Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Usually, buying something at a garage sale doesn’t culminate in a $30 million business, but that was the case for Pat Murphy after he purchased a lawn mower at one.
Murphy founded Crystal Greens Landscape, based in Clackamas, Oregon, in 1990. After 10 years of business and growth, he shifted the company to mainly focus on commercial clients. Crystal Greens now serves commercial accounts in the sectors of healthcare, retail, office, hospitality, education, municipality and multifamily.
They provide everything from landscape maintenance and irrigation services to tree care and snow and ice removal.
In 2020, the company was acquired by Sperber Landscape Companies. In the early days of the company, Murphy was inspired by Burt Sperber and the core values of ValleyCrest.
“Pat prioritized relationships and providing exceptional service to his clients,” says Lee Durdahl, senior vice president of operations for Crystal Greens. “This ‘people first’ approach has been a large part of Crystal Greens’ success. The Sperber partnership has allowed our company to keep our special team, brand, and culture, while adding resources and experience.”
Durdahl says their company goal is to be the dominant commercial landscape company in the Pacific Northwest while staying true to their first-class culture and customer service.
Aggressive Growth Period
From 2011-2014, Crystal Greens experienced major periods of growth through aggressive business developments, adding multiple locations and conducting their first acquisition. Durdahl says this was intentional as they felt they had the right vision, people, equipment, structure and support to grow in their market.
“Since then, we have consistently aimed to grow double-digit YoY,” Durdahl says. “Since this period, we have grown from having one location to six shops spread throughout the Portland metropolitan area and Southwest Washington. As our footprint has grown, we have also strategically grown our management and overall teams to support the rapid growth.”
Durdahl adds that when Murphy started establishing his initial management team in the early 2000s, he did so with growth in mind.
“Jason Sutton was instrumental during that period and process, as he transitioned from mainly new maintenance sales into a general manager role that allowed him to strategize for growth,” Durdahl says.
Growth is still part of Crystal Greens’ focus.
“It is ingrained into the fabric of who we are,” Durdahl says. “‘Grow With Us’ is our mantra. It is painted on the wall of our headquarters location in Clackamas, and we are very intentional on pursuing growth. We have an energetic team that is passionate about striving towards our long-term growth goals.”
As the company has grown, so has the business’s array of services. Under their enhancement division, they do renovations, water management, mulch, tree care, tree mapping, turf health programs, flowers, bioswale maintenance and pressure washing. They also have a construction department that handles new landscape installations. Durdahl their snow division has also grown extensively.
They’ve faced various challenges as they’ve grown, including staffing adequately.
“Also, during different periods, forecasting and acquiring equipment is a challenge, especially with a supply chain that was severely impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Durdahl says. “Lastly, ensuring we have the organizational structure to fulfill the growth commitments can be challenging if the vision isn’t consistently being evaluated with all levels of the team.”
Keys to Success
Durdahl credits Crystal Greens’ success to their internal and external relationships, strong customer service, and quality production.
The reason their internal relationships are so strong is through Crystal Greens’ company culture. They have managed to keep it strong while growing by focusing on their core values and vision.
“Culture has been a major focus of Crystal Greens since the creation in 1990,” Durdhal says. “Pat Murphy instilled that in the core values and fabric of the company. Each hire understood his vision and executed on the ‘people first’ mentality. As the company grew, he was intentional in hiring people who shared those values. As he developed his initial manager team, this was a foundation of that team. As Pat elevated Jason Sutton and others, those values were carried forward. It was embedded in all of us and was something to be proud of.”
Crystal Greens makes a point to present the core values during the hiring process and they are seen in the field and office daily. The business was even recognized as one of the best companies to work for in Oregon in 2021.
“Employees are treated with love, respect, and grace,” Durdahl says. “We value the feedback from our employees and strive to improve any identified weaknesses. We want to continually add to the employee experience.”
The company still hosts monthly barbecues at each location in the summer and does raffle prizes for crews. Durdahl says these rituals are non-negotiable and a great way to show their appreciation to their team.
Being an NALP member has helped Crystal Greens grow in multiple ways.
“I believe it impacts us at every level, whether that is through training and certification, resources, events, or networking opportunities,” Durdahl says. “It has strengthened us from the ground up. While we employ Certified Landscape Technicians, the biggest impact on our growth was the ability to elevate motivated employees to Certified Landscape Managers. This created a path to more responsibility in the company and more confidence in the market.”
He says they’ve also benefited from NALP’s online tools, including the safety programs and horticulture resources.
“I think the networking events have been particularly impactful for Crystal Greens,” Durdahl says. “Our managers, business developers, and supervisors benefitted immensely from those opportunities to meet with other professionals and exchange thoughts, ideas, and experiences.”
Recruiting and Retention
Crystal Greens has a total of 265 employees and they use a number of methods to recruit them, including LinkedIn, Indeed and other job boards. They also use their social media presence and website to recruit.
“Our strongest recruiting tool is word of mouth through our employees,” Durdahl says. “Having a strong culture and people first reputation aids in this approach.”
Durdahl says they are able to retain their employees by living their core values each day.
“Our core values are passion, humility, caring, integrity, and fun,” Durdahl says. “Love is also the key ingredient. Our core values are important expressions of love in our organization and these values guide our actions and behavior.
He says they want to be more than a place to work. Crystal Greens strives to be a safe and healthy workspace where employees feel known, wanted and respected.
“We want to be a place for connection, and we encourage our people to grow personally and professionally at Crystal Greens,” Durdahl says.
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