Pre-construction services represent one of the biggest feathers in Environmental Landworks’ hat. Fred McAfoos, with more than 40 years experience, spearheads this effort. "Fred works closely with the architect so the architect doesn't over-bid," Chevalier explains. "For example, if a client says they don't want to drop a single penny over $200,000 on the landscape, we need to find a way to make that happen. So we might have to downsize certain elements or eliminate an extra, like a water feature, for example."
Bringing maintenance in house
As the company's lead blocker, commercial construction has opened up one particularly sizable hole: a foray into commercial maintenance. In its first year in business, there wasn't a single mower in Environmental Landworks' equipment fleet. "We actually bid out maintenance to our competitors because we didn’t own a mower, and really didn't want to," Chevalier recalls. It's a different story today, however.
A couple of years ago, Chevalier and Sittaro began the process of bringing maintenance in house. Initially, their construction crews started doing irrigation system maintenance and landscape maintenance. Today, maintenance and snow removal is its own fully staffed division—generating nearly $2 million a year depending on snowfall.
Like commercial construction, commercial maintenance is highly competitive. The margins are tight, too, and have gotten even tighter. Chevalier says, "You can't eliminate this challenge, because every day there's a lowballer coming after just about every job we have. We need to make sure we don't open the door for them to take work from us. That simply comes down to quality and communication."
Environmental Landworks does offer full-service maintenance, but relies on subcontractors for some of it.
As far as tree work goes, Environmental Landworks handles "anything they can get from the ground," but subcontracts the more intense work. They also subcontract plant health care. "We have a great relationship with a company that specializes in tree and turf care," Chevalier points out. This company actually emerged just a few years before Environmental Landworks came to be. Chevalier knew the key people from having worked side by side with them at other companies.
"We've tried doing lawn care (chemical and organic applications) ourselves, but it makes more sense for us to outsource it," Chevalier relates. "We just can't match the efficiency of this other company. Plus, we don't need to worry about licenses or storing the materials. Subcontracting actually reduces our costs by 30%, so we will stick with this approach for now."
Quickly establishing a residential presence
Environmental Landworks' latest initiative has been an expansion into the residential design/build arena. Chevalier says the opportunities in this market aren't as plentiful as several years ago, but the opportunities that do exist are lucrative.
"We've been successful with renovations and new constructions for large HOAs," Chevalier says. "My goal is to have patience and a strong desire to educate. That's why we're proactive in communicating with not only the board president, for example, but also the homeowners themselves. We regularly send bulletins to every single member."
This tactic has led to additional opportunities. They aren't necessarily huge projects, but they add up. "A homeowner within a large HOA might ask us to do an irrigation system upgrade or install a paver patio on their property," Chevalier says. "We have our maintenance crews handle these jobs.”
Environmental Landworks has also begun targeting the single-family estate market. Thus far, roughly 20% of the projects are tied to new home construction—not to mention the relationships Chevalier and Sittaro have with area builders. The other 80% are what Chevalier likes to refer to as, “scrape and start over.” Very little advertising is done, as virtually all projects are derived from word of mouth.
Now the company sees a growing need for estate maintenance. Like in the commercial arena, competition is hot. “I might bid a property at $125 a week, but we’re getting undercut by more than half,” Chevalier says. “But it’s usually a small crew with an old truck that’s bidding against us. So for us it’s about image and knowledge. There’s a fine line between regular residential maintenance and estate maintenance. We want to help make that line a little bit clearer through the way we operate.”