• The Business Owner

Meet the Bosses - Liz Hillary and John Robinthwaite

Company Name: JPR Environmental

Position: Directors

Industry: Landscaping and Water Treatment


What does your company do?

John: We provide a landscaping service specialising in Ecological works on development sites and wetland works for both habitat improvement and water treatment.\


When was the company started?

Liz: John started as a sole trader in the autumn of 2000 and the company was incorporated in November 2002.


How does the company differ today from when you started 21 years ago?

John: 21 years ago, I started as a sole trader, it has since developed into a skilled landscaping team able to offer a variety of services to clients. We work as the main contractor on larger scale projects or offer solutions to issues on development sites, both in a timely and cost-effective manner.


What has been one of the bravest decisions you have had to make in the 21 years of the company?

John: Working with my wife! Whilst it made a lot of sense when our son was young and allowed a lot of flexibility – it also meant that we had to succeed because there was no other income coming into the family. It takes a strong relationship to both live and work with the same person – luckily in our case this has been so – though it does take an effort not to talk ‘shop’ at home.


Liz: Deciding to work together as partners in the business when we were also partners outside work! It could have gone horribly wrong not to mention the fact that both of our livelihoods were now dependent on one source of income. However, there have been plenty of other nerve-wracking decision-making experiences since then from employing more staff to deciding to carry on through the pandemic and trust that there was light at the end of the tunnel.


How important have staff been in your development as a company?

John: The staff within the company have been essential to our development – from project managers, site supervisors, office managers and plant & machinery operators. Our work is very physical and requires a good degree of self-motivation (despite the vagaries that the British weather can throw at us). Having a good team with a good team spirit has been the driving force behind our success.


Liz: Our staff have been essential to our development – their skills and experience, commitment and hard work continue to impress us. We are able to leave more and more to them and ourselves, concentrate more and more on developing the company.


What are your company values?

John: We believe in undertaking quality work for our clients, whilst maintaining a respect for the environment that the landscape or development will be in for the future.


Liz: We aim to do quality work for our clients which is probably (you would hope) what any company would say. Where we get the greatest satisfaction is from some of the long-term relationships where we can take the pressure from our clients of the day-to-day stresses of managing wildlife mitigation projects or the maintenance of water treatment systems. With these projects, we feel that we offer real value for money.


It’s important to us to be fair to our staff and suppliers and to treat them in the same way that we would want to be treated. We aim to be clear in our expectations but also open to the difficulties that others inevitably come under and we help out personally wherever we can.


What changes or challenges do you foresee for your company in the next three years?

John: There is a large unknown as to future environmental legislation as a result of Brexit which has yet to become clear. Many of our conservation works have also been dependant on EU funding – it will be interesting to see if future Green Infrastructure works are able to access the same degree of support.


Liz: An economic recession would affect us as it would affect any company. One thing is for certain, that we are living in a rapidly changing world and that the rate of change is speeding up all the time – this presents us with a challenge to keep pace with these changes.


Are you optimistic, realistic or pessimistic about 2021?

John: I am optimistic about 2021, we are looking to invest both in machinery and people which will improve the level of service that we are able to offer.


Liz: We feel optimistic about 2021. It was hard to know what was going to happen when the lockdown first started in May of last year, what demand for our services would we be coming back to? However, we had an extremely busy 2020 and 2021 has started with plenty of demand for our services.


We can’t be complacent though and our hearts go out to all those businesses and individuals who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.


What is your company’s most important KPI?

John: We measure the time spent on each project and measure that against our target daily income rate for each type of worker. This enables us to keep a track of which projects are profitable (and which are not). There are always lessons to be learnt from each job to make our lives easier in the future, whether that be in the choice of machinery, subcontractors used or problems that were encountered. There’ nothing wrong with making mistakes so long as you learn from them.


Liz: The financial KPI that we analyse the most is the amount we make per hour once all our fixed costs are accounted for. It is not an exact science but it gives us a good idea of how one project compares to another and what each project is contributing to the financial whole.


What positive effects has your company experienced during lockdowns?

John: In the first lockdown, whilst at first people enjoyed being at home everyone soon realised that actually they enjoyed coming to work! Our team spirit has never been higher. We are very fortunate that because all of our work is outdoor the control measures regarding protection against Covid-19 have not been too restrictive.


Liz: The lockdown has allowed us to focus on what we do want to do but also highlighted the kind of work that we want to focus on and what we don’t want to focus on.

The employment situation, whilst we recognise the difficulties it has caused a lot of people, has meant that there are some fantastic people out there looking for work whom we have been able to employ.


What causes you the most stress in your business?

John: If I am allowed two, it would be the joys and unpredictability of machinery breakdowns and the vagaries of the British weather – work life is so much easier when the sun is shining!


Liz: That is a fascinating question! I would say health and safety – the risk of having an accident and making sure that everyone is safe. After that it is probably weather and HR issues (although it can be very rewarding to get a solution to HR problems).


If you could instantly change one area or thing about your business, what would it be?

John: It would be to have more space, even though I am sure that whatever space we would have in our works compound we would manage to fill it.


Liz: Our workspace is pretty good but to have the perfect workspace, with plenty of storage area and to have the office closer to the yard would help to create an even more cohesive team.


How would you rank the following in order of importance for you in your business? (1 most, 5 least)

John:

· Environmental - 1

· Team communication - 2

· Strong financial data - 3

· Sales pipeline - 4

· Social media - 5


Liz:

· Environmental - 1

· Sales pipeline - 2

· Team communication - 3

· Strong financial data - 4

· Social media - 5


If you went back 21 years would you do it all again?

John: Yes – I struggle to think I would be happy working for anyone else!


Liz: Yep!