Business landscape . . . The team in charge of K South Commercial Property Services are (from left) North Otago area manager Sam Robb, managing director Kerry Robb with his dog, Goose, and operations and special projects manager Nick McLennan. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

When Kerry Robb started K Robb Property Services almost six years ago, in Christchurch, he had a van, a trailer and a vision. He speaks to Ashley Smyth about realising that dream and bringing it back home.

K South’s Kerry Robb began his business in Christchurch, in 2016, picking up rubbish.

‘‘I sort of just started off with a van and a wee trailer, and just started picking up rubbish in subdivisions.’’

He branched out into mowing the lawns of those subdivisions, and business steadily grew over the following two years, with Mr Robb taking on four more staff

Things were ticking along nicely for the business, but he was always keeping one eye on his home town.

‘‘I think it was about two and a-half years ago, we bought Jason McNeill’s business, Lawns Plus. He was looking to get out and I was looking to get back to Oamaru, I guess — or start something up in Oamaru.’’

It was also around this time an old school friend, Nick McLennan, who he had gone to Lincoln University with, returned from overseas and came on board from Timaru, where his fiancee had a teaching job.

K Robb Property Services morphed into K South Commercial Property Services, and the pair decided they wanted to bring the aspects that were working for the business in Christchurch, to the southern branch.

‘‘We were sort of running Christchurch and Oamaru, and with being from here, I guess the heart was always here, and over time, with the opportunities that were arising in Oamaru, we felt our time was best spent down here,’’ Mr Robb said.

In the city, things were more ‘‘price-driven’’, Mr McLennan said.

‘‘There was no value in what we were doing. It was whoever could do it the cheapest, really. No seeing the value of the entire package we could offer.’’

The men also saw a lot of gaps in the North Otago market, and set to work filling them.
K South offered landscaping services and supplies, building services, property maintenance, hydroseeding, hedge trimming, stump grinding, and other services. It was a self-described ‘‘one-stop shop’’ for all property needs.

The team had also started growing its own native plants in a shade-house nursery.

‘‘If we add all these products. .. it adds value for the customer,’’ Mr Robb said.

‘‘We’ve got a lot of, sort of, firsts for the community, with some of our robot gear . . . Hydroseeding was a big one for us.’’

Supporting the community was something important to both men, and the K South logo was a common sight around sporting fields in North Otago.

The pair were big supporters of Maheno rugby and netball, and also involved with the North Otago mountain biking club, Mr McLennan said.

‘‘We’ve been quite heavily involved in sport, so we understand how much things cost and things like that, and if you’re in a position to maybe help out here and there, it is pretty cool.’’

Mr Robb said he got a thrill out of being able to help.

‘‘When I was growing up, I didn’t miss out on much, but it just allows for more opportunities for people.

‘‘One day you’ll see someone you’ve helped out make it to the top level and it would be cool to see that.’’

The Christchurch side of the business had now been mothballed, although the site was retained as a base so some of the more specialised gear could be made available for jobs around the South Island.

The focus for the long term was now on North Otago, and K South was in the process of moving from its Gordon St site at Weston, to State Highway 1 at Alma, which provided a bit more space.

The company wanted to expand its lines of landscape supplies, and also to process its own green waste, which Mr Robb thought would be an Oamaru first.

There were some major projects in the pipeline, and for Mr Robb, having a work-life balance was more important than looking to expand too much more.

‘‘For us, it’s not so much about maximising, it’s optimising what we’re doing — working smarter, not harder . . . if there’s a machine that can do the work for us, then why shouldn’t we be doing that?

‘‘Bigger isn’t always better for us, no, and it’s about having that happy balance between doing well, and obviously having a life, because you can’t buy time.’’

He conceded building a business from scratch had involved learning from mistakes and taking risks.

‘‘When I started out, I took a 10-grand overdraft, and what we’ve built it to has been quite awesome. We’ve had to take risks to get to that level, that’s what we’re doing now. It’s always a balancing act, really.’’

Learning to manage staff had proven challenging at times, but it came down to trust.

‘‘We’ve got a really cool team, and we’re really lucky with that. We don’t advertise, we sort of head-hunt, so we’re waiting for the right person to turn up, come spring.’’

He also got a thrill out of facing new challenges and overcoming them.

‘‘Obviously, the likes of setting up a hedge-trimming business, there’s a lot of nerves in doing that, and then to see it actually become a feasible business is kind of cool.’’

Sam Robb had joined his brother in the running of the business, and working with family and friends was one of the highlights. A lot of laughs went on behind the scenes, Mr Robb said.