Why in the world would a landscape designer decide that he’d rather be in the commercial maintenance business? Because, as this landscape designer so aptly puts it, “It’s simply a better business model for me.”
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that Ben Collinsworth truly came to terms with his calling. “As a business owner, my primary job is to resolve conflicts and create opportunities,” he relates.
Collinsworth has been doing plenty of both since founding Native Land Design in 2001 at the age of 23. He and his trusted management team have learned to face challenges head-on, creating a company that is rapidly growing in more ways than one.
Sales – Since Native Land Design transitioned from residential construction to commercial maintenance in 2005, sales have more than doubled. The company has received plenty of attention for that sales growth. It has twice been named as one of Austin’s 50 fastest-growing companies. It was listed as one of Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in 2009. And it has won the prestigious Aggie 100 three times.
Footprint – Headquartered in Austin (Cedar Park), Native Land Design has opened three additional branches since 2005. The company is now a $10 million operation serving Austin, San Antonio, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley (McAllen).
People – “The professional atmosphere we’ve created tends to gravitate great talent to our company,” Collinsworth says. “We want to make sure we have an open environment for alternative thoughts and ideas. We practice open book management and constantly work to train our people to be more informed than their counterparts at other companies. Our employees truly have the ability to affect change at their positions.” Native Land Design employs 145 people year round, and an additional 55 during peak season.
Today, at age 33, Collinsworth is a much different person in the way he manages his growing company. Much of that personal transformation can be attributed to one simple thing: networking.
In 2008 Collinsworth began participating in something called TAB, which stands for The Alternative Board. TAB consists of several business owners from different industries in a certain geographic location. “Networking with other business owners from outside of the Green Industry has really helped us raise the bar,” Collinsworth says. “At first I was like, ‘I don’t really have any big issues to deal with.’ But once you get in a group like this and start talking, you realize that, ‘Man, I’ve got a ton of issues.’ And it does absolutely no good to run from them.”
Collinsworth’s personal transformation actually began well before his involvement in TAB. Back in 2003 he got in touch with consultant Jim Paluch of JP Horizons. “Jim really helped me sort through everything and figure out what my company’s focus should be,” Collinsworth says.
That focus turned out to be commercial maintenance—namely homeowner associations (HOA’s), professional office complexes and retail centers.
In Native Land’s early days as a residential construction company, the majority of business was fed by big Austin-area homebuilders. Native Land Design also picked up some estate maintenance work in the process.
When one of Collinsworth’s clients turned him onto a large HOA maintenance account, a light bulb went on. “Commercial maintenance is a better business model with a lot less volatility than construction,” Collinsworth says.
It’s a good thing that the light bulb came on as quickly as it did. Native Land Design began its transition from construction to maintenance in 2005—several years ahead of the economic crash that crippled the construction business in 2009.
“We soon became a maintenance company that does install enhancements for maintenance clients, rather than an installation company that does maintenance for installation clients,” Collinsworth points out. “That has proved to be a very important difference for us.”