Welcome back to our blog series of profiles on creative small business owners in Bristol (you can check out our last entry, 8 minutes with contemporary craft business owner Emma from Stitching Me Softly), next up we have Will from award-winning garden design, consulting and landscaping company, Artisan Landscapes.
They are proudly based in Clifton, Bristol, and boast an impressive 14k following on Instagram, and we can see why – look at those pictures of those gorgeous gardens.
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We had a chat all about how he got started in the landscaping business, how awards and press have helped grow Artisan Landscapes as a business, and where they’re headed next.
A career in landscaping: a matter of circumstance
Will grew up in Reading, across the road from a family friend who owned a landscaping company. His parents told him that if he wanted money, he had to go and earn it, so as a teen, he began working for his neighbour during the school holidays.
After his school years, Will began working as a full-time landscaper, working on a lot of run-of-the-mill residential projects, and a lot of sports pitches. It wasn’t particularly creative or pretty, but it helped him cut his teeth in using large machinery and working on larger sites.
He followed some of his friends to Bristol, as they moved here for university, and his love for landscaping started dwindling.
“I worked for a couple of landscaping firms in Bristol, as it was a job that I knew well and I could do it easily, but I didn’t feel the passion for it. I don’t think the type of work that I was doing provided much of a backbone for that passion – it wasn’t particularly thrilling.
“I really fell out of love with landscaping, so I worked in a call centre for a year instead, doing marketing surveys. It was mindless work, but it meant I didn’t have to do any more winters working outside, getting rained on and being freezing cold.”
One of Will’s friends, Jim, suggested he start his own landscaping company, and helped him get it off the ground with his background in marketing.
Artisan Landscapes was born out of boredom and frustration – a lot of the companies that Will worked for didn’t line up with his ethos. There was a lot of, “that’ll do,” rather than striving to do the best they could.
“I said, ‘if I’m going to do landscaping, we’re going to make it a craft, and we’re going to push for it being recognisable as a standard that should be met’ – that’s where the name Artisan Landscapes came from.”
Will went back to his roots and founded Artisan Landscapes in 2013 as a contractor, building gardens and undertaking small landscaping projects.
Over the course of 4 years, the Artisan Landscapes team grew to be slightly larger – having about 5 people on site. After a couple of years of building gardens for designers, Will met Jamie who became the lead designer, and they started the design and build studio.
“Our ethos is in creating timeless gardens which have a focus on detail and a horticultural understanding.
“Every element of our gardens is considered and thought out, and we really like to focus on creating gardens that are recognisable for their quality and their design, as well as the change in lifestyle that they can provide for our clients, especially the town gardens, where that outdoor space comes as a luxury.
“If you do have that outside space we make sure it is a part of your home as much as your kitchen or living space.”
How awards help potential clients trust a small business
Artisan Landscapes are a shining example of how to use press & awards to build up your business. Being recognised by well known and well respected bodies is a testament to the quality and craftsmanship of a company’s work. Press and awards give customers the assurance that they are choosing the right company to carry out the work on your home.
“We are a member of a trade/governing body called the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) – it’s an organisation which requires vetting to be a part of.
“Unlike a lot of organisations where you just pay a subscription and get to be part of their register, with the APL you are inspected annually for your business practice and the quality of your work.
“To become a member, you have to provide 5 landscaping projects – 3 of which would be inspected on site, ensuring that you’re meeting the right standards, the right quality and the way in which you’re delivering projects.
“The Association of Professional Landscapers Awards happens annually. This year we came away with a design & build award, designer of the year, 8 gold medals, and 2 “best in” categories – a bumper year for us! To even be a finalist is fantastic, but to come away with awards is even better.”
Landscaping projects are judged rigorously for the APL awards – there’s a panel of judges, some of which go to site and are looking at tiny details, like how wide the joints are between bricks and between paving slabs.
It creates a benchmark for the quality that Artisan Landscapes are providing. It gives clients peace of mind that if they are to invest money into their garden, they will get a great product at the end of it, and the journey getting there will be harmonious and enjoyable.
Using press features to grow a small business
Through being a member of the APL and developing their Instagram and social media, Artisan Landscapes has had numerous opportunities to be in the national press. They’ve recently been featured on the front cover of the small gardens issue of Gardens Illustrated, a national garden design based publication, and have also been featured in Homes & Gardens.
“I don’t know whether it directly impacts the volume of enquiries we get, but it says to the enquiries that you’re getting “we are being recognised elsewhere”. Rather than you just blowing your own trumpet – these trusted people are blowing it as well.
“Building gardens or doing any sort of home improvement or construction work always comes with a price, and people are surprised by how much gardens cost to build. It’s mainly due to the amount of earth moving and physical work there is involved.
“Our responsibility from the very beginning with our clients is about building trust. When it comes down to it, if they’re going to spend their hard-earned savings or retirement fund, they need to know that they can trust you.
“Having the awards and recognition in publications helps set that standard of trust from early doors.”
Small business investments that paid off, big time
Second up, spending time refining the aesthetic of their images has been a really worthwhile investment. Some of the images of our older projects on their website were taken by a professional photographer, but more recently Will has been taking the photos.
“For me, it was doing my homework – reading magazines like Gardens Illustrated to understand what their images look like and how they create them. I was making sure I understood the Artisan Landscapes brand aesthetic and really honing it in – making sure we were not trying to be too many things or spread ourselves too thinly.
“A lot of the other websites we looked at were overly designed – there was too much going on, too much for the reader to take on. We wanted to allow the images to do the talking, but at the same time for the copy, layout, colour etc to shout quality, without it being rammed down your throat.
“When we were talking to Aime and the Studio Cotton team about our website, we wanted it to be as understated as possible without it being boring. In a visual-based industry, you can have an amazing website, but unless you have the images to match then it’s a bit fruitless, I think.”
Some less successful business investments
“I would say fairly confidently that what hasn’t worked so well for us is the printed media. It’s a really expensive investment, and we can’t accurately track the performance of it, although we do always ask our enquiries where they found us.
“A potential client might see us in the magazine, kind of forget that they’ve seen us there, and then a week or so later they think “I must get in contact with that landscaping company” and type into Google “garden design company” and we come up. They don’t necessarily remember that they saw us in the magazine.
“Whether they’re buying a car, going on a 4 week holiday, whatever it is you want to spend a lot of money on, you’re going to do your research. If someone is looking to spend tens of thousands of pounds on a garden renovation, they’re going to do their research. With printed marketing like magazines, it’s more like a nudge for people to come and find you, rather than a direct link.”
What’s next for Artisan Landscapes
Artisan Landscapes have just gone through a rapid period of growth, which was quite hard to respond to. For now, they are still adapting to that change.
“Further down the line, I would like to see the construction side of our business develop. We’ll probably see a development in our construction as we take on larger projects.
“As a company, I would love to see Artisan Landscapes be part of creating a show garden like Chelsea Flower Show or Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival. I think that’s on our horizon – that’s going to be the next thing for us.
“We were part of a show garden at the RHS Young Designer of the Year competition at Tatton Park, but it would be nice to be on the playing field with larger landscaping companies and the more well-known garden designers.”
Quick disclaimer: Artisan Landscapes is a client of Studio Cotton, but this blog post is not sponsored or paid for in any way – we just wanted to have a chat and share it with you lovely lot.
See you next time for another blog post about creative small business owners in Bristol.