Not only has Angelique Robb swapped her native Louisiana for Aberdeenshire, but ten years ago she changed from employee to entrepreneur and changed her business from oil and gas to bespoke garden design and landscaping.
Papillon Design and Landscaping is a high-end garden transformation business, mainly serving well-heeled residential clients. The company charges between around £20,000 and £100,000 to conceptualise, design and project manage the landscaping and planting of (mainly) Aberdeenshire gardens, and are now the sole UK supplier of the French-made Biossun bio-climatic patio covers and pergolas.
Says Angelique: “It was the first business I have run myself, and after 10 years I had 11 employees and it still wasn’t thriving so it was quite a stressful time for me. Although I was raising my prices every year I was struggling to achieve enough of a profit, as I was constantly being impacted by quarterly bills. I realised that you have to have the confidence to charge enough to achieve profitability, and we were going too far to meet our clients’ expectations of prices.
“We sized down a bit and I had to let some people go but it still wasn’t working, and my accountants couldn’t really advise me on how to project forward. I went to mentoring to help keep my sanity!”
For a year-long period five sessions, Angelique’s mentor was Charles Edmond, a veteran accountant from Henderson Loggie. Holding a broad skill set from advising on the auditing and financial planning aspects of his profession to become a general business adviser. Prior to this, he had mentored eight different businesses.
Charles Edmond explains: “As someone who had done quite well out of being in the business, I saw mentoring as a way of giving something back by sharing all that experience. On top of that, I’m really interested in what people are trying to do business-wise and helping them to achieve that. I find it interesting, I feel I can contribute, and it lets me see so many different types of business. Because I started up my own business and went through all the problems that it involved I have first-hand experience on what issues start-ups face and can understand how people run into difficulties. It’s much easier to talk about if you’ve done it yourself.”
Papillion Design may have been his first garden design business but its problems were not new to him.
“Basically Angelique’s company had various ongoing staffing issues that were clouding their thinking. Our engagement was really about cutting through that and working out what the crucial elements that she needed to deal with. I gave her the framework to focus on what needed to be focused on and tried to persuade her to take the emotion out of it.”
“In the course of our sessions, she went through all kinds of emotions, happy, sad, angry. She was really quite indignant about how people had treated her but she learned to stand up for herself!”
“The journey for her was education. That transition she had made from a big company environment to small business was a pretty rapid learning curve. Suddenly all the issues landed on her desk, there wasn’t anyone to hand them to.”
As Angelique describes it: “Charles asked a lot of questions that helped me think about the business more objectively. That was how it helped, I would do homework and we would talk about it, I guess there wasn’t much more to it than that. He was coming in cold and that helped; me focus, look and plan ahead. Although the business has already changed since he stopped mentoring me I feel more confident because of his mentoring”.
Now that her business is on a better trajectory, Angelique is able to concentrate on the long-term project of raising the profile of the business. Making it clearer to people that a high quality, labour intensive work is a premium service “People don’t yet realise how expensive gardens are to get right. We are on a mission to educate people and not suffer in the face of people’s inaccurate expectations about the amount of work involved.”