Not many people are fortunate enough to find the one thing that can light their fire and keep it burning for life.
For Dean Herald it was a no-brainer. He knew early in life exactly what he wanted do with it, and as soon as he had the opportunity he began the process of meticulously putting it all in place.
Dean started a landscaping business when he was just 19 years old, after gaining his trade certificate. He was not, on his own confession, a keen student, but did find at school that he had a distinct creative streak, and wanted to do something with it.
“I left school at Year 10 after I successfully passed Recess and Lunch,” he joked. “I had an artistic side though, and I always wanted to work outside, and was keen to create something outside as a challenge.
“I decided to go down the landscaping path almost 30 years ago now. It wasn’t then what it is now — it was more about construction, and really high end commercial and residential design. But when I got more involved I realised there was a very artistic side to it, so I decided to start a business. It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he recalled.
The landscaping industry has myriad avenues to pursue, and Dean soon realised he had the impulse, and the ability, to pursue high end design projects. His ambition and boundless energy culminated in his company winning a Gold Medal at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show in 2006, undoubtedly the pinnacle in garden and landscaping recognition around the world.
But that was to take years. At just 19, he had a long business road to travel. Long hours, hard work and persistence paid off eventually, and his company, Rolling Stone Landscapes, built a reputation for reliability, and especially cutting edge design and horticultural innovation.
“It was insane back then,” he recalled. “My hours of work were crazy. I often worked until three in the morning and then drove to the next site and slept in the car for a couple of hours and then started again. I did that for nearly 10 years. But I look back on that now and imagine that if I hadn’t done that whether we’d be in this position now.”
The first 10 years of his work were about establishing the business, said Dean, and his second ten year cycle was about building the brand. That decade involved producing books, appearing on television and entering a lot of garden and landscaping awards.
“We chipped away and got the occasional exclusive job, and slanted our brand towards them. The garden shows and TV shows were part of that,” he said.
“There’s a balance between the easy, profitable model and the model that satisfies you. There’s a very good living to be made with the easy model, with less stress, less time spent after hours. I can look at that with envy from a profitability standpoint, but maybe not from a satisfaction viewpoint.
“Looking at the industry, there are a thousand utes with dogs and landscaping written on the side,” said Dean. “I think that’s fantastic because it’s an amazing industry with great opportunities for young people with a broad skill set to get involved. There’s plenty of work out there for everyone, and there are so many levels of landscaping, from planting out the highway to very high end design. What we do here is very highly tailored, highly customised design, and it’s a unique journey our clients go on with us.”
Full steam ahead to Chelsea
Rolling Stone Landscapes entered the highwire world of awards and competitions, and Dean had to invest heavily in people and materials to cut the mustard. But it worked.
“It was a huge gamble financially and personally,” he said, “but we did seven garden shows and we won seven gold medals.”
That inevitably led to his assault in 2006 on the Everest of gardening competitions — the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show. The demands this project placed on Dean, his family and staff were enormous, and his business had to take on a huge financial commitment to see it through.
“The Chelsea Flower Show was the biggest roll of the dice I’ve ever done. That was a phenomenal amount of money we invested in that,” he recalled. “And the one thing about Australia is, nobody celebrates second place. So to come away with a gold medal there was fantastic, and we had very good media coverage.”
With that gold medal, and a host of other medals and prizes in his trophy cabinet, Dean “settled down” to consolidate the business and maintain his stature as one of Australia’s foremost landscape designers.
“Now in our third 10-year period we’re about maintaining our brand. I do enjoy taking the time now to spend better quality time with clients and see every job as an opportunity to do something pretty amazing.”
With brand new offices at his home in Dural, Dean can well afford to look satisfied with his lot in life.
“We have 24 staff. There are 18 in construction and the balance in design. We have a lot of contractors working with us as well, so there could be up to 50 people all up on our jobs.
“We do a lot of work in the Hills, and we stretch through to Turramurra, St Ives and Castlecrag and to the eastern suburbs. And we do some work up the coast around Matcham and the acreages around there.”
Keeping the home fires burning
Of course, while Dean ran pell mell building his business, his wife Bernice has made a home for them, had two sons and ensured that Dean was always on solid ground, come what may.
“I got married to Bernice (or Bernie, as everyone calls her) when I was 20. We met when I was 16 — she was a florist, I was a landscaper, so there’s a beautiful horticultural connection! We just got into life from the start. She’s been by my side the whole time. I started the business as a tradesman, but she’s been with me all the way — we both run the business.”
The Heralds spent 10 years building the business, then had two sons, who are now 14 and 16. Dean puts much of his success down to the support of Bernice through thick and thin.
“It was a huge sacrifice, particularly in the early days when I was working to all hours. You couldn’t do that without a supportive wife. Bernie knew exactly what we were trying for and the journey we were going on, and she supported that and never complained. It was enormously inconvenient for her but I never heard a whisper. I knew, but it’s a conversation we didn’t need to have, and I love that about her.”
Dean attributes their happy family life to Bernice, and is aware that he may have been difficult to deal with while he pursued his business dream.
“There was an eight or 10 year period when I must have been a challenge to live with, especially during the Chelsea Show period,” Dean admitted.
Family life now is easier and more relaxed, said Dean, with his more mature attitude to work and family time. He has found a balance that works for all of them.
“We value our holidays together, and we have very good ones, which are a way of showing why mum and dad work so hard. If you don’t have fun when you stop, then what’s the point?” he argued.
“We looked at our life, and working from home was a priority to get the most of our time together as a family. It’s such a balance to get it right. It’s about the quality of what you do together, and not just the length of time.”
Are his sons inclined to move into the family business? Probably not, said Dean.
“I was told by my parents I could do anything, so there were no limitations on me or negative expectations. So I support my kids in the same way. They can choose their own dreams, just like I chose my own dream.
“All I know at the moment is that they’re very good at killing zombies and talking to their friends online!”
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