Landscaping firm branches out to boost earnings

Director of Garden Asia Kenny Eng (foreground) with staff who help run his farmstay project. Together with events management and a bistro, it complements his core business. He calls this "hortitainment".
Director of Garden Asia Kenny Eng (foreground) with staff who help run his farmstay project. Together with events management and a bistro, it complements his core business. He calls this "hortitainment".ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

The boss of landscaping company Garden Asia is going all out to bring in more business so that he does not need to lay off any of his 100 employees.

Director Kenny Eng has diversified the Kranji-based business into events management, farmstays and a bistro amid slowing demand for its core business. He calls this concept "hortitainment" - a combination of horticulture and entertainment .

"It is not our policy to lay off any staff," said Mr Eng, who thinks businesses have to find creative ways to mitigate cyclical economic downturns and rising operational costs.

He added: "The economic cycle which used to come around every 10 years or so is getting shorter. At each downturn, market conditions are different and have become more challenging."

Unlike some other sectors, Garden Asia finds it difficult to find people who are willing to do landscape work, even amid rising unemployment. "It is not easy to recruit young local talent into the horticultural industry because it involves physical labour," said Mr Eng. "We retain staff as best as we can, and recruit replacements when some leave. (But) there is a limited pool."

He hopes his "hortitainment" approach may be attractive to workers. "Our landscaping team can work with our events team in collaborative projects which use their different skills," he said. "We have to be forward-looking and innovative. We have to be better prepared in future downturns to enable us to move ahead more strongly when the market recovers."

He noted that businesses in the area are encouraged by the Singapore Tourism Board's designation of farms in the Kranji countryside as tourist destinations, which they hope will boost their prospects.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 25, 2016, with the headline 'Landscaping firm branches out to boost earnings'. Print Edition | Subscribe