The company has also rearranged routes to be more efficient, and now uses mulching decks on its mowers to save time handling clippings. Efficiencies, though, are slightly more difficult to come by on native landscapes. Spalsbury explains, “When one thinks of a native landscape, a vision of a heavily maintained property doesn’t accompany the thought. But there’s nothing further from the truth. Native shrubs need to be hand pruned, weeds need to be pulled, and blow sand is pervasive, especially on days like this when wind gusts are over 50 miles per hour.”
Spalsbury points to a gravel walk where the sand is making unsightly piles. “When the wind dies down, we will get a crew in here to rake the gravel,” he notes, adding that crewmembers will also corral wayward tumble weeds that have made their way onto the property.
Maintaining a native landscape so its looks natural, without looking over- or under-maintained, is a fine balance, both Spalsbury and Mallory point out. The effort is not unlike trying to grow a company when key economic indicators are pointing in the opposite direction.
Heads Up Landscaping has experienced double-digit growth for the last several years, but Mallory admits that to strive for similar growth this year would be difficult at best. “I believe owners have to be realists and strike a balance between what is practical and what is real,” he emphasizes. “For the past few years, we have focused as much on strengthening our relationships with customers as we have on sales. We want to addict property managers to us.”
Mallory’s company builds rapport in part by holding training seminars for clients. Topics range from how to maintain plants between visits to how to irrigate responsibly. Heads Up also operates with a customer advisory council comprised primarily of property managers. As Mallory relates, the best way to find out how you are performing for clients and how you can better meet their expectations is to ask them.
To find out if he’s meeting or exceeding expectations as a business owner, Mallory participates in a peer group comprised of five other company owners from around the country. The group meets three times a year to discuss problems and talk about solutions.
“The meetings are a wonderful and very valuable exercise,” he says. “In fact, I cannot believe how powerful this tool truly has been for our company. It works for us, and I believe it would work for nearly anyone willing to open up and share difficult challenges and important financial information with industry peers.”
New service offerings, practicing lean management, advisory councils and participating in a peer group have all been part of a natural evolution for Heads Up Landscaping. The four partners who started the company became acquainted by playing basketball together after work. The idea they formed between driving to the basket and shooting jump shots eventually matured into a multi-million-dollar operation that, today, also operates a satellite facility in nearby Santa Fe.
The company has thrived, just like the game of basketball has, by evolving with the times and staying a step or two ahead of the marketplace.
Eric Spalsbury emphasizes that recruiting is a big deal for Heads Up Landscape. “We have developed relationships with some very good universities that have great horticulture programs,” he relates.
“We routinely visit these schools to talk with the faculty and students about the industry and career opportunities. Occasionally, someone from our staff will volunteer to be a guest lecturer. In fact, last fall I visited a Midwestern school and gave a lecture to a landscape maintenance class on customer expectations. While there, I also met with faculty members and students to discuss our internship program and career opportunities within our company.
“We encourage students and faculty members to visit us in Albuquerque. We will give them a tour of our facility, show them the sights around town, and introduce them to landscape techniques that are unique to our area.”
Heads Up Landscape Contractors Inc.
Owner: Gary Mallory
Employees: 350 peak season
Sales Mix: 70% installation,
Customer Mix: 100% commercial
Equipment includes 20 Exmark riders and 40 walk mowers; Stihl trimmers and blowers; 26 Bobcat skid steers; John Deere backhoe, John Deere tractor; 9 Ditch Witch walk-behind trenchers, 6 Ditch Witch ride-on trenchers; Finn hydroseeder, Finn straw blower; Truax drill seeders; 65 Ford trucks (mainly F-250s) with trailers; 1 Hino and 2 Isuzu spray trucks for lawn care; International 4700 boom truck