Skyline Landscaping –

Clients Set the Agenda

Skyline Landscape Services has grown into a national business by targeting the burgeoning commercial/infrastructure landscaping market. John Power talks to Skyline’s Managing Director CHRIS RICHARDSON about the company’s operations.

Q: (John Power): You and your brother Colin started Skyline more than 20 years ago – what is the current company structure?
A: (Chris Richardson): We have grown to now offer our services nationally, however we only operate four main offices, in NSW, Qld, Vic, and WA. We have set up our structure to not be reliant on having an office location to be able to support our local and regional teams. The majority of our work in close proximity to our offices is performed by Skyline employees, however we do have a great network of subcontractors that we utilize.

Q: How did the business start?
A: As with most small businesses we started as a two-man operation and have slowly grown over time. Back in 2001 we made a conscious decision to start growing the business and we have grown each and every year from then on. We have been very fortunate that over the years we have had some phenomenal people join our team and share the journey with us. The success that we have enjoyed is without doubt due to a contribution of a team of people rather than just Colin or myself.

Q: At the end of each working day, does all your outdoor power equipment come back to a Skyline base?
A: We have a number of arrangements in place depending on the contracts that the equipment is dedicated to. Some equipment is permanently garaged and left onsite, some equipment is returned to one of our offices each day and we have some of our teams that take the equipment home with them.

Q: So what happens if a machine breaks down in the field?
A: We currently have five mechanics spread out across the country who work full-time looking after our fleet.
Guys who are more than an hour or so from the base will generally deal with a local dealer in their area, and we do have a network of full-time guys in that scenario, for example Wollongong on the Central Coast of NSW. We certainly do use regional shops, but the majority of equipment is serviced in-house.
We have a very structured and systemised approach: it will either be fixed on the spot or a replacement supplied. We have a huge fleet of spare machinery to minimise downtime. If it’s an emergency one of the mechanics can go out into the field and repair the machine or deliver a spare one.
We also have all of our supervisors equipped with spare handheld equipment, so that in the event of unforeseen breakdown, they can swap the item with one that is working and return the broken equipment for repair. This minimizes the downtime.

Q: How do you service larger equipment like ride-ons?
A: All equipment is scheduled and booked in to be serviced as with any equipment dealer. We run a software program that tracks the service requirements and regularity.

Q: Is security an issue?
A: On occasion, but generally we don’t have too many issues.

Q: How many staff do you have across the entire country?
A: Over 300.

Q: Are all your staff full-time employees?
A: They majority of our employees are full-time Skyline employees, with a few part-time people as well. We are more likely to use our subcontractor network in regional areas.

Q: Are employee numbers fairly constant year-round?
A: There is some fluctuation with the seasons, but it’s also dictated by our individual contracts – some contracts are consistent with the same staffing numbers all year round, while others require us to reduce our cutting hours over winter.

Q: Who are your typical clients?
A: Our client base is very varied, including healthcare facilities, hospitals, residential estates, shopping centres, local government, utilities, infrastructure, resorts, and much more. We have hundreds of clients; we are very diversified. Our largest client would represent less than 5 percent of our total turnover.

Q: Is your client mix the same from one State to the next?
A: We service the same client base in each of the States, however the ratio of the mix does differ slightly from State to State.

Q: Has Skyline always specialised in large-scale commercial work?
A: Yes.

Q: What are some of your typical services?
A: We are primarily a specialist landscape management company. Our major services would include – horticulural management, landscape services, indoor plant, irrigation, arboricultural services, sportsfield services, and grounds maintenance.

Q: Do you employ many highly specialised staff?
A: We believe we have the largest depth of qualified, quality staff in the industry. I really believe this ensures that our clients have an expert that can help them with any of their requirements. Our specialists range from qualified plumbers and irrigation technicians to arborists in our tree division, landscapers in our construction division, horticulturalists, greenkeepers, safety, environmental – just to name a few.

Q: Are customers’ expectations changing?
A: Yes

Q: What are your main items of outdoor power equipment?
A: If we look at ride-ons, we vary a lot with the models but there are over 130 in our fleet. The majority are Toros, which range in size from a 14” cut right up to a 4000D, which has an 11’-wide cut. We also have a large fleet of 72” mowers. We have a lot of Toro Reelmaster mowers – the 4WD ones like the GM360. We also have a number of Gravelys because we deal closely with Ariens. Where possible we try to stick with consistent makes and models, mainly to assist with streamlined servicing.
We have catcher mowers, a few Walkers running around, and a few Spider remote mowers. We also have a few tractors with slashing decks and reach mowers.
We use quite a lot of quad bikes like the Toro Workman buggies. They are quite handy at a lot of the tight sites we deal with for spraying and the like.
Brushcutters: there are a few STIHLs but the majority of the fleet is Shindaiwa T260 – there’s over 300 of those. There are over 100 hedge trimmers, both STIHL HS45s and also the Shindaiwas, and we have a few battery-powered STIHL units that are more noise sensitive.
Chainsaws: we use quite a few models from STIHL, though most are the 12–14” bar units and a few trimming saws. We have over 50 pole trimmers (KM130s), and over 30 extension pole chainsaws as well. Safety is a big thing for us so we try to avoid getting off the ground as much as possible. We want to do the job safely.
Atom edgers: we have over 30 of those. Push mowers are Honda HRU196 and a few other models like the 216 – we have about 70-odd push mowers.
Handheld blowers: we have over 140 of those, which are STIHLs, and about 70 backpack blowers.

Q: Is your fleet fairly constant across the country?
A: There’s a little bit of variation, but generally STIHL, Shindaiwa and Honda represent 95 percent of our fleet nationally.

Q: Does machinery longevity vary much from one location to another?
A: It’s more contract-based – we will turn over a brushcutter every year… or one that only gets used once a fortnight might last 10 years. With ride-on mowers we can turn them over every 2 years in some cases where they are getting used every day, whereas they might last 10 years if equipment is used 5–6 hours a month.

Q: Do you experiment much with new equipment?
A: Yes

Q: How do you go about procuring new equipment?
A: We have a fantastic dealer support network and we try to support them because of the level of service they can offer us. We do support a lot of dealers, and most of our bulk purchases are through the dealerships – they’re the ones that do the negotiating with the relevant manufac-
turer or importer. The big thing for us is sometimes we’ll do a national purchase; it might be through Qld or NSW, but we’ll organise it with the dealer and they’ll ship products around the country.

Q: What are your plans for business expansion? Offices in Adelaide?
A: We currently do a small amount of work in Adelaide but not enough to warrant having an office. I would like to think that at some stage we may be able to have the workload to see this expansion happen.

Q: Do most of your contracts come via a tender process?
A: Whilst we do a reasonable amount of tendering, the majority of our work comes through referrals from satisfied clients.