Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Aiello Landscape, based in Vero Beach, Florida, is all about professionalism, quality and attention to detail. The company views every yard as a garden and that gardens are a place of pride and serenity.
Launched in 1994 by Tommy Aiello, the company has grown to around $6 million in revenue and has 85 employees. Aiello’s main customer base is high-end residential. The services offered include gardening, container gardening, landscape installation, hardscaping, synthetic turf installation and tree relocation.
Aiello developed his love of horticulture and gardening from his Irish grandfather who had a big vegetable garden in the backyard. At an early age, he learned how to transplant a dogwood tree and worked at a golf course growing up.
He studied horticulture in college and started working for Rood Landscape in 1984. Nurseryman Roy Rood mentored Aiello during his time there. Eventually, he took another position with a landscaping company in Delray Beach for a year and a half.
When he received a profit-sharing check from Rood for about $15,000 he contacted a couple of clients he had through the years and started his own business in Hobe Sound, Florida. His first customer was Palm Beach Country Club. Three months into the business he landed a $300,000 job at Greg Norman’s golf course, Medalist, and it snowballed from there.
He added operations in Vero Beach in 1999 and eventually moved there in 2004. Over time the company shifted their focus from commercial jobs to residential gardening. Aiello says the Vero Beach market is very tight-knit and clients talk to each other.
“The Vero client is a really astute client,” Aiello says. “They appreciate what you do. They don’t haggle you. They pay timely. So that’s part of the focus to switch over to high-end residential and then I just always had a good rapport with all the local landscape architects.”
Aiello sold the Hobe Sound business eventually to the partner he’d left to run it. Because Aiello wasn’t a fan of management he was actively trying not to grow for a period of time.
“I think it was a control thing,” Aiello says. “I knew every client. I knew every plant. I knew every job. It was just easier to manage for me. It wasn’t about the money to me. It’s always been about reputation. I just wanted to maintain a good reputation.”
It wasn’t until Dan Crisafulli called eleven years ago that Aiello realized he needed to grow. Crisafulli had a background in management and that’s what Aiello needed, so he brought him on as a partner. Crisafulli leads the gardening service division for the company as vice president.
Keys to Growth
Aiello says Crisafulli has been an integral part of the company’s growth.
“We went from $1.2 million to $2.4 million to $4 million to $6 million in all those years so he’s been a large part of that,” Aiello says.
Crisafulli was a general manager for another local landscaping company and wanted to be an owner, but it wasn’t an option there. When he joined Aiello, the company was doing mostly bid work and installations but due to the downturn, they needed to grow their gardening clientele.
Pete Benedict also joined the company as a partner, and he handles the operational matters for business strategy and employee resources. Aiello says he loves working out in the field while Crisafulli and Benedict handle the day-to-day operations and inspire the company’s growth.
Crisafulli credits their success to their high level of service, professionalism and quality of product.
“We don’t even call it maintenance here,” Aiello says. “We call it gardening because we feel it’s important to put emphasis on the details instead of just mow, blow and go.”
The company doesn’t spend any money on advertising. All their business comes from their branded trucks or word of mouth. Every Friday the crews take the time to wash their trucks, so they are always looking sharp.
“I tell my employees and I tell my clients that we’re trying to be that mid-sized independent high-end restaurant that everybody knows about, but it’s all word of mouth,” Crisafulli says. “We don’t want to be the Olive Garden, but we want to be that same family-owned local restaurant that everybody goes to. It may be a little more expensive, and you got to wait sometimes but it’s worth it.”
The company currently has 12 garden crews that each have 20 houses a week they care for. Aiello says he could start a 13th crew tomorrow but finding labor is a challenge and they’d have to raise their rates so currently, they are pausing their growth.
Training is a major focus for those at Aiello Landscape. Employees who have been with the company for 90 days must be able to name 25 plants, 50 tools, 11 or 12 safety items and answer 10 general horticulture questions. They must pass this questionnaire in order to receive their 90-day uniform and a raise.
There are similar knowledge checkpoints at the 1-year and 2-year marks. Aiello says he started this level of training over 20 years ago because it helped improve their professionalism and gives the employees an opportunity to move up in the company.
“The employees are motivated to grow and get more money by passing more training tests,” Aiello says.
Aiello says the information he’s received throughout the years from NALP has been beneficial for his company’s growth and education.
“I’ve got the VHSes of training from you guys back from 25 years ago,” Aiello says. “Everything you guys produce is worth the membership. And of course, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.”
In their employee breakroom, it shows every training module they’d like for the employees to take.
“We express to them if they want a career out of this, which is what we’re trying to hire people who want careers, we’ll pay them a very good living,” Crisafulli says. “Every year in addition to showing up and working and all that good stuff at the end of every year in order to be eligible for an evaluation with a raise they have to increase their knowledge and accomplish these modules.”
Once employees see their co-workers advancing and making more money, Crisafulli says they can point employees who want to earn more money to the modules.
Every Friday before the pandemic, Crisafulli would host an employee breakfast and they’d also go over safety topics.
“During that meeting, I would just reiterate what we’re about,” Crisafulli says. “‘Happy birthday this guy, happy anniversary to this person. Hey, this client sent an email congratulating this person,’ and just every Friday talking about culture and expectations and all that stuff.”
Crisafulli says they work hard to get the message across to the newest employee about what their company is and what they’re trying to do and who they are.
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