“The organic service is more expensive than our regular lawn care service, but our goal by 2015 is to make it so affordable and effective that customers will have no reason to opt out of it,” DeMarche relates. “Every year we learn more, and there are always new products coming out on the market. Last year, for example, we found a mulch blower at GIE+EXPO in Louisville that takes the work and time out of topdressing lawns.”
The PR push and creating awareness about its sustainable service offering didn’t come without a cost, DeMarche emphasizes. “Our marketing budget went from $8,000 annually to $50,000 in 2009, and then up to $100,000 in 2010. It’s a lot of money but we feel it has been worth the investment.” As he points out, spending money to prime the business pump when sales are down isn’t easy to do, but it has paid off in both exposure and sales.
In the Face of Adversity
From starting out 35 years ago as a pure design firm, LaurelRock has evolved. Dickson DeMarche started the company with a partner in 1975 under the name Dickson DeMarche Associates. After the partnership dissolved in the 1980s, he formed a new company, Dickson DeMarche Landscape Architects (DDLA), with one employee. Three years later, his son Burt, who had graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in horticulture, purchased a 25% share in the venture and donated his old pickup truck to the cause—and LaurelRock was formed.
“We wrote a business plan to accommodate a design/build company, and gradually added maintenance services,” DeMarche relates. “My father focused on the design part of the business while I concentrated on operations, eventually managing our first design/build crews and later our maintenance crews. Today we have two installation crews, two fine gardening crews, two enhancement crews, three weekly maintenance crews, and one property health care technician. In 2010, maintenance accounted for nearly half of our $4.1 million in sales.”
When asked what it takes to be successful today, DeMarche says company owners must have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. For example, in February 2008, LaurelRock was among several unlucky companies across the country that lost their entire H-2B workforce. DeMarche recalls how difficult it was to replace these workers, many of whom had been returning for years.
“The first thing we did was hold a Job Fair, and I would guess that before the year was out, we hired 60 people to ultimately fill 24 positions,” DeMarche tells. “The 2009 slowdown actually helped in a couple of ways. It allowed us to keep our best employees, and it gave us an opportunity to retain some very talented individuals who found themselves out of work.
“One day, either after the H-2B incident or sometime during 2009, a long-time employee offered some great advice,” DeMarche continues. “I evidently was preoccupied with an issue and wasn’t as affable as normal. The employee reminded me that my attitude sets the tone for others in the company, and that a negative attitude is contagious, just as a positive one is. I took his advice to heart. A positive outlook and the right energy are imperative to being a successful leader at any level.”
DeMarche emphasizes that networking with other landscape professionals through his state association and PLANET has been extremely valuable, as has participating in a peer group for the last four years and being a member of Jim Paluch’s A Better Way Community. “Every Monday at 3 p.m. we attend A Better Way webinar, and a couple of times a year have a face-to-face meeting with other area Better Way members. It’s almost like being a member of a larger peer group.”
DeMarche says that successful companies today have to be proactive in driving-out costs, adding value, marketing their service offerings, growing partnerships with their suppliers, holding team members accountable, and enhancing their relationships with peers. This is still a relationship business, and there are plenty of individuals and groups willing to offer assistance.