GROWING a business during a recession would be a tough task for even the most experienced entrepreneur – but for a young man starting from scratch in an industry he’d never worked in before, you might think it would be impossible.
But Keith Gallacher has made a roaring success of Complete Weed Control, having initially taken over the south-west Scotland franchise in 2006 at the age of 19 after leaving university.
The Carluke-based business, which provides specialist weed control services on Scottish construction sites, has grown over the past 14 years and now has eleven employees and a turnover just shy of £1 million.
Keith told Project Scotland, “My dad ran a few businesses and I always felt that I wanted to emulate him and be my own boss. I came across the opportunity after leaving university. I took over the Scotland south-west franchise, then in 2011 took over Scotland south-east as well.
“The customer base varies from local authorities to highways authorities and large industrial clients.
“I didn’t want to be stuck in an office all the time. It was the passion for the outdoors; I’ve seen some magnificent sights.”
The next goal for the business is to break the £1 million turnover barrier, whilst maintaining a decent level of profit.
Services the firm provides include invasive weed surveys, weed management plans, and tree and site clearance. Blue-chip clients include construction giant the Malcolm Group, which has employed Keith’s services for over a decade.
One of the challenges in the early days was getting people to take him seriously, given his youthful age and lack of experience.
“It was quite difficult at times to get respect from people within the industry,” he recalled. “Being younger in business, some don’t take you just as seriously. That quickly changed once they realised I knew what I was talking about and we could do a decent job.
“Because we started just before a recession, public spending dropped so I had to go and try to find alternative work. We managed to grow during the recession, which I put down to attention to detail and customer satisfaction. We go above and beyond for the customer. Our growth has been organic through word of mouth and successful tendering.”
Keith said the industry is becoming increasingly competitive, with more companies carrying out specialist tasks such as invasive plant and Japanese knotweed removal. Japanese knotweed can spread rapidly and is capable of damaging things like foundations, buildings and flood defences.
“We’ve carried out Japanese knotweed treatments since the beginning,” Keith stated. “It’s come to the forefront in recent years but has always been a big part of our business. Now everybody seems to be popping up as an expert, which I don’t mind because good competition is healthy competition.”
Keith prides himself on being honest with customers – even if it means recommending solutions which might not be as commercially advantageous to his business.
Like most sectors, sustainability is playing a bigger role. Keith explained there is growing resistance to excessive use of pesticides and, while chemicals remain the most cost-effective way to control weeds, his business has been using a system called Weed-IT, which is used to control growth on pavements and hard surfaces. Using sensors, Weed-IT identifies chlorophyll to spray only the weeds.
“If we don’t need to use herbicide, we’ll not,” Keith added. “The herbicides we do use are all regulated through Europe. There are only a few select products that are available now to treat invasive weeds.”
The business is currently as busy as ever, having won four tenders in a row. In terms of construction, Keith highlighted the fact that some construction professionals have a tendency to always use the same people all the time, which he claims has the effect of not producing competition within the existing supply chain.
“We can offer alternative options to clients than what they’re used to,” he added.
“We’re there to reaffirm our position and ensure the information that’s being passed to clients is correct and of good value.”