Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
When Balanced Environments, Inc. (BEI) based in Old Mill Creek, Illinois, first started Bruce Church and Tom Kelly set a goal of reaching $7 million in 10 years.
However, the company hit this goal in year five and has more than tripled that amount in year 17. All of BEI’s growth has been organic.
“If you are not growing you are gathering moss,” Kelly says. “As long as Balanced Environments keeps satisfying our clients and we continue to develop great relationships, Balanced Environments will continue to grow. Controlled growth is vital, but we don’t have a limit or size.”
Company History and Growth
Church started out following in his father’s footsteps and took over DR Church Landscape in the late 90s. He was one of the founders of LandCare USA, which was eventually purchased by ServiceMaster and eventually became TruGreen LandCare. Church exited the business for a year and then in 2003, he formed Balanced Environments.
“After the non-compete was up he knocked on my door and said, ‘Hey do you want to start the band up again?’” Kelly says.
Kelly joined the company in 2004 as vice president and part owner.
“We started with five people and Bruce managing three companies, two guys in a truck and a part-time admin and me driving sales,” Kelly says. “We drove 1.5 hours in the same day to take care of clients, not the most efficient but it is what you do when you start.”
Now during peak season, the company has 150 employees in the field with 20 supervisors, four branch managers, 10 sales staff, five managers and seven dedicated office administrators. They share some of their staff with their sister company, Hard Surface Solutions, in accounting, payroll and human resources departments.
“We are constantly working together to satisfy our clients’ needs,” Kelly says. “For example, we do brick pavers, but they handle all the other hard surfaces outside the commercial buildings. This relationship has been beneficial with both companies from day one. It is not without its challenges like any relationship, but we are both here for the clients and it has been a great relationship!”
Just over 70 percent of BEI’s business is seasonal maintenance for corporate campuses, commercial office buildings, industrial buildings and business parks. The remaining 25 percent to 30 percent of BEI’s client base is made up of retail, medical, government, HOA, condos, apartments and a small percent of residential work. Kelly says the commercial office buildings have given them the best return on investment.
“We have learned that the right client base gives us at least for every dollar we mow we get a dollar of enhancements, whether it’s irrigation or tree work or flowers or mulch,” Kelly says.
For the first few years, BEI grew in triple digits. From 2008 to 2011, things slowed down due to the recession, but refocusing on their core clients and bottom line has helped push their growth.
When COVID-19 hit, Kelly says they had to slow things down and check with property managers if they wanted to move forward with certain projects with their budgets changing constantly. He says they met their maintenance budgets in expectations and while they were lower on their enhancements, they made it up with commercial construction projects.
“Without NALP and their advocacy through this COVID-19 mess the ‘essential landscape industry’ may have painted a completely different picture,” Kelly says. “NALP went to bat for everyone in the landscape industry on the local and federal levels to keep us working and it has never stopped. We should all count our blessing for that.”
Keys to Growth
Kelly says the keys to their growth are a desire to create a quality commercial company, always striving for client satisfaction and flexibility to go where their clients need them to go and do what their clients need them to do.
“We’re very versatile and ready,” Kelly says. “There’s never a no; it’s always a version of yes. Anything you can image in the landscape industry, we’re going to do it. If we don’t have the ability to do it, we’ll team up with somebody to do it to get that client.”
Over the past 10 years, the company has been bringing all their subcontracted services in-house aside from turf applications. Their tree care division is now the fastest-growing division and Kelly says it has become a vital part of their growth.
When it comes down to it, Kelly says all the success they have achieved is through their various relationships, whether it’s ones they had in the past or future ones they form through participating in various trade associations.
“Once we became members of BOMA Suburban Chicago, our credibility grew and so did our growth,” Kelly says. “Our growth and success are directly related to our relationship and dedication to BOMA and their members.”
Kelly says when they joined BOMA they jumped 10 steps forward. He says their membership with NALP has also helped the business as it adds credibility and professionalism to Balanced Environment’s name.
“The National Association of Landscape Professionals is a family like no other,” Kelly says. “We would have never grown at this pace without it. NALP resources keep us from reinventing the wheel when reports or forms are needed. These solutions are always at our fingertips.”
Kelly also says without their people, they will never achieve the proper growth.
“Relationships may keep us going and growing but our entire team is what keeps it in check,” Kelly says. “We strategically plan every year and every line item on that plan takes the team to reach our goals. The three-legged stool of sales, production and administration must work together to keep growing. One weak leg can bring down the house.”
Some employees have been with the company for 30 to 35 years. Kelly says NALP helps educate and certify their existing workforce and continues to help them make connections with new talent who are interested in landscape careers.
“We’re only as good as the people who help us grow,” Kelly says. “If I sell something somebody else has to do it. If they do it wrong, I just sold something wrong. Everything works hand in hand, but our success is a direct result of the people on board.”
Balanced Environments is more than just a name for Church and Kelly. It defines how they operate the company. Kelly says it is part of their culture to meet the needs of the client and the environment.
“We constantly upgrade our equipment, so we are environmentally friendly, we manage our pesticides through integrated pest management programs,” Kelly says. “We strive to manage every drop of water applied to the landscape and recycle every plant and hardscape item. When we design, we keep the client’s budget in mind at all times and always design with realistic maintenance expectations. Balanced Environments believes that our best relationships are with those clients that are with us 12 months out of the year.”
Kelly says it’s not easy to maintain or grow a company by focusing on these relationships, but he says it’s worked for them. He says Balanced Environments probably could have doubled the size of the company in the same time period but not been as profitable. The company also does work in Wisconsin and Indiana all thanks to their client relationships.
“Our client base brought us there, our people brought us there, our relationships brought us there,” Kelly says. “Once you’re there you got to make it efficient, so you start filling in the holes. If we can support it and make money, we’re going to go there. If we can’t and they want us to do it, we’ll subcontract it.”
He says their mantra is to work smarter, not harder. They spend a lot of time communicating and finding the right people to service the accounts.
“Industry or real estate managers are changing left and right, constantly,” Kelly says. “There’s a newer, younger generation coming in which makes us need to go and hire newer and younger people to go support that work. They just relate better with the younger client base.”
Safety is also important for retaining their clients. BEI practices daily tailgate talks and monthly manager meetings.
“Our client base dictates that we maintain an insurance MOD rating of less than 1,” Kelly says. “Our long-term relationships with the client go hand and hand with our safety training and low MOD rating. Improper training will stop growth in its tracks!”
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