Ian Barker Gardens

Ian Barker

Founded in 1996, Ian Barker Gardens are a landscape design, construction and garden maintenance company based in Canterbury, Victoria. In that first decade of Ian Barker Gardens, they were initially recognised as the ‘masters of the hardscapes’ – the structures that define the shape and form of gardens such as the paving, lawn, play equipment, pools, entertaining areas etc.

2008 was a pivotal year where Ian showed his workmanship at the biggest flower show in the world – UK’s Chelsea Flower Show with Jamie Durie and Flemings Nursery. Their garden design featured a curved deck and exclusively Australian Indigenous plants winning the prestigious Gold Medal and the compliment ‘what a lovely curve in the deck’ from Her Majesty The Queen. 

Traditionally Aussie gardens have focused on mostly the functionality and hardscapes of a space. Contrastingly, the gardens in the UK are designed and prioritised around how to best showcase the flora. These days, Ian Barker Gardens first considers the functional contemporary hardscapes to get a sense of the form before delving into the strategic placement of plant life and perennials that allow a conscious flowering and unfurling of various plants regardless of the seasons. 

How did you end up having Martin & Martin as your accountants?

Both Andrew and I had children at the local primary school. Some of the parents formed a tennis team and we gradually got to know each other around hits of the tennis ball, beers and chats afterwards and the occasional premiership celebration! 

During the early days of COVID as the restrictions started and uncertainty prevailed, my previous accountant was giving me ‘donuts’. Much like everyone else I was petrified. I wasn’t sure what was ahead of us, we were battling how to keep the business going, how we would get through each month, and if we’d survive? If so, at what cost?

During that tricky time, Martin & Martin was writing thought provoking ramblings that were fondly referred to as ‘Musings’ Newsletters. They weren’t generic content, Andrew was writing from the heart and saying – we don’t have the answers, in-fact, it’s laughable we don’t have many answers but we’re all going through the same shit and here’s some things that might help. As a desperate business owner, I was scrolling through the internet, Googling things at 11pm at night, trying to make heads or tails of our situations to try and keep our businesses and jobs afloat. He was putting the voice out there whilst many people were going to ground. 

We got talking and he helped me understand what assistance we would get through the government incentives. It was a lot of money and made the difference between getting through and not.

I started to question, ‘why am I staying with this accountant who is giving me nothing?’ I was ringing my (old) accountant, desperately trying to navigate whichever way we thought was forward, I was asking him where are my liabilities, what’s going on? He was obviously overwhelmed by all his clients doing the same thing and froze like a deer in headlights. 

Even though it goes against my ethos of never mixing business and personal. We moved from an accountant that we had for 19 years that we probably should have left years ago. We got too comfortable. He wasn’t bad. But now that we’ve had a taste of what a great advisor can do, I’ve realised it was a wasted opportunity. 

What do you like about working with Martin & Martin?

Martin & Martin are extremely proactive. Most business leaders get bogged down in the day-to-day and it’s very easy to get distracted and not find the time to look at the accounts. 

We review the accounts quarterly with Martin & Martin. We look at the historical quarter just gone, then we look ahead at what’s coming up in the next quarter and then we zoom out further into the future and look at the rest of the financial year. Even if it was a bad quarter, there’s fewer surprises because we’re onto things earlier. If something is not going quite right, we flesh it out and see if we can resolve any of the concerns. 

In the past we used to meet with our accountant annually and this was largely based around the historical reporting, taxation implications and compliance. It wasn’t uncommon to hear… ‘That’s no good. And… Here are your compliance docs’. 

When have you relied on Martin & Martin for their advice?

During the COVID component, in the process of reviewing our figures on a quarterly basis, Martin & Martin was proactive in helping myself and Sandra, our book-keeper get our heads around and work through the JobKeeper eligibility at a time when we were really struggling and questioning our viability during the uncertain restrictive times. 

We were a construction business that was limited to having five people on-site and in our maintenance business were only allowed to have one person on-site – but it was illegal for apprentices to work alone. We were facing a conundrum of how we survive to keep these people on when it’s physically impossible to have them working with the restrictions that were set. All the while, our business was bleeding money and I was considering whether I might need to sell my house to keep the business afloat. To say it was stressful is an understatement.

JobKeeper for our business was a lifebuoy that we’ll be forever grateful to Martin & Martin for helping us work through. Sandra and I walked out of that initial meeting and we had decided that ‘forever more, regardless of how much Martin & Martin might put up their fees, we’ll need to go back and remember this day’. They really saved our skin. Since then, everytime they send us a bill, it’s the first one we pay. 

What makes working with Martin & Martin interesting?

I really believe that Martin & Martin are helping us make money because they’re proactive. They are able to distinguish the line items that are expenses and those that are investments for our business. On occasion they challenge us – but in doing so, they definitely help us think about the business better. 

We’ve now experienced what it’s like to have such great advisors and support. Because Andrew is so quick and blunt, it saves a lot of time and it’s absolutely for the benefit of the business. Contrastingly, Nikki who manages our work at Martin & Martin is the calm, analytical and patient advisor. She can see things from our perspective and can empathise that we might not see things as fast as Andrew might.

I’m a good landscaper and I’m confident and arrogant enough to say that I’m really good at what I do, and we’re getting pretty good at business but it’s not what I do. Time and time again, Martin & Martin have given us some information or advice, and we’ve taken some leaps of faith and along the way we have made fewer mistakes. It’s been incredibly beneficial for both of us and I can’t imagine doing business another way.