When French impressionist Claude Monet exclaimed: “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece,” he hit the nail on the head. For regardless of size or quality, most of us who garden feel we’re creating the same.
There’s an emotional connection that comes from rolling up your sleeves and getting dirt under your fingernails, and there’s a satisfaction from watching your garden grow. Andrew Martin, Managing Director of Australasia’s leading garden care company, Evergreen Garden Care, couldn’t agree more.
“It’s our vision to inspire you to create your own green oasis,” he states. With a rich business background, Andrew spent 19 years with Unilever, including roles in Asia, before changing industries and companies, joining Levi Strauss as CFO and then CEO. But the call to move home to Australia was strong and, in 2014, he returned to Sydney to lead garden care business The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company Asia–Pacific.
“I knew the brand and saw a great opportunity to broaden my skill set,” he remembers. “I leapt at the chance.” In 2017, with Scotts decision to strategically focus on the domestic US market, the Asia–Pacific and European regions of the company were acquired by UK firm Exponent Private Equity.
“They’re focused on businesses with strong brands and untapped potential,” Andrew explains. “They’re very much invested in growing the business.” This change in business ownership made way for the rebranding to Evergreen Garden Care. Andrew sums up the ethos of the business.
“We believe in building strong brands, backed with great innovation, and ensuring that our consumers’ path to purchase is as seamless as possible. Our well-known brands such as Scotts Osmocote, Scotts Lawn Builder and Defender have been in the marketplace for many years.”
Creating a balance between achieving business goals and living true to the company’s core values has been fundamental to Evergreen’s success. “Now more than ever, people are retreating into their own space and appreciating the simple pleasures of life, such as gardening,” Andrew says.
“They’re spending time in backyard vegie patches and making their indoor space a green sanctuary. The trend is phenomenal.” However, the garden care industry in Australia is vulnerable to natural weather conditions with the 2019 drought impacting the business and the industry. “People couldn’t even water their gardens,” Andrew remembers.
“We had a tough time leading into COVID-19, but we’re fortunate to be in a space that’s grown as people spend time at home. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s been easy. The leadership team made a simple commitment at the start of the COVID-19 crisis that we would communicate to the entire business every week. We wanted the team to know we were aware of the challenges they faced and were being frank about the process to address them in the right way.”
Ironically for Evergreen, the biggest issue has been supply. “Although we were heading into our quiet time of the year, suddenly demand lifted some of our categories by more than 100%,” Andrew explains.
I feel privileged to be in a business with so many opportunities.
“This meant our supply chain had to pivot to meet this unexpected demand. Many products have long supply chains and you can’t turn those around overnight.” Meeting this unprecedented demand has been a major focus for the company as it re-evaluates its supply chains and looks to local manufacturing.
“We’re already making investments,” Andrew tells. “We see this as an important part of our strategic future.” Evergreen has also seen an enormous growth in new consumers and entrants to the market.
“We’re very focused on new customers and want to give them the confidence to stay,” Andrew exclaims. “We estimate 20–25% of additional demand has come from people who’ve never gardened before. This is terrific for the industry. But how do we keep them engaged and enjoying gardening?”
Evergreen is embracing the art of educating its customers with bite-size content and punchy ‘how to’ instructional clips on digital and social media channels. Another initiative is packaging with information that can easily be identified and selected from the shelves.
“Everyone in our business, particularly our sales and leadership teams, will regularly spend an afternoon in their local nursery or Bunnings, merchandising shelves and chatting with consumers to learn what their issues are firsthand,” Andrew says. “We want to keep people gardening and doing something they enjoy.”
Evergreen has grown, tripling in size through acquisition and organic growth over the past five years. “Scale helps us develop even better products and enhance communication,” Andrew says.
“I’m more excited now than what I was six years ago, because I’ve seen what this can become. I feel privileged to be in a business with so many opportunities.” However, Andrew still believes in the beauty of a green space.
“It’s one backyard, one indoor garden and one vegie patch at a time,” he says. “If everyone makes their own plot of land or indoor garden a little greener, it helps the environment and has an enormous benefit on mental health.”
But with gardening skills and knowledge being lost through the generations, how does Evergreen help keep the practice alive? “This is the centrepiece of all our thinking,” Andrew explains.
“Keeping things simple, ensuring products work and giving people the confidence to keep trying is what matters. Gardening has both a functional and emotional aspect to it. It’s unique in that you put something in place and when you come back, it’s grown.”
Andrew spends as much time with suppliers of the business as he does with customers. Many of the suppliers, which are small to medium businesses, have been in operation for years. “It’s really important to nurture these relationships because local family business supply in our industry is critical.”
Andrew believes that Evergreen and other industry leaders have a unique role to play with sustainability.
“We take from the Earth and we give back to the Earth,” he says. In its Berkshire Park site in Sydney, Evergreen has established a fully solar-powered manufacturing facility. In addition, with the millions of potting mix bags sold annually, the company is dedicated to increasing the usage of recycled plastic in all packaging.
“We’ve committed to be carbon neutral by the end of 2020,” Andrew says. “We’re offsetting the carbon we create by planting thousands of trees.” The company is also innovating with natural and organic solutions.
“Achieving the same success from a product fully derived from natural organic sources is a challenge for the industry and one we believe we’re leading,” Andrew adds.
“Our team sees we’re doing everything we can on sustainability and having natural and organic solutions, and I believe there’s a real sense of purpose that comes with that. I’m proud to be part of a company that is demonstrably making a difference.”
A culture of care
“We have 180 team members in Australia and New Zealand who genuinely care about this business. And for me, that underpins absolutely everything,” Andrew states. “There’s a care and love for this business that I’ve never seen before. Everyone just wants to do the right thing.
“By no means are we perfect, but we have opportunities to improve what we sell and how we sell it, as well as the internal processes we put in place. This means there’s never a dull moment.”
Andrew is willing to step in, roll his sleeves up and get among it. He recently spent two days at a manufacturing plant helping out so they could keep producing products. In fact, this is commonplace throughout the organisation.
Gardening has both a functional and emotional aspect to it. It’s unique in that you put something in place and when you come back, it’s grown.
“I knew they were doing it tough and I wanted to help out,” he explains. “Showing I care is my first leadership principle.” So how does Andrew motivate his team to keep performing and delivering?
“I encourage them to stay curious and stay impatient,” he says. “I’d like everyone to explore how things work and how we can improve. And I’ll continue to push new ideas because that creates an energy that underpins future success. We’ve got that magic happening now.”
When Andrew joined Evergreen, he confessed he wasn’t an avid gardener but, today, he appreciates the benefits and escapism that gardening brings. “I’m a lawn guy,” he shares.
“When I fertilise my lawn and come back in a few days and see that it has ‘greened up’, that’s a moment for sitting on my back deck, cracking a beer and just looking out there and enjoying it.”