of flyers she delivered herself, Emma says he had to learn quickly.
“I didn’t have a lot of experience – I learned that in a hurry. But I did the best I could to get up to speed quickly by talking to other business owners and studying a free business course in the evening – that was fantastic.”
Emma is pleased to note she’s come full circle in a way, with her team currently carrying out garden projects and maintenance at Wairakei.
While a big part of Girls on Grass’ USP is its all-female staff, the company also has a keen focus on sustainability and has recently shifted to using robotic Husqvarna Automowers as part of an environmental ethos Emma is committed to.
“It’s about trying to be as sustainable as possible – we’re almost 100% battery-powered across our tools, apart from a ride-on mower,” she says.
Emma adds that while being sustainable is key, the shift has delivered multiple benefits.
“The robotic mowers have halved the mowing time compared to the ride-on, which means they’ve basically paid for themselves, and the result is just as good, if not better, than what we could do with any other equipment!”
Emma says the mowers can be put to work on a commercial site in the morning and collected in the evening, as they’re all controlled by a phone app. They are also lightweight enough to be easily handled, but not by the wrong people.
“Risk of theft isn’t much of a problem, as each robotic mower is well marked and has built-in monitoring. Alarms on our phone go crazy if someone picks them up.”
How the crew grew
The distinctive female workforce has grown through hiring friends and taking on staff offered through Work & Income, whose Flexi-wage scheme has been helpful for the business during its formative years. Another path is through the company’s apprenticeship scheme.
“We have three apprentices doing their Amenity (Parks & Gardens) qualification through Primary ITO and one studying a certificate in horticulture,” says Emma.
Not everyone who has joined Girls on Grass has a green background – not that it always matters.
“I’ve found you can teach somebody the skills, but you can’t teach them how to work,” Emma says. “If they move fast, we’re happy to teach.”
Emma believes the team’s reputation for efficiency has kept the workload coming in.
Girls on Grass operates as groups of four to seven workers, which allows them to get in and out of properties in a day, rather than having one or two people at a property for a week.
“That’s what our customers want. People love coming home to see that what would take others two weeks has been done in a day.”
Thanks to this approach, Emma says expanding to a force of fifteen has been extremely easy.
“We’re so, so busy; we’re booked to October. The only problem is staff – we just can’t get them. The opportunity to expand is huge. If we could get the staff, we’d grow further.
“With the Covid climate, migrant workers not coming in is huge for us. I’ve got a couple who want a job, but we’re waiting for their visas to be approved.”
Meanwhile, the Girls on Grass continue to enjoy positive working relationships with others in the industry.
“Having an all-female team may be unusual, but we have great relationships with other landscapers and have been really welcomed by the industry. Landscapers in general have a great work ethic, broad knowledge and an artistic flair, and that’s something that is great to be part of!”