As part of a series highlighting the 11 businesses entered in this year's Westpac Marlborough Chamber of Commerce Business Awards, Sophie Preece talks to Barbara Mortensen and Craig Mill of Focus Labour Solutions.
Marlborough's vineyards are like factories without walls, and workers are key to their success, says Barbara Mortensen.
The co-owner of Focus Labour Solutions (FLS) says the public frequently hear of the negative side of vineyard contractors, and not about the hundreds of people helping the wine industry thrive.
"The Marlborough area has a lot of neat and tidy vines to look at, but a lot of hands and hard work have gone into making it that way."
She and business partner Craig Mill have put FLS in this year's Westpac Marlborough Chamber of Commerce Business Awards, to showcase a good labour contracting business and its staff.
The company organises labour and labour supervision for several clients and specialises in "boutique or high-end" vineyards and wineries.
"We train our staff well and our supervisors are well qualified to supervise them to do the job properly. We think about the whole season of work, rather than just looking at one-off jobs."
FLS has nine permanent staff, made up predominantly of supervisors, supervisor assistants and long-term staff, with the bulk of around 60 employees on fixed term or casual contracts.
They try to employ New Zealanders when possible, and to give their staff the training required to succeed with them, and in other workplaces, she said.
"We are the third-highest employer of Kiwis in our industry in Marlborough, according to Work and Income in Blenheim."
The two set up the business in 2008, taking night classes to school-up on the technical side of vineyard work, while running the business during the day.
In the past three years it has grown 21 per cent each year, despite running through the recession.
Mortensen said the wine industry had been "in survival mode" in recent years, which meant prices for vineyard work had been stagnant.
"It's hard to run a business when the minimum wage, fuel, cost of living etc goes up, but not your income. You have to work very smart and manage your business really well to make sure you survive through these times."
It was also vital clients paid on time because wages went out weekly.
"Our staff are our business - they have to be paid correctly and on time."
They had forged relationships with loyal customers over the years, and looked forward to the prospect of good harvests and further growth.
"Sometimes being naive is best. If you knew what you were going to go through you wouldn't do it. But when you come out the other end it's great," Mortensen said.
"I learned that if you can survive in bad times and in a recession, then the business is on a good footing for the future."
The winners of the Westpac Marlborough Chamber of Commerce Business Awards will be announced at the gala dinner in Blenheim on November 15.
- The Marlborough Express