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Case Study: ‘We Came Back To NZ To Buy A Business’

These Kiwi ex-pats realised they could grow a nursery business on their return to New Zealand.

5 October 2021

Autumn 21

Kiwi ex-pats Sarah Hales and Clifford Scott had high-powered careers in Singapore, but they missed the New Zealand outdoors, so they decided to head home.

Says Hales: “There was the attraction of looking for a business of our own, instead of working for corporates.”

For the past 12 years, Scott has been head of construction for an insurance company in Singapore, and Hales, a lawyer, worked for a legal technology start-up.

More job satisfaction

Scott says he enjoyed working for corporations, but found there’s more satisfaction in working for yourself.

“We could run the business the way we wanted to run it.”

Sarah says it was also about their own moral compass. “You’re able to run it with your own values.”

But which business? After considering a couple, in 2019 they bought the Waikato nursery through ABC Business Sales.

“This is large wholesale plant nursery, specialising in shrubs, trees, and perennials. We don’t sell to the public, but to the garden retailers,” says Scott.

Excited about the possibilities for growth, they’ve gone on to buy second nursery, this time in Palmerston North, selling a different kind of plant.

Room to grow

The pair had no background in propagation or gardening, but they could see it was a healthy business with room to grow and they knew they could add value to it.

“What we were really looking for was a strong business from a numbers perspective,” says Scott.

“It had a lot of the infrastructure, processes and systems already in place.

“It was quite straightforward, but in other ways quite complex, because we do everything from propagation to distribution and everything in between.”

Then Covid struck

The Covid-19 lockdowns were a worry, hitting the business soon after they bought it, but they turned out a windfall.

“It exceeded our expectations,” says Scott. “Since we opened back up in April, it’s been flat-out.”

Says Sarah: “Auckland’s a very large market, so every time there’s a Level 3 lockdown in Auckland it has a big effect on us, but trading has been better than we expected.”

The pair found their skillsets ideal for the new business, managing a combined staff of about 55.

Scott says: “The learnings I’ve transferred here were about running a team

from a leadership style, rather than a management style. I believe in empowering people and having the framework in place to monitor and track success.”

Useful skillsets

Hales found her tech skills could open the business to new ways of working.

“We were able to update some of the systems and introduce new things that have made the team’s job easier.”

The pair are learning about the industry.

They inherited an expert team who’ve been working in the business for a long time.

“They’ve got procedures and goals. They just get on with it.”

Scott says he’d recommend owning a business, but it wouldn’t suit everyone.

“If you want a nine-to-five job, probably not. It’s not that we work excessive hours, it’s just hard to switch off.

“We could have created a start-up, but it would have been a lot of hard work.

“Instead we found that buying a business with a proven track record through a trusted broker gave us confidence.”

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