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Technology grows business from ground up

The business landscape has changed dramatically from when Grant and Robynne Hayman started Headford Propagators 25 years ago, with technology helping the pair grow the Waimate-based business from the ground up.

After working in the transport industry for many years, an accident left Grant unable to drive trucks for an extended period. As part of his recovery process he began a Diploma in Horticulture and from there the couple’s business was born.

Headford Propagators Ltd is one of Waimate’s biggest employers with 35 staff, and running 12 trucks, although Grant says most people probably have no idea what they do because most of their business comes from further afield with their trucks and plants travelling to all corners of New Zealand.

Grant has a hand in every aspect of the business. One day he could be fixing something on the engineering site and the next he might be working away in the nursery.

“My philosophy has always been there’s nothing I’d ask my staff to do that I wouldn’t do myself,” Grant says.

Each year the company grows 1.2 million plants in tubes, and 130,000 open ground trees. However, the business has grown into more than just a wholesale nursery, with its core business now being transport.

That transport arm of the business started small, with just a ute and a trailer, but today they have 12 trucks covering New Zealand.

“It’s funny, I left the transport industry to basically grow plants, but I know the transport industry really well and I was frustrated with the service I was getting, so this opportunity came up and I grabbed it.”

The nursery and the transport sides of the business complement each other well. Two years ago, the business purchased an engineering business across the road, which allows them to do their own truck repairs.

Technology plays a huge role in both growing the business and connecting with customers. Staff work across two sites linked together by technology.

Being located rural South Canterbury though, it hasn’t been easy to get to where they are today in terms of technology. Grant says they have struggled with internet speed and tried various satellites, until a school down the road got a link to faster internet service, and that was alright, but then everyone jumped onboard and it ground to a halt.

A new cell tower down the road initially made their connectivity 10-times better than it once was, Grant says. However, this didn’t last with the business’s connection crashing and their website going down. They have now moved on with a new connection from a private supplier as it’s vital for their business to have a stable and reliable connection.

“We are right on the side of the main road and it seems strange that we can’t have a better connection. We’ve had to move away from the old system and we’re now trialling internet phones because the interference and reception is terrible with the landline.

“To me it seems like the larger providers don’t want to spend money outside of urban areas, they prefer to concentrate on urban sites. As a business we couldn’t wait around for it to improve so we decided to go private.”

Grant believes the current broadband system in his area is under a huge strain due to high volumes of traffic on the highway with everyone using the internet as they are travelling through the area.

“Technology is all around us and people use it all the time. If we had a big event like a concert and there was a lot of traffic on the highway our whole business would crash.”

The business uses their website and Facebook page to connect with clients, while technology has allowed them to have programmes written for their own requirements.

All trucks are fitted with GPS, meaning Grant knows exactly where his trucks are at any given time.

“I can see almost to the centimetre where the truck is, what the driver behaviour is like, and what speeds it’s doing.”

Mailchimp is used for client marketing which includes sending out promotions and stock availability each week, and this email system provides them with accurate digital records.

“Most of our work now comes through the internet. There are still some old-fashioned people who would rather pick up the phone, but in most cases, orders come in via email and we communicate a lot by email. It’s just so much easier.

“It really depends which generation of people you’re dealing with. There are still some people that only want to use the fax machine, but the younger generation, unless you deal with them digitally, you’re not going to get anywhere.

“It’s just opened a whole new world up. It’s now a matter of managing it and getting the best out of it.”

Grant describes keeping up with technology as a case of walking before you run, while ensuring you don’t fall behind.

“If you have a stale site, or don’t keep up with responses, that can be worse than not doing anything at all because you put people off.

“We live in an absolute ‘now’ world.”


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