Sustaining Growth

How do you more than double sales in a recession? Well … you can buy out a competitor, expand into other geographic markets, and you can make Laura McMurray your president and CEO.

That’s what Peter Salmeron, founder of Complete Landscaping Systems based in Wichita, KS, did one year ago. Since that time, sales have jumped from $9.3 million to an estimated $26 million this year. In fact, when McMurray joined Complete Landscaping as sales manager in 2006, sales were merely hovering around the million-dollar mark.

McMurray has indeed done a superb job since her arrival. But tremendous growth like Complete Landscaping Systems has achieved is a result of several things.

Factors Driving Sales Growth

Owner’s Vision. Complete Landscaping Systems began 27 years ago as a one man/one mower operation that was determined to build upon the dream of its founder. “My vision focused on delivering trademark service at a fair market price,” Salmeron relates.

Early on, consistency and unwavering support of customers created new opportunities for the company. Large accounts began asking for bids, while expansions into lawn care and installation sparked additional sales growth.

“Like any developing company, we did experience our share of pitfalls,” Salmeron points out. “In fact, we almost lost the business in 2004 due to financial stress. However, we continued to evolve through sustained client satisfaction, perseverance and confidence.”

Employees Who Care. A cornerstone of Salmeron’s vision early on was to hire true practitioners of their craft who could embody the concept of “trademark service”. To that end, Salmeron says, “It’s vital that our employees have a personal stake in the success of our company. That belief serves as the foundation of the career development programs and incentive programs we employ.”

One of the programs Salmeron and McMurray are most proud of is the CLS Employee Scholarship fund established to award the scholastic achievements of the staff’s children.

Market Expansion. Growing like Complete Landscaping Systems has typically requires some aggressive expansion into new market areas. Today the company services properties in 15 states. More than 90% of revenue comes from commercial accounts.

“We’d been presented with several opportunities to work for various national accounts,” Salmeron says. “Doors were opened after we’d proved that we could perform the work in an expedient way, offering cost-saving options and opportunities for clients.”

Complete Landscaping’s national client roster include hotels, restaurants and banks. Salmeron spearheaded the relationship-building effort. “I found the names of the people in charge, and we started growing city by city and state by state,” he says.

The Wichita-based company now has additional branches in Chicago, Des Moines (Iowa), Detroit and New Jersey. Salmeron and McMurray rely heavily on their very capable regional managers. “Having been in business nearly 30 years, we’ve met a lot of talented people in the industry from all over the country, especially at events such as GIC,” Salmeron adds.

Acquisition. Complete Landscaping Systems has also grown by acquiring other local landscape firms, allowing the company to quickly grow both customer base and service offering. A large part of the sales growth this year has resulted from an acquisition that’s allowed Complete Landscaping Systems to double its sales in the Wichita market.

Environmental Responsibility

While Salmeron, McMurray and the rest of the Complete Landscaping Systems management team have been focused on growth opportunities for the past few years, they’ve definitely found time for other high-priority initiatives, namely sustainability.

McMurray says her company takes pride in being one of only five property management firms servicing a LEED Gold facility. Complete Landscaping Systems has also been accepted into OSHA’s corporate pilot program to help align new industry safety standards with sustainability goals.

“As a property management and landscaping firm, the environmental impact of our actions looms large,” McMurray says. “Our own corporate strive to exceed societal expectations through a focus on sustainability has been met by a growing desire of our clients to be in favor of social responsibility, as well.”

“We emphasize the importance of integrating social and environmental issues into our clients’ core business strategies,” Salmeron adds. “Education has been a major component of our efforts to communicate the benefits resulting from sustainable initiatives, particularly in the realm of property management where the byproduct of such investments equates to immediate savings, boosting bottom line profits.”

The principles of Complete Landscaping Systems’ sustainability program are built upon its focus to achieve the following goals:

- Provide clients with product and service options that promote sustainability

- Regularly audit operations and programs for opportunities to reduce carbon footprint

- Maintain biodiversity in landscape programs as a habitat agent against stress and disease

- Use sustainable products and materials whenever possible

Today the company uses Solar Sync irrigation technology from Hunter Industries, and has developed a water filtration system that allows for the 100% use of recycled water. The company also uses biodegradable products whenever possible, and operates fuel-efficient and low-emission trucks and equipment as often as it can. Furthermore, GPS in trucks helps improve routing and, in turn, lower fuel consumption. Plus, employees are trained to never keep trucks running when they’re idle.

Complete Landscaping Systems is also working hard to ensure that its internal operations are as sustainable as possible. “Our Green Initiatives Program outlines our basic philosophy in conducting sound business practices combined with innovation and value enhancement,” McMurray says.

As a result of the company’s ongoing audit process, several improvements have been made:

- Digital phone system and mobile communications platform improves service efficiencies while reducing energy output at the headquarters building in Wichita

- Paperless billing and work order process reduces paper and energy use

- Customer Web Portal allows for efficient communication with clients while reducing the need for transportation

- Modified lighting system has been incorporated into a recent facility expansion

- Energy and material usage is monitored regularly

- New staff initiative encourages the entire Complete Landscaping Systems team to make strides to reduce their individual carbon footprints.

Social Responsibility

Being environmentally responsible has become a cornerstone of Complete Landscaping Systems’ philosophy on social responsibility—something the company has already built a long legacy in.

“In honor of the support we have received over the years, we have always delivered on our commitment to support our community and serve as an ambassador for the landscaping industry,” Salmeron says. “We contribute financially to Botanica the Wichita Gardens, Wichita Festivals Inc. and Wichita Grand Opera, to name a few. We also serve on several community boards, including the Salvation Army. Overall, we have invested more than $18 million in Kansas-based initiatives over the last 10 years, including scholarship and other philanthropic endeavors.”

Additionally, Complete Landscaping Systems participates in several associations, including PLANET, SIMA (Snow & Ice Management Association), the Wichita Independent Business Association, the Wichita Executive Association and the Mid-America Green Industry Council.

Giving back to the community and industry activism are hallmarks of any industry leader, which is something Peter Salmeron and Laura McMurray are well aware of. They are also aware of what continues to be the most influential driver of growth—no different than when they were running what was merely a million-dollar company just a few short years ago.

“The key drivers of our growth are to service our customers in the best way possible, exceed their expectations, provide reasonable pricing and communicate with them on a regular basis,” Salmeron says. “Our reputation is very important and word of mouth is still our best form of advertising. We are focused on our customers and will go the extra mile to provide outstanding service. If we are successful in doing that, growth will come naturally.”

The Perfect Marriage

Peter Salmeron (pictured) hired Laura McMurray to be his sales manager in 2006; sales were roughly $1.1 million. He named her president and CEO one year ago, selling the majority interest in the business to her; sales were roughly $9.3 million. Now sales are closing in on $26 million.

Salmeron actually worked for McMurray as a subcontractor years ago when McMurray was working for a national company. Salmeron recognized McMurray’s potential, and offered her a job at his company, Complete Landscaping Systems based in Wichita, KS. She accepted in 2006.

As president and CEO, McMurray is in charge of managing and operating the business. As chairman of the board, Salmeron focuses on public relations and marketing. He now owns just a small percentage of the company.

Salmeron and McMurray’s professional relationship has blossomed into a personal one, as well. The two were married on October 2, but plans for a honeymoon have been put on hold until at least February 2011. “We’re just very busy right now with the company,” Salmeron says.