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Add-on opportunities abound - Landscape Management

Last updated: 09-03-2020

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Add-on opportunities abound - Landscape Management

The landscape industry continues to grow, as shown by the growing total revenue in the LM150 list of largest companies, which, this year, reached a record-breaking $12 billion. Part of what makes that growth possible is the innovation and the resourcefulness of business owners, who turn promising ideas into profitable services. Here’s a look at three companies who executed those ideas and boosted their revenue.

Timberline Landscaping’s approach to adding services has evolved over the years, says CEO Judd Bryarly. The company, located in Colorado Springs, Colo., and founded in 1982 first added commercial construction in the mid- to late 1990s because it complemented the company’s landscape construction segment.

From there, Timberline added holiday lighting services in 2001 and snow and ice removal in 1997 to keep staff employed year-round. Now, the company’s approach is to add services that best fit the needs of its clients. Bryarly says the goal is to be a one-stop shop for his customers.

“It wasn’t necessarily strategic back then, but looking back on it, they were great strategic moves,” he says. “We want (our clients) to look at us as their source for any of their needs outside,” he says. “You can call us for anything from snow removal to Christmas Décor, plant health care, water features, hardscapes, outdoor living, etc.”

The $20.4 million company, which came in at No. 118 on the 2020 LM150, provides mowing and landscape maintenance, turf and ornamental care, design/build and installation, irrigation and water management, tree care, snow removal and holiday décor to its 70 percent commercial, 20 percent residential and 10 percent government/municipal clients.

It’s been a little more than a year since Timberline added tree care services to its offerings, and it’s been a good investment, Bryarly says. Al Wenger, an arborist who had recently left his position at a tree care company, approached Timberline last year because he was looking to start something new. Timberline had subcontracted with him in the past and had a good relationship with him.

Bryarly says hiring Wenger worked well for the company as he brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to help launch Timberline’s tree care division.

“The strategic move that told us we had to go in that direction was here’s a guy with 30 years of experience who is virtually running a company and willing to come on board with us, help take this division off and set it in a new direction,” Bryarly says.

Timberline needed to acquire all of the necessary equipment, such as a Bandit chipper and chipper truck, a Vermeer stump grinder and a bucket truck. Bryarly said he leaned on Wenger, who now serves as the company’s arboriculture manager, for insight into which brands to buy.

“Had we tried to launch tree care without an experienced person like Al, our challenge would have been tenfold,” Bryarly says. “There’s a lot of different sizes of tree chippers out there, and we would have never known what size to get. That’s where Al played a key role for us in helping us determine what’s best for our usage and getting off the ground.”

Bryarly says that’s a critical piece of advice for anyone considering adding a new service mix. “You’ve got to bring in somebody who knows that portion of the business, who has an understanding of that part of the industry,” he says.

Timberline’s tree care service has grown exponentially year over year, Bryarly says. At the end of June, the company had already matched the revenue generated all of last year, and he hopes to net $750,000 in tree care this year.

“To be above where we were last year already is fantastic for us,” he says.

Bryarly says the management team constantly monitors feedback from clients and staff to see what new services are a good fit to add to the mix.

“We don’t feel we can sit still and keep with the same services,” he says. “We have to continuously look at those things. The minute we get complacent, someone is going to pass us up and take other opportunities that are available out there. We want to push the bleeding edge of services and what we can offer clients.”

The golf course irrigation division of Connecticut-based Winterberry Gardens is growing with projects all over the U.S.

With a 16.5-acre facility that sits across the street from ESPN’s world headquarters in Bristol, Conn., maybe it was only a matter of time before Winterberry Gardens broke into sports as well.

The company is making inroads in the golf irrigation installation business, with $4.2 million of its irrigation business coming from golf irrigation projects. That’s 70 percent of Winterberry’s $6 million in irrigation revenue. The company has worked on golf irrigation systems up and down the East Coast, including TPC Boston and The Greenbrier Resort in Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

The company was founded in 1985 in Southington, Conn., by Scot and Al Leavitt. Back then, it was known as Environmental Designs and offered only landscape design/build services. In 2001, Chris Daigle joined the company and started Winterberry Irrigation.

The company offers maintenance, lawn care, design/build and irrigation services to a 70 percent commercial and 30 percent residential clientele.

Winterberry CEO Scot Leavitt says that while it’s not common for landscape companies to add on golf course irrigation since it tends to be a niche market, golf irrigation was on the company’s radar. During conversations with Winterberry’s irrigation suppliers, Rain Bird, Toro and Hunter, each convinced them to give the service a chance.

Winterberry’s golf irrigation division began in 2004, when it hired a technician with a lot of golf experience. “It’s a very difficult market to break into,” Leavitt says. “It’s kind of an old-boy network, everyone knows each other.”

After two years in golf irrigation, Winterberry took a break in 2006. In 2008, the company returned to golf, starting to build the business again from the ground up and joining the Golf Course Builders Association of America.

Out of 40 irrigation employees, 25 people work on the golf irrigation side, which operates independently from other areas in the company. The golf irrigation division has its own designers and estimators, its own CAD program and GPS locating and its own operations managers, crews, scheduling and material ordering processes. Teams of eight to 15 irrigation staff members execute the work on job sites.

The company focuses on golf irrigation installation and its projects come from relationships with golf course irrigation consultants, who design the systems.

Consultants choose to work with the company because of the materials and techniques they use. In 2010, it started incorporating more durable high-density polyethylene irrigation pipe into its systems instead of the standard polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

“(PVC) fails over time, and now those systems are failing, so people are redoing their systems,” Leavitt says. “The price of polyethylene has come down so it’s competitive with PVC, but the techniques, technology and equipment are difficult and expensive, so we found that niche, and we chased it.”

During the pandemic, like other landscaping companies, Winterberry has noticed that clients who are now spending more time at home are looking to find a new avenue to entertain — and golf has experienced a similar surge.

So Leavitt’s been on the road working on projects while many people have been cooped up at home. He spent the first week of March working on a job at Eagle Springs Golf Course in the Florida Panhandle, then traveled to work on a course renovation at American Dunes, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course in Grand Haven, Mich., throughout March and April. The first week of June brought him to Landmand Golf Club in Homer, Neb. And, he doesn’t see it stopping.

“I see the golf business exploding,” Leavitt says. “We’ve put so much time and effort in, and now we’re being recognized.”

He explains that the company has made the conscious decision to be selective about the projects it chooses, since, he notes, there are some markets like Florida where the competition has driven down margins.

Though Winterberry has built the golf irrigation business from the ground up to $4-million-plus since 2010, Leavitt says it’s not something that can be added on easily.

“It’s taken us 10 years to get some momentum,” he says. “Golf is its own universe — it’s its own language. It’s not a bolt-on service. You’ve got to be in there wholeheartedly, loving it, embracing it.”

When Santa Rita Landscaping in Tucson, Ariz., started to receive requests from its builderclients to water their lots, it jumped on the opportunity for an additional revenue stream.

“In the state of Arizona, lots that are developed stay certified for one year,” says Kathi Roche, general manager of Santa Rita Landscaping, which boasted a 2019 revenue of $20 million and came in at No. 115 on the 2020 LM150 list. “If a builder doesn’t build on that within a year, they need to get recertified, and part of the certification process is the moisture content of the soil. Because we’re in Arizona and it’s hot and dry, typically, the moisture content is not where it needs to be after a year.”

To fill its clients’ needs, the company rips the lots with a New Holland U80C tractor, soaks them using a watering truck and resurfaces the lot by replacing the dirt. Then, a third-party comes out to certify that the lot meets moisture content standards.

Ripping and soaking takes a crew member about two to three hours, and replacing the soil the next day takes about an hour, according to Roche.

Before Santa Rita added the watering services, the company sent a crew member with a tractor to rip the lots and contracted out the watering services from aseparate company, but then Santa Rita Landscaping got to a size in early 2019 where it could buy its own water truck to service its customers better.

Adding the watering service allowed the company to be flush with new revenue, about $500,000 per year to be exact, after an initial investment of $100,000 for the International 2,000-gallon water truck. The company provides about 80 percent construction and 20 percent maintenance services to a 90 percent commercial, 10 percent residential clientele.

So far, the venture has been so successful that Santa Rita Landscaping is looking to expand the service. In fact, 10 of its 14 builder clients have requested it.

“Customers are asking for more lots to be ripped, and we’re at a little bit more than full capacity right now, so we’re looking for a second truck with a 4,000-gallon capacity to speed up filling time,” Roche says.

For other companies looking to expand their service offerings, Roche suggests looking to their current customers to see what kind of services can be added.

“We’ve all heard that it’s cheaper to sell to your existing customers than to find a new one, and it’s really true,” she says. “If there’s a need in their community for recertification of lots, be your customers’ solution. Investigate it and run the numbers. When we did that, it really showed that it would pay off, and now we’re seeing the benefits of that.”

She adds, “It’s really about the customer experience. If we can fulfill the need they have, then they start coming to us for other things too, so it’s really about being that customer-centric company.”


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