Like most landscape contractors, Darryl Orr and Dave Penry have faced their share of ups and downs. Through them all, this duo has never compromised the principles upon which its company was founded: pride in its passion for landscaping, integrity above profits, 100% accountability, respect in the community, flexibility and fun.
These principles have helped Pacific Landscapes build a near $4 million company in the North Bay community of Sebastopol, CA. The company has been recognized on numerous occasions for its leadership in sustainable landscaping and for being one of the best employers in the San Francisco North Bay area.
It’s our time
Orr and Penry first came together to found Pacific Landscapes in 2000. The two had worked together for the previous 15 years at another landscape company. After that company found itself in the middle of the 1998 LandCare consolidation, Orr and Penry decided it was time to branch out on their own.
Then the economy softened. “We thought it would be bulletproof because we had the tech and wine industries here,” Penry recalls. “We found out that it wasn’t. We started operating in October 2000, and then the 2001 recession hit. Our first couple of years were tough.”
But by 2003 the housing and commercial real estate markets started going wild—and Pacific Landscapes’ account base grew quickly. By 2007 the company was grossing $3.79 million and employing 70. Then the 2009 recession hit. “We didn’t have much construction work to speak of in 2009,” Orr tells. Fortunately, only 10-15% of Pacific Landscapes’ total revenue was tied to new landscape installation.
Since then Pacific Landscapes has focused on expanding its maintenance base. Now a little more than 70% of total revenue comes from monthly maintenance contracts; the rest comes from maintenance-driven landscape enhancements and irrigation upgrades. Sales have eclipsed the $3.8 million mark—an all-time high—and the company employs 75 (60 year round), also an all-time high.
Creating a great place to work
Orr and Penry take great pride in the fact that their company is a four-time recipient of the North Bay Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” award. “When you consider that the North Bay is filled with employers like medical research facilities and tele-com companies that offer huge benefits, the fact that a smaller company like ours has won this award four times is a great honor,” Penry says.
“The majority of our employees have been with us since the beginning,” adds Orr. “Looking specifically at our full-time roster, the average tenure is seven years. We always encourage personal growth. I think back to when I was working for that other company. The fact that they encouraged my personal growth was why I was so loyal to them for 15 years. That’s what we want to do now for the employees of our company.”
One of Pacific Landscapes’ six founding principles, 100% accountability, has had a big impact on the owners’ ability to create a great place to work. As one employee stated: “I feel a spirit of cooperation that I don’t think I’ve come across until working here. It is open minded, open communication. There is a team-oriented approach to solving problems.”
What is 100% accountability? “If you have a problem, you fix it as soon as humanly possible,” Penry explains. For example, if an employee picked up his paycheck and there’s an error, you fix it that afternoon rather than make him wait three days. If a customer calls with a problem at 3:30 p.m., make a call to a crew and try to resolve it right away, or at the very least first thing the next morning. “We’ll send a tech out at midnight if there’s a stuck irrigation valve or something like that,” Orr adds.
“Now, 100% accountability isn’t always comfortable for employees,” Penry points out. “So we try to avoid saying things like ‘you are wrong’ or ‘you are at fault.’ Those are negative and attack the individual too much on a personal level. We like to use the term ‘responsibility,’ and it’s our responsibility as the employer to help each of our employees meet their responsibilities.”