For 17 years, Wilton, CT-based LaurelRock Company grew. In fact, during that stretch of time, the company realized only two years when revenue was flat. Sales reached their highest level of $4.5 million in 2008. Then, a year later, sales dropped 30%.
“We did what most companies were forced to do,” says company president Burt DeMarche. “We sold a couple of old trucks and trailers for $15,000, held off on buying any new equipment, and even cut back on annual equipment maintenance—something we paid for last year.”
LaurelRock Company also started to hold service providers more accountable. Finding a new, more proactive insurance agent led to a change in carriers, which saved the company $35,000 in premiums in 2009. Then, LaurelRock’s long-time CPA agreed to compensate the owners for a mistake it made calculating a fuel tax credit. The mistake was uncovered by LaurelRock’s administrative team. “We scrutinized our operation from head to toe,” says DeMarche, “and turned what could have been a very unprofitable year into one in which we broke even.”
Accustomed to vibrant growth, however, Burt and his father, CEO Dickson DeMarche, wanted to quickly get back on the upward beam. In August 2009, slightly more than halfway through a difficult year, they retained a PR firm to help generate new sales. The company, MAX Communications, immediately worked to gain publicity for its new client in the hometown newspaper. Within a year, LaurelRock had gained additional exposure in the local press and was featured in eight regional magazine articles, 10 newspaper articles and five Internet articles. The company also had a new website up and running, along with a presence on Twitter and Facebook to drive potential customers to that new site. Additionally, LaurelRock was a finalist for the 2010 Pros in Excellence Award.
Becoming an Authority on Sustainability
In 2009, the PR team helped LaurelRock conceive and launch an ambitious educational event series for residential architects, positioning the company as a reliable and knowledgeable resource and trade partner for area sustainable design/build projects. Featuring green building experts across a multitude of disciplines, along with cutting-edge technologies, the seminars sought to inspire, inform and empower the area’s home design and build trades to work together to guide homeowners down the path of sustainability.
DeMarche explains, “Over the course of 12 months, we conducted two breakfast seminars on sustainable design for the benefit of residential architects. These were held from 8 to 10:30 a.m., with each featuring a panel of expert speakers. Among topics were ways to help communities adopt eco-friendly regulations, home energy efficiency, how to create inter-disciplinary sustainable design teams, geo-thermal applications for residential use, and site planning techniques to make best use of Mother Nature’s natural systems. Both events attracted more than 20 architects, most of whom wanted further seminars.”
During the same timeframe, LaurelRock was powering-up its sustainable service offering. It hired a Master Gardener to work with customers already interested in “organic” maintenance practices. DeMarche, along with Allan Broadbent, one of his designer/project managers, became a LEED Accredited Professional (AP). DeMarche soon began to leverage his newfound knowledge by partnering with other landscape architects and developers who helped him get on the ground floor with new design/build projects. His company has since installed its first rain garden and roof garden.
On the maintenance side, nearly 25% of LaurelRock’s customers already request some level of organic lawn care. The company offers two organic lawn care programs. One fully organic program, which runs about twice as expensive as its traditional service offering, includes spring and fall aerating, seeding, fertilizing and topdressing with compost. The other, a transitional program, which includes only the fall regimen, is approximately 65% more costly than their synthetic program. Both also include the use of organic controls and IPM practices throughout the year, along with keeping the grass cut higher, spot treatment for weeds, soil testing, and an application of lime in the fall.