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Green thumbs, fierce work ethic

Ben Thomas took the long road to landscaping, but now that he’s reached his destination, the WeScape director isn’t going anywhere – thanks to a driven work ethos and a strong sense of community

WeScape has been around for 12 years, but Ben says his passion for the industry stretches back beyond that: “My parents brought me up learning about plants and I’ve always loved working with the earth.”

Despite that upbringing, there were a few twists and turns on his journey before Ben ended up with his dream job.

“I left school and started working on a dairy farm, before moving into the building trade and then into transport. Transport is the family business, so I was brought up around trucks and it felt like a natural area for me to work.”

Trucking might be in Ben’s blood, but his thumbs are green and his itch to dirty them with soil kept niggling away at him.

Out of his Shell

“I was doing shift work delivering petrol for Shell. I had three days off every six days, so I started doing some freelance landscaping. I ended up with a decent client base, so I decided to go all in and started WeScape.”

Ben’s good reputation paved the way, but clients say an insatiable drive and a desire to get the job done by any means possible separates Ben from the rest.

“I’m a complete perfectionist and I drill that into my six staff as well. I expect my employees to have high standards and an excellent work ethic – which they deliver – and it plays a large part in how satisfied our clients are.”

One specialist area for WeScape is projects that involve complex logistical solutions beyond the reach of other firms.

“We’ve used cranes to lift diggers into sites to get the job done – we’re not afraid of putting in the hard yards, and we’ve developed a bit of a reputation for handling those difficult situations," says Ben.

Heavy lifting, delicate touches

Ben’s background in trucking prepared him perfectly for his life in landscaping, he adds.

“Moving heavy machinery comes naturally to me, and I’m not afraid to handle it. I remember one job we had to spend four days on a 400psi rock breaker to dig a hole deep enough to get a swimming pool in – that was tough!

“We also install a lot of open fireplaces for Trends Fires, and we often have to lift them in using cranes. Because of my experience, we can do that ourselves.”

Maintenance contracts are WeScape’s ‘bread and butter’, and while the company still carries out its fair share of hard landscaping projects such a deck building, Ben doesn’t see as much of a future in that side of the business.

“I think the building game is going to die shortly, purely because of the cost of materials. A $25,000 deck a year-and-a-half ago would cost $50,000 now, just in materials.”

Material price increases keeps Ben on his toes at all times. A particular challenge for him is expectation management, especially if designers make promises that are difficult to keep!

“Most of the time, the client has a plan and then we manage the budget from that. We run into problems when designers underestimate the cost of a job, and we can’t deliver the full plan to clients under their budget – which leaves them disappointed. However, my staff and I generally have a great ongoing relationship with our clients, because we’re honest with them and give it 100%.”

Delivering quality while maintaining quantity

Ben is booked up until September and will look to win more maintenance contracts in the future – but he says managing short term projects and ongoing maintenance work takes careful consideration.

“We have more than 40 properties that we look after, from high-end residential and office buildings to commercial properties, so delivering quality to those clients while taking on new build projects is a delicate balancing act.”

WeScape operates in a tight sphere, encompassing the Auckland suburbs of Saint Heliers, Orakei, Newmarket and Ponsonby. This allows the company to really focus on the work at hand, explains Ben.

“We don’t have much down time with staff and vehicles getting to jobs or picking up product. That means the client gets 100% of our attention and work.”

Ben says his staff are highly motivated, and he likes to keep it that way by maintaining unity and a collective drive throughout the business.

“I buy them coffee every day, there’s always beer in the fridge and I do my best to keep them proud of the work we do. That’s why I started posting more to our Instagram account – to show the world the great work they’re doing and to let team members see the positive reception their work gets.”

RML benefits

A further source of pride is WeScape’s RML membership.

“I’ve got the RML logo stitched onto our uniform and painted onto the side of our trucks, which gives my team and I a great sense of pride.”

Ben’s been a member of the RML since it was called Landscaping New Zealand and says the network is an invaluable resource.

“RML provides opportunities for businesses to get together, listen to speakers, discuss products and share what’s happening. It was brilliant for me when I was starting – I met a lot of like-minded people who were able to provide heaps of advice.”

Landscaping is a complicated industry with many moving parts and it can be difficult to stay up-to-date. Rather than being intimidated by that, Ben embraces it.

“I’m always saying that I don’t know everything and we’re always learning, plus we need to stay up to date with so much – regulation, plant varieties and the latest building practices to name a few. You get so much variety in landscaping, I love it!"


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