Growing Strong

Benara Nurseries

As an Australian family owned and operated business, each product and service Benara Nurseries provides its customers – both private and commercial – represents fifty years of development, dedication and quality.

It is this focus on quality that has allowed the company to grow from a small operation, launched in 1963, to Australia’s premier plant specialist, providing the best wholesale plant products in the west.

Benara is Australia’s largest and most iconic wholesale nursery – representing honest value and high quality products to its customers. With an emphasis in growing and supplying native and exotic plants to the wholesale market, the company has grown to become truly international, employing more than three hundred people across two sites in Australia and one branch that supplies the Asian market through Jakarta, Indonesia.

Gavin James, Managing Director and third generation of the James family steering the company, discusses the fifty year legacy behind Benara Nurseries.

“The company basically began with my grandmother closely followed by my father and his brothers back when they were teenagers in 1963,” explains Gavin. What began as a side business between their other works in the trades quickly grew into a full time enterprise when the brothers purchased a property on which they began to grow a larger stock of plants. “It picked up well, so they decided to focus on growing and selling plants.”

Over time, the business has continued to be led by the family, including Gavin’s sister, his cousins and his uncle, who manages the international leg of the operation.

In the past, Benara Nurseries has chosen not to devote a great deal of money on advertising, relying instead on word of mouth, passed from happy customer to potential customer in a way that has allowed the company to continuously grow since its inception fifty years ago. “I’ve got fourteen big billboards, but it’s all about quality, word of mouth, giving the customer what they want and reliability. That’s what’s grown us into what we are today.”

One of the company’s other great strengths is its traditional, family-style structure that respects the customer and values authentic relationship building. “The customers always have someone they can see if they can’t quite get what they need. They know there’s always a family member that they can talk to if they feel the need to. It makes them feel valued.”

Gavin recognises management trends he sees in other organisations where management does not express the same level of interest and care toward both customers and employees, suggesting that Benara has always looked at things a little bit differently than its corporate counterparts. “Some other managers come in to cut costs and don’t show care for employees, but here we’re all on deck, and if issues need to be sorted out, we do it,” he says. “It’s a family business, not corporate style, a different approach.”

This style of family led organisation also allows the company to make decisions quickly, creating a fluidity of approach that has served the business well in the past and inspired, at times, unexpected growth by quickly reacting to changing conditions. “The close-knit family unit are able to make quick decisions without having to go through corporate protocol,” shares Gavin.

Benara offers over 1500 product lines of native and exotic plant species chosen to provide stunning landscaping artwork for its customers. Because of the company’s solid reputation and size, it is often approached by breeders looking to supply high quality plant products.

The nursery’s astounding range of plant products can be broken down into several core areas, including advanced trees and plants, native and exotic grasses, flower seedlings, vegetable seedlings, indoor plants, shrubs and ground covering plants. It also imports the latest designs and market trends in garden pottery, river stones and artificial turf. The plants are carefully tended by the company’s growing experts and are hand-selected daily before being prepared for sale and delivered to the dispatch department.

Five years ago, Benara chose to move its core business centre north to Carabooda and implemented a development plan that allowed the company to create a more efficient and economical process. This included a consolidation of land holdings from three hundred acres of growing space to just over two hundred, upon which Gavin and company have been able to actually produce a higher volume of products.

Gavin, when discussing the company’s success, is quick to attribute much of it to the value of his incredible managerial staff, the sales team and the company’s expert team of growers. “We’ve got over forty staff that have been with us for longer than ten years. We’ve got great managers who look after their staff, which allows us to focus more on decision making and programming. It gives us time to make sure the company is running correctly.”

Having knowledgeable staff also facilitates the building of authentic, helpful relationships so that staff can efficiently accommodate the needs of customers.

Due to an acquisition nearly three years ago, Benara Nurseries launched its Trade Mart division, offering a variety of product stock, from seedling plants right through to shrubs and super advanced trees. “We’ve got a huge pottery range which focuses on architectural pottery; not the run of the mill stuff you can buy anywhere – high end designer products.” Its Trade Mart stores also sell potting mixes, fertilisers, synthetic turf and other allied products which support the incredibly diverse range of plant products available.

One of the company’s most recent projects has been the conversion to renewable, cost-effective solar energy, a move which has already caught the attention of many of the group’s partners in the industry. “Being renewable is very important,” explains Gavin. “It’s the right thing for the environment and our children. We’ve got a 90kW system spread out through the properties.”

The move represents a significant investment, one which the company expects to reap the rewards from as it moves into the more energy-costly summer months. “We’re very proud of this investment,” says Gavin.

Benara’s most major ongoing project is the development of a powerful online presence which will help educate customers and students about the qualities of various plants indigenous to Australia and will also allow them to easily order products online. “I want customers to be able to look at photos – look at jobs others have done. I want them to be able to interact with the content to identify trees that are appropriate for their needs.”

In the past, the company has not emphasised its online presence, instead building its physical infrastructure and developing face to face communication models, but the team recognises that today, it is important to offer customers a virtual counterpart. “We feel the web presence is quite important in today’s world. We’d neglected it for quite a while, without major updates, but I noticed that we’re not coming up as a major search result, and I determined that we need to get ourselves back at the top.”

Gavin expects to be able to offer customers an incredible suite of features once Benara’s new website is rolled out, including photo galleries of customers’ garden projects, an interactive content guide, horticultural information, scannable product codes and online ordering. He also expects to include smart phone applications which will allow customers to scan products on site to gather important product information and pricing. The goal is to allow customers to use the website to obtain information on any of its products allowing them to identify exactly what they need.

Moving forward, he expects to see continued measured growth through the development of new product lines, acquisition and expansion into new markets Australia wide.

Gavin recognises the importance of expansion into the eastern states to build a foothold in new markets in order to service customers directly, meeting the ever increasing demand for the company’s products and services. He is also looking forward to the upcoming decisions in regard to carbon trade and expects that, depending on what happens, a revitalisation of forestry and related products may occur, creating further business opportunities.

In essence, Gavin wants to see Benara grow into Australia’s premier plant products provider. “We want to be known as the most reliable provider in the industry, and we’re constantly improving – offering great new services for our customers.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 5:30 PM AEDT