Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Parterre Garden Services, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was created when landscape architect Greg Lombardi was looking for a way to provide high-end, high-quality maintenance for the properties he had designed.
Lombardi met Jason Harris 21 years ago and as a favor, Harris wrote him a business plan and suggested the maintenance company he had in mind could be scaled if Lombardi created a model around it and grew it. Harris joined Gregory Lombardi Design Incorporated and then became co-owner of Parterre when they launched the separate business in 2001.
“We felt some distance between the two companies made sense for a lot of reasons,” Harris says. “Some distance and independence made Parterre more attractive to other designers who saw GLDI as competition and it allowed Greg to have some distance between himself and the maintenance entity that he really did not work out of daily. The two companies also have a different ownership structure, so it was wise to separate them.”
In the beginning, Parterre relied heavily on getting work from GLDI clients.
“Now as PGSI has grown to 2-3 times the size of GLDI, it is much less dependent and the two companies work well together feeding each other leads and helping to grow the quality of both companies’ offerings,” Harris says.
The company has been able to grow every year for the past twenty years and now Parterre is in the $12-14 million revenue range.
“I do not feel we need to be the biggest, but we keep trying to find things we can do as well or better than the other companies around us and when we find that we try to grow into that opportunity,” Harris says. “When we cannot, we pull back. I think $20 million is a number well within reach that is big enough to enjoy some of the benefits of size but nimble enough to still be in touch with employees and clients in the way we like to be.”
A Customer Intimate Model
Parterre started off as a maintenance company that was trying to compete against mow, blow and go models. Over time they vertically integrated into installation, design, ecological services and signature services which include holiday décor, party decoration and interior plants.
Harris says their ecological services have been in high demand. This service offering works with clients in the planning and design of their restoration projects from native wetlands to wildflower meadows. Parterre analyzes and prepares documentation about the existing plant communities and proposes restoration methods.
“Ecological Services and Signature Services are our newest and fastest-growing services although our installation division has added a great masonry team and we have two designers on the scene over the last two years that have really increased our skill set and offerings there,” Harris says. “So we are growing on a lot of levels.”
Another way Parterre differentiates themselves is they took a risk years ago and developed a “customer intimate model” where they opt to spend more time with their customers and create a single point of contact so they would be integral for all of their landscape needs.
“We try to engage our clients at least twice a year on the property profile creation for their properties to fully engage them in the long-term development and growth of their properties,” Harris says. “From that approach, we have been able to really understand our clients’ needs and we then vertically integrate into their next level and round of needs. It has worked out very well from that standpoint.”
Keys to Success
Harris says their location, a willingness to try different approaches and having smart, passionate employees have helped them grow the company over the years. In their area, they have seven strong industries that create sustainable commerce and wealth, allowing them to have fewer downturns and higher upturns.
“We have two client bases, the local businessmen and women who are doctors and lawyers who live around the Metro West areas of Boston and we have the truly wealthy who are the entrepreneurs and business owners who prosper and dominate in and around Boston and beyond,” Harris says.
He says being in the Boston area also supports high enough prices so they can be fair and good to their employees.
“We have 15-20 people here who have been here during our most formative years and they really are the strength we keep relying on to help us find the next path forward,” Harris says.
Harris says their people always want more whether it’s more money, responsibility or opportunities to take care of themselves and their families so Parterre continues to try to grow in size, scope, services or margins to accommodate them.
“Trying to find the one or two new value propositions to add to our mix and trying to build those up and do them well enough to really know if you can be good at it takes a lot of internal discipline but it creates the kind of sustainable growth that is ultimately rewarding,” Harris says.
While they’ve been growing steadily, Parterre has experienced explosive growth over the past two years during the pandemic.
Harris says the NALP events have also been a great resource and a great way to consistently find and bring ideas to the table that will professionalize their company and the industry in general.
“I think being with other owners comparing best practices and meetings and hearing from the best and the brightest leaders in the industry is good on some many levels,” Harris says. “I think the NALP makes that pretty easy and rewarding.”
Like most other landscape companies, Harris says recruiting and retention is a constant challenge but they work hard to bring in employees and keep the ones they have. Their staff varies from 78 to 85 employees depending on if they can find everyone they need.
One way they make sure their employees are able to provide their level of high-quality service is through their in-house training program, Parterre University. The company created a just-in-time learning approach based on Parterre University’s curriculum of best practices and learned experiences.
“Two years into our start we realized that we would need to put in real time and money to bring our employees up to a level where they would be able to deliver the type of horticultural care that the properties demanded,” Harris says.
As the company grows, Harris says culture is one of the toughest things to change, grow or develop.
“To have a culture that works for you and not against you, I think you start with leadership/ownership,” Harris says. “(Be) honest and fair. Then you have to find some number of people willing to buy into your initial ideas around what makes for a good culture, the ambassadors of sorts.”
He says you have to keep adapting to the times and the people. He encourages listening a lot and helping everyone find meaning in what you’re doing.
“In fact, we started a program in our health and wellness initiative based on the book and speaker at the last NALP meeting in Arizona,” Harris says. “We have a new initiative ASPIRe Put Happiness to Work. Early returns are very positive.”
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