From left: Doug McDuff, Jon Acosta, Andy McDuff
Doug McDuff says that one thing he learned at the previous landscape company he worked for is to focus on what you do well, and Landscape America does well with hardscaping and general residential landscape construction.
Founded merely three years ago, Landscape America in Wrentham, MA, has rapidly grown to become an $800,000-plus landscape installation and maintenance company. Even more remarkable than its sales achievements is the young company’s commitment to professionalism and education.
At just 27 and 24 years of age, brothers Doug and Andy McDuff each have associate’s degrees in landscape contracting. Additionally, both are Massachusetts Certified Landscape Professionals (MCLP), licensed pesticide applicators, and are certified by the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI). The elder Doug also has a bachelor’s degree in urban forestry and is a Massachusetts Certified Arborist.
The credentials don’t stop with these 20-something owners, either. Construction foremen Mike Dineen and Steve Bach, also in their mid-20s, have associate’s degrees in landscape contracting. Then, Dineen has a bachelor’s in urban forestry while Bach has a bachelor’s in landscape architecture. Dineen is also ICPI-certified.
“We are a company made up of young, eager, educated people who genuinely enjoy this industry and want to succeed in it,” Doug relates. “Our employees are encouraged to continue educating themselves through reading, attending trade shows and basic on-the-job training.”
It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know
Each of Landscape America’s employees are also encouraged to develop relationships with clients to earn their trust and keep communication lines flowing. “Education is important,” Andy relates. “We teach our clients about plant disease, paver installation and late-summer pruning. This is how we differentiate ourselves from the average landscaper.”
Located in the small town of Wrentham—halfway between Boston and Providence with a population of 10,500—Landscape America has quickly learned the virtues of both industry and community involvement. The company is affiliated with the Massachusetts Arborist Association, the Massachusetts Association of Landscape Professionals (MLP), ICPI and the International Society of Arboriculture.
While attending the Louisville GIE+EXPO in late October, Landscape America also became a member of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), a nationwide association of leading landscape contractors.
Additionally, local fairs and community gatherings have proven to be great venues to generate sales leads. Volunteering for the Wrentham Town Common Landscape Committee and MCLP Board has also helped open doors to new clients and vendors, along with ideas for improving and growing a landscaping business.
“Our small town is very tight-nit,” Doug points out. “Being involved with the Landscape Committee has helped our exposure and has led to a lot of work for our company. Plus, it’s just a nice way to give back. As for our involvement with the MLP and MCLP Board, it’s been a great learning tool. Plus, our certifications and involvement with key industry organizations helps with our image. Things like this can be critical when it’s time to present a bid.”
GROWING AGAINST THE GRAIN
The majority of Landscape America’s bids are presented to high-end consumer clientele. In fact, roughly 80% of the company’s total sales come from this market. “We don’t do much with commercial construction,” Doug says. “High-end residential keeps us plenty busy with residual work and new enhancement projects.
“One thing I learned at the previous landscape company I worked for is to focus on what you do well,” Doug continues. “And we do well with pavers, plantings and general landscape construction for residential customers.”
Landscape America’s revenue-service mix is split 60% installation, 25% maintenance and 15% snow removal. Landscape America provides mowing and maintenance, fertilizing, turf renovation, tree care, planting and transplanting, drainage systems, excavation, hardscaping and snowplowing.
Doug has been thrilled that, despite the economic slowdown, he’s been able to keep two installation crews busy all year. A third maintenance crew, led by foreman Jon Acosta, keeps cash coming in, and has done a superb job of paving the way for additional enhancement projects.
“By the looks of things, we’re going to crush last year’s numbers,” Doug says. In fact, Landscape America actually grew sales upwards of 40% this year. “The secret has been following up on all those sales calls we did in the fall of 2008 where customers got nervous and decided to hold off on projects. We hit it hard the first part of this year. By spring we had a good workload lined up.”
Landscape America has also been fed a couple construction projects from an area homebuilder who specializes in $2-4 million homes. One project alone carried an entire crew from mid-spring through August. “This project is the main reason I added a second construction crew this year,” Doug points out.
Doug is confident that he’ll be able to maintain both construction crews going forward, with or without work from the homebuilder. “This fall has helped me realize that I can keep two crews busy,” he says. “I’m focusing nearly 100% of my efforts on selling now. In between big projects, both crews can stay busy on the smaller jobs that continue coming in.”
CATCHING THEIR SECOND WIND
That said, there will likely be more of those bigger projects coming in. Landscape America is already bidding on two huge projects for next spring. And as the economy and housing market continue to stabilize, there should be plenty of opportunity for continued growth.
The McDuffs are taking a modest approach, though. “We want to continue growing next year, but maybe at a slower rate,” Doug tells. “We’re at the point now where we need to start building a culture, where our employees continue to appreciate and convey the same values Andy and I do.”
A couple of years down the road, Doug envisions possibly adding another salesperson, perhaps through the promotion of one of his existing foremen. Then, an existing crew worker would fill that vacant foreman’s position. It’s all about having a plan for the future—and making employees a part of that plan.
For now, the plan will continue to have Andy maintaining his role as “super foreman,” running those bigger construction projects, managing and maintaining the truck and equipment fleet, and making sure crews have what they need to succeed. Doug will continue to focus his efforts on selling, estimating, scheduling and billing.
Due to the volume of landscape contractors operating in the Wrentham-area market, Doug says he’s been doing more bidding than ever as of late. But he’s found that the customer’s decision rarely comes down to price. “It can’t, because we’re almost never the lowest bidder,” Doug says.
And Landscape America continues earning new jobs. With a 40% growth rate over 2008, that fact is as plain as day—almost as plain as the numerous degrees, certifications and client testimonials that continue to reassure new customers that they’re making the right choice in Landscape America.
Owners: Doug and Andy McDuff
Year founded: 2006