Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Hursthouse Landscape Architects, based in Bolingbrook, Illinois, was started 32 years ago after Bob Hursthouse left the landscaping company he had spent a decade working at.
He was interviewing with other landscaping companies when his former employer sent out a note to his client base letting them know he was no longer with them. Over the span of three weeks, Hursthouse received 60 phone calls from former clients asking where he was going and from his direct reports asking if they could come with him.
Hursthouse’s wife Robbi asked why he would take clients and crews to another company when he could start his own. Since then, the company has grown to $6 million in annual revenue. Hursthouse Landscape Architects is 100 percent residential and offers turn-key design, build and maintenance services.
“Clients that are most happy are the ones that have engaged us to look at their project, to solve a problem or to grab an opportunity and then they’ve just stayed on board with us through the whole construction piece and then on to the ongoing maintenance,” Hursthouse says.
He says they are continually growing and prefers to focus on sustained growth without a topline target or deadline date.
“As long as we can find key team members and we can serve our clients well, we’re just going to let the let the growth evolve that way,” Hursthouse says.
Keys to Success
Hursthouse credits his company’s success to their team members, their client service and their core values.
“The growth has always been built around key team members,” Hursthouse says. “I’m not going to work longer and harder. I’m going to get the right people together on the team so that we can work together and be smarter. Back in the days when I couldn’t find the right maintenance manager, that hindered our growth and I decided to set that aside for a time until we could find the right people.”
They are constantly striving to work as a team. The company gathers for 15 minutes every Monday to discuss what happened the past week and what’s going on for the current week.
They also host a spring kickoff where the company goes off-site for a whole day and participates in team-building exercises. They discuss what their goals are for the year and then spend the afternoon doing something fun, such as bowling. Hursthouse says during the team building activities they break staff up into interdepartmental groups so a landscape architect may be working with a maintenance laborer and construction crew leader.
Client service is another major focus of the company. Hursthouse says he wants every client to be fabulously happy. They go the extra mile for their customers. An example of the level of care they provide is how they extended their plant warranty from 12 months to three years as they found they were having to replace a plant in year two or even in the third year from time to time.
The company’s core values – do the right thing today, value reputation for tomorrow and have fun every day – also help propel the business forward.
“It’s easy to recognize what the right thing to do is, if you think about what’s the one right thing,” Hursthouse says. “Valuing the reputation that’s what the company is entirely built on is our reputation. That’s why I got those 60 phone calls. And what we do is fun. We get to create impactful spaces where people live their lives.”
Adding a maintenance division has also been beneficial for Hursthouse Landscape Architects. During the recession, Hursthouse says they had to reduce the company by a third due to the lack of work.
“The maintenance has provided us a nice continual cash flow, it’s a little more recurring revenue,” Hursthouse says. “From the business side, it works great. Our projects are better cared for because now our maintenance teams understand the design intent we had from day one. The other thing we found is we’re getting a lot of repeat revenue on the construction side from our maintenance clients.”
He says clients often request improvements when they see the maintenance crews on-site, allowing the company to stay on-site and continually improve the property. As time goes on, the customer satisfaction grows.
Hursthouse says they strive to maintain the projects they’ve built, but they’re constantly approached by neighbors and other people who have either seen their trucks or their online presence.
Hursthouse says they experienced sudden growth in April 2020 after being deemed an essential service. Since then they have created Orange Tree Studio, which allowed them to meet virtually with clients and show off their portfolio.
The studio features a screen where Hursthouse or other team members can project images from an iPad behind them, so they can have more meaningful conversations with clients. He says half of his meetings are via Zoom now and this has boosted his efficiency as he’s not having to drive out to so many sites.
“If a typical project is going to take two to five meetings to bring to fruition, I’ll try to do about half of them via Zoom and the clients like that too,” Hursthouse says. “That works well mostly because we can communicate so well in Orange Tree Studios.”
They also film informative videos in the studio on everything from pruning and paver maintenance to how to design a landscape with pets in mind. Hursthouse says they try to educate clients through their website and social media. They are constantly adding new content to the website. One section of the website is on how to plan and budget to help potential customers have realistic expectations.
“Before we really start to design anything, we need to know what their level of investment is so we spend a lot of time educating the client pre-design so that we know that when we’re designing something, they have the resources and will commit the resources to actually build it,” Hursthouse says. “Because there’s nothing worse than a design that doesn’t get built.”
Recruiting and Retaining Team Members
Hursthouse Landscape Architects currently has 42 team members on staff. The company mostly recruits through employee referrals but Hursthouse says they also take advantage of NALP’s events like the career fair at NCLC. Employees who bring in a new team member receive a monetary reward each time when the new hire stays for 90 days, to the end of the season, comes back the following year and finishes the second season.
“We start with a very good wage, but a wage only gets people in the door,” Hursthouse says. “What keeps them is the culture.”
Hursthouse Landscape Architects has a grow card where team members can track their progress on a career path. It highlights how much more they can earn per hour when they learn certain skills. Hursthouse says in one case they’ve had an unskilled laborer move all the way up to project manager.
“We really look at this as not just a job,” Hursthouse says. “It is for some people. But for those that really want to progress and make this a career, we have those opportunities right here.”
Another aspect of caring for his team that Hursthouse implemented from the start was five-day workweeks so team members could spend time with their families. He says this was because he had worked six 12-hours day at his previous job.
“There needs to be life after landscaping,” Hursthouse says. “Right away we said, ‘Okay, if we’re going to do this business thing, we’re going to make some big shifts.’ I learned a lot from my prior employer, a lot of ways to do things right. I also learned a lot of the ways to do things wrong and that was that was one of them. We would be completely burnt out by the end of the season.”
Family first is a big focus at the company. When the business was smaller, Hursthouse’s wife would have a gift for every team member’s child.
“As the company grew, she was terrified that she’s going miss somebody’s birthday,” Hursthouse says. “We switched to our company picnic, and that’s every child’s birthday. At our company picnic, she’s got a gift for every child 12 and under in the company that’s been personalized for them.”
Hursthouse says they are very intentional about their culture and talk about it regularly. When the pandemic hit, they increased the frequency of their cultural events to monthly occurrences so the team could continue to rally together.
“It’s an investment of time and money but we have nothing more valuable than our team members,” Hursthouse says. “So that’s worth it. I don’t consider it an expense; I consider it an investment.”
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