Special Gardens Inc.
Redwood City, CA
Founded: 1976, current ownership since 2003
Owners: Maia Highsmith and Gabriel Lopez
Business Breakdown: 90% maintenance,
Customer Mix: 100% residential
Fleet includes Honda 21-inch walk mowers, Exmark 36-inch walk mowers, Shindaiwa string trimmers, RedMax debris blowers, 14 trucks
including a dump truck
What's so special about this landscape company located in Redwood City, CA? Perhaps nothing at first glance. But when you delve inside the organization—read its mission statement, talk to its employees and witness the precise manner in which the entire team plans and executes—you quickly see what makes this landscape maintenance company unique.
In fact, Special Gardens Inc. was pretty special some 30 years ago when it was first building its name. Because the company was owned and operated by two women, a perception developed that Special Gardens would pay more attention to detail, be more responsive, and generally deliver a better service than many of the other maintenance contractors in the area. Gender aside, the work of those two owners and their crews spoke for itself.
Now owned by partners Maia Highsmith and Gabriel Lopez, Special Gardens Inc. is an established brand name in the Bay Area. Still, the duo has its work cut out for them.
The affluent clientele in the San Francisco Bay Area are becoming increasingly more knowledgeable with regard to landscape practices. Competition—for both work and employees—is increasingly fierce. In other words, the market demands more, and it's harder to get and keep good employees who can uphold the company's stellar reputation.
IT'S ALL IN THE DETAILS
Highsmith and Lopez have paid their dues as crew workers for other landscape companies over the years. Highsmith is a CLT in landscape maintenance, while Lopez is a CLT in maintenance, installation and irrigation. There's nothing more important, the partners concur, than continuous education and becoming certified. That's why they encourage their employees to also become certified—and even offer to pay for the exam. "One of our crew leaders, Oscar, is certified in maintenance," Highsmith points out. "Jose, one of our other leaders, is certified in both maintenance and irrigation."
Highsmith and Lopez took over the company in 2003. "A lot has changed in the past five years," Lopez says. "For one, you have to pay your people more in order to keep them. You need to protect your investment in employees so you can maintain quality and meet the demands of the high-end residential market."
The market Special Gardens caters to on the Peninsula is a bit unique. Estates not only have lush lawns, but also expansive gardens full of annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs. Maintaining these high-end properties is labor-intensive, to say the least. More importantly, it requires a meticulous attention to detail."
Hand pruning is a craft," Highsmith points out. "Traditional lawn maintenance services are also a key part of the overall package we sell. We also do sprinkler systems, planting, deep-root fertilizing and custom-made lawn and plant fertilizers."
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
ust like with hand pruning, the staff at Special Gardens is very meticulous with mowers, trimmers and blowers. "It's how our crews approach every property," Lopez says. "That's why an employee base that takes pride in its work and is continually learning and growing is so important."
Training is an integral part of the Special Gardens culture and sales message. "We have about 45 minutes of training every week," Highsmith relates. "In addition, we have a few all-day, on-site training sessions throughout the year."
The on-site sessions allow employees to acquire knowledge by addressing real life challenges as they are happening in the field. Training topics include working with chemicals, measuring lawn areas, pruning, plant identification, equipment operation, detailing, irrigation, filling out paperwork, team communication and customer care.