The Sun Is Definitely Rising for Sunset Landscape Services

Tony DiMauro grew up in a family that grew and sold produce. That's how he learned about work ethic while developing his green thumb. As a teen he tried his hand as a professional musician before a bandmate eventually introduced him to the field of landscape maintenance. This is how DiMauro learned about attention to detail.

In 1990 DiMauro started his own landscaping company. This is where he learned the importance of professionalism and customer service. More recently, DiMauro and his wife Jan, along with the rest of their staff, have learned about the importance of educating customers. Additionally, they've come to understand the role organics can play in landscape maintenance, and how a poorly managed equipment fleet could put a stranglehold on profitability.

The importance of good education

Sunset Landscape Services, based 18 miles northeast of Dallas in the City of Garland, lives by the following motto: "Trust and respect from employees to clientele." To that end, the company strongly believes in education—education of not only employees, but also clients. "Our employees like to educate customers about the importance of water conservation, landscape maintenance, and overall landscape do's and don'ts," DiMauro says.

Roughly 80% of Sunset's revenue comes from commercial accounts. DiMauro normally schedules visits with property managers and HOA board members. He gives them detailed handouts to discuss the benefits of conserving water by means of upgrading their current irrigation systems with newer technology, drip irrigation and hydrozoning (grouping together of plants with similar watering requirements).

"Many of the older irrigation systems were almost never hydrozoned correctly," DiMauro relates. "So you may have beds, grass and seasonal color all on the same station where each is requiring different amounts of water."

As for lawn care, DiMauro says Sunset Landscape Services has been on the cutting edge with new products for many years. "We were one of the first companies in North Texas to use a stabilized, all-nitrogen fertilizer," DiMauro tells. "We met with our clients and provided handouts explaining the benefits of using this fertilizer, such as a reduction in nitrogen loss from volatility, leaching and denitrification. This really helps clients understand what we are selling them."

On complex matters such as turf management and water conservation, it's important to educate the client in laymen's terms, DiMauro cautions. "They are in the (property) management field, not the Green Industry. We want them to know they can depend on us. They really appreciate that."

LEED building leads to curiosity over organics

The fact that DiMauro is a certified landscape irrigation auditor (CLIA) is something clients also appreciate. Water conservation is paramount in places like Texas. In fact, it's becoming increasingly important in locales all over the country—as are the broader concepts of green building and sustainability.

Sunset Landscape Services recently landed its first landscape maintenance contract for a LEED-certified building. "The LEED building actually came in a package deal with some other commercial office buildings," DiMauro points out.

The contract stipulated that only organic products could be used. "After using the organic products and seeing the results, not to mention the benefits to the environment, we've been encouraged to investigate the possibility of offering a cost-effective program to larger commercial properties," DiMauro says.

DiMauro says he first tested the organic-based lawn care products on his own lawn to see how they performed. He was more than pleased.

Sunset's chemical manager and lawn care staff have now made it a priority to attend seminars and trade shows where new organic-based products are being marketed. They gather information on the products, and then commence their own research to see which seem to work best.

"In addition, for over 18 years we have been doing business with a gentleman who advises our chemical department on these and many new lawn care products," DiMauro says. "He is extremely knowledgeable and has introduced cutting-edge products to our area for some time. He's also the area representative for a very well-known chemical supplier."

As Sunset's organic-based product mix continues to be developed, Carlos Fulton, Sunset's director of sales, continues to develop a sales presentation that will help introduce the new organic-based lawn care program to large commercial clients. "Once we get everything in order, we will schedule meetings with property managers and HOA board members to educate them on the benefits of using organic products," DiMauro says.

Inventory rehab

Last fall, Sunset Landscape Services took a very diligent approach to its equipment fleet. Management carried out a complete inventory assessment to determine what was working, what wasn't, what could be repaired, what could be utilized as a backup unit, and what needed to be replaced.

"Our productivity has greatly increased because we no longer spend time waiting for something that broke down during a workday," DiMauro says. "Plus, our profits have increased because we are no longer spending excess amounts of money on constant repairs. And best of all, our customer satisfaction has grown because we've stepped it up even more since we've stopped having to deal with equipment breakdowns."

DiMauro offers the following fleet management tips with respect to mowers.

After two or three seasons, consider designating a machine as a backup. Sunset likes to have a few backup riding mowers on hand: two 54-inch and one 60-inch.

Then sell your current backups. Word of mouth has been all that's needed for Sunset. "There are many start-up companies today that cannot afford nor qualify for a loan on a new machine," DiMauro points out.

Now it's time to replenish your primary fleet of mowers. You have plenty of options. "We've been through so many zero-turns over the past several years," DiMauro relates. "It's been a big learning experience on what brand fits your needs the best. It seems like every machine has its own qualities, but we look for mowers that are going to hold up for eight hours a day, five days a week. We also look for true and even cutting height, and low maintenance. Another big selling point is service. Service is a big thing."