A veteran in the landscaping industry, David Clayton-Greene has owned his company for 26 years, and is currently putting all his knowledge to excellent use around the Tauranga region
David Clayton-Greene has the perfect name for the job – and, if you want a business that looks after its staff and the environment it operates in – the perfect philosophy.
After completing an apprenticeship and earning a national diploma in horticulture, David bounced around various industry roles in the public and private sector – he even tutored and set up courses for Wellington Polytech.
However, another life was calling. David wanted to be his own boss so, 26 years ago, he and his wife Robyn founded CGC Ltd with little more than a mobile phone and a Mazda ZT 2000 ute he bought off the side of the road for $2,000.
Fast forward to 2022 and CGC Ltd has a team of 17 staff under its wing, including four apprentices and David's daughter Lillian, who works as an operations manager. In an industry notorious for low staff retention, David says CGC Ltd prides itself on maintaining a stable workforce.
“Our retention rate is pretty good, and I believe it’s largely thanks to a strong focus on creating a very supportive work environment. For example, we don’t employ anyone below living wage, we’re an equal opportunities employer and a key focus is to ensure our staff aren’t disadvantaged in any way.”
Exceptional staff care
David takes care of his workforce by providing fruit during the week, cultivating a positive environment and offering additional training wherever he can. Training isn’t limited to the practical stuff like Class 2 licences – it also extends to funding more well-rounded upskilling such as Dale Carnegie leadership courses.
Covid-19 has changed how the business has to operate – especially now that there’s a vaccine mandate in place for some of his public jobs – but David reckons adapting to the new normal has been a breeze thanks to his employees’ accommodating approach.
“It’s fair to say our staff have been incredibly supportive. Robyn and I are humbled by their attitude but there are no surprises there.”
CGC Ltd predominantly operates in the commercial sector, although it has taken on plenty of residential work in its time.
The business has completed numerous projects around the Tauranga region enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, such as a boardwalk for the City Council, but David reckons one of the company’s best jobs was for a school.
“One of the really cool things we did was a playground for Tauranga Special School. We designed and implemented a sensory garden using moses grass, which is really feathery, and scented plants like lemon thyme and daphne.
“We wanted lots of colour, lots of movement and lots of texture, so we added colour to the pavement, an accessible water feature and ribbons to capture the wind movement.
“It was such a great project to work on and our team felt incredibly lucky to create something for kids who have daily challenges.
“If that weren’t enough, when we opened the garden, one of the kids there who had never spoken before said ‘garden’. That was an awesome moment - we all had the chills.”
Environmentally conscious balancing act
David says he’s always taken care to limit the environmental impact of his work. However, he says it’s important to take a broad approach to the subject of sustainability in landscaping and acknowledge the difficulties firms face trying to create more environmentally friendly commercial projects.
“I’m horrified at the waste created in the building and construction industry, it’s absolutely huge. However, until contracts are weighted towards sustainability, and sustainability is an integral part of the price, you’re at a disadvantage because sustainable materials cost so much more. It’s hard to price a job in a way that is competitive and also good for the environment.
“Additionally, as a contracting company, we’re down the food chain. We price tenders put together by other firms, who prepare cost estimates based on specified materials, so it’s not really our role to suggest alternative (and usually more expensive) products.
That doesn’t mean CGC Ltd can’t make a difference – one of its specialities is creating wetlands, which the company does about two or three times a year. On one occasion, it even did the job too well!
“We’ve planted a lot of wetlands and created rain gardens for sub-divisions. Once we planted 35,000 plants in a wetland, but soon noticed they all started disappearing. I went to have a look and found that they had attracted all these swans, which started eating the plants underwater.
“The wetland was designed to be an attractive habitat, but we didn’t think it would be that attractive!”
David adds that CGC Ltd uses battery-powered equipment where possible, upgrades to more modern and environmentally friendly machines and vehicles regularly, and tries a few different techniques to minimise waste.
“We’ve looked at electric vehicles, but we still haven’t found the right solution in the marketplace. We also try and use organic materials and recycle where possible.”
A professional outfit
With work like that, it’s clear David is an expert in his field – which is why he recently joined the Registered Master Landscapers (RML).
“We work on high profile public jobs such as planting 360,000 plants on the Eastern Bypass in Papamoa. We’re a professional body with a professional image and we invest a lot of money in training our staff. For that reason, I want to be part of a professional body whose members personify and value these same standards. I also want to offer help and support, and to get support in return.
“We need to be at the top of our game and we believe being being an RML member is a part of that.”
David also feels that the RML can help to protect consumers. “We see people with a ute, a wheelbarrow and a shovel who think they can be a landscaper, but it’s a totally unregulated industry and I’ve seen some horrendous jobs where the workmanship is terrible. Having an association like the Registered Master Landscapers can help combat that.”
Adapt and survive
You’d think that after 26 years in business it would take a lot to make David excited, but he’s a passionate guy who loves his landscaping. That’s why being accepted in the RML has been a special moment for him.
“From our point of view, we’re rapt to be accepted into the RML. We love our work and it’s really rewarding. I’ve done this since I was 16, so to be a part of an outfit like that is really neat.”
To survive and thrive as a business over the length of time that CGC Ltd has is an immense credit to David and his workforce. The secret, he says, is to avoid becoming too set in your ways.
“To survive over 26 years, you have to keep changing. Nothing stays the same, you have to bend and change and mould. I’m an older person now and I love stepping back and handing the reigns to younger people to see their energy and input.”