Level Up: Passion Powers Pleasant Places, Inc.’s Growth - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Level Up: Passion Powers Pleasant Places, Inc.’s Growth

Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.

Guy Artigues enjoys hard work.

“I truly enjoy the sweat on your brow type thing and just the instant gratification of this industry that it provided,” Artigues says. “Back then, you were just doing little things that when you started in the morning, you were 100% finished in the afternoon. I did it myself for the most part. It was very satisfying and it has morphed into what we are today.”

Artigues started out working for a landscape company in high school. After a few years, he wanted to see if he could do things better and founded his own company, Earthly Ideas, in 1979. In 1982, he merged his company with a close friend who was doing the same type of work and formed Pleasant Places, Inc., based in Charleston, South Carolina. He ended up buying his friend out in 1989.

Photo: Pleasant Places, Inc.

Pleasant Places’ main customer base is general contractors and developers on the construction side. On the maintenance side, they serve hospitals, industrial parks, municipalities, airports, and more.

The company has three distinct divisions: maintenance, landscaping, and hardscaping. Each division generates about $10 million a year. The company has a current annual revenue of $30 million.

“We don’t see any limitations on what we’re doing, but we do have a very specific goal of $100 million in the next 10 years, and we have a plan to do it,” Artigues says.

Keys to Success

Artigues credits his company’s success to their passion, their processes and the commitment that they make to their clients.

“Success for us is when you shake the hand of your client and your team performs at the level that was expected and 95% of all of our business, maintenance, construction, everything is repeat clients,” Artigues says.

Additionally, 98% of their construction clients end up transitioning into maintenance clients. Artigues says if you want repeat customers and loyalty, the key to the sale is to get in front of them, shake their hand and be genuine.

Photo: Pleasant Places, Inc.

“Our industry is a service industry,” Artigues says. “It is a people industry; we’re not widgets. We have a heart and a soul and for that reason, we will never be denied.”

He says so much of their business has been repeat customers over the years that just this year, he has finally hired a business development and salesperson. Artigues says to hit $100 million in revenue they have to put a little gas in the tank.

He says as an NALP member, it has been a great source of information for him.

“The older I get, the more knowledge I am thirsting for,” Artigues says. “The association, to me, is just a plethora of knowledge and access to information that helps you as a professional be better at your trade.”

Artigues takes pride in being a hands-on owner and is one of the first people his team sees every morning when the sun comes up.

“I know I could be fishing in the Bahamas,” Artigues says. “I could be in Costa Rica. I could be in New York. I could be anywhere in this world I wanted to be, and I am where I want to be. I’m where I want to be, doing what I want to do. This is not a job. This is not a burden. This is not anything I wake up and go, ‘I don’t feel going in today.’ I just lay in the bed sometimes and say, ‘Hurry up, sun. Hurry up, sun.’”

Artigues says this mindset doesn’t mean he’s not stressed by the business; he simply chooses to face everything head-on.

“You can’t take your eye off the ball and over my 40-year career, I have taken my eye off the ball,” Artigues says. “I know what it means not to have work. I know what it means to owe more money than you have. I know what it means not to have help. I could write a book about what not to do. But I persevered and I’ve come out on the other side, and I got my two boys who have just totally reenergized me. I have a wife who’s so supportive it’s ridiculous. Behind every successful man as a better woman.”

He says one of the lessons he learned was misplacing trust. They had reached $17 million in revenue in 2007 and Artigues felt he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He had others running the business and he says he took his eye off the ball. Artigues says 2009 was the closest he’s come to losing everything.

Photo: Pleasant Places, Inc.

One of the Pleasant Places’ claims to fame is their ability to meet fast-track deadlines. Artigues says that they’re the smallest big company in town as they are often competing against large national and regional landscape brands in their area.

“What we do is, and this sounds corny because everybody says it, but our commitment to our clients is just beyond comprehension,” Artigues says.

In one case, they did $4 million dollars worth of work in 90 days in 2007. He says the company will work seven days a week from dawn until dusk to meet their deadlines.

“I have 200 families that count on this entity for food, shelter, success, their families, and we take it seriously,” he says.

Growth Plans

Pleasant Places has always had steady growth and occasionally major jobs that give them a boost. Artigues says they’ve had around an 18% growth rate for the past few years and this year they’ll be at 20% as they have a $25 million backlog of work.

(From left to right) Palmer, Guy and Gilly Artigues
Photo: Pleasant Places, Inc.

“I always wanted to be a company that could provide at a very, very high level all aspects of services that this industry can offer,” Artigues says.

He says they can now do every service at a high level in-house. Over the last 15-20 years they’ve built their hardscape division up significantly.

Despite their growth, Artigues says he faces the same challenges as other landscape businesses.

“We’re all we’re all fighting the same fight,” Artigues says. “You’re looking for people. You’re looking for team members that are committed to your culture. You can sell all you want to sell, and you can get as much work as you want to get, but if you don’t deliver that work as promised at a high level, you’re not going to be around long.”

Artigues says he isn’t planning an exit strategy as he doesn’t plan on going anywhere nor will the company ever be sold.

He has two sons who work in the business with him. His oldest son, Gilly, is president and has been with the business for about 10 years. His younger son, Palmer, has been with the business for three years and is their COO.

Maintaining Company Culture

Artigues says their company culture is one they have cultivated for over 40 years.

“The herd only runs as fast as the stallion and that lead person happens to be me,” Artigues says. “I’ve been doing this since 1979 and earlier and my enthusiasm, excitement, energy, commitment, focus, drive, and passion are so strong.”

Photo: Pleasant Places, Inc.

He says his job is to M.I.S. – motivate, inspire, support – his team of 200 employees.

Artigues says their culture is palpable, but he acknowledges it’s not for everyone. Their employees know to only bring on other individuals who are going to do their share of the work.

“We’re very much team-oriented here,” Artigues says. “We’re all in, 100%. Our performance bonus is pretty simple. We hit our goal. Everybody gets 10% of their salary.”

He says they do struggle with burnout in cases where employees have to work long hours to meet deadlines. Artigues says the key is to lead by example.

“We don’t just say, ‘Go out and work 24 hours a day for two or three weeks and come see us when you’re done. We’ll give you a pat on the back and maybe a little bonus,'” he says. “We’re there with them.”

Photo: Pleasant Places, Inc.

He says burnout is minimal because often he’s having to tell employees to go home and rest because they take such pride in their work.

Artigues says he prefers to hire employees who are eager, enthusiastic and want to learn over someone who has been doing it for 25 years and thinks his way is the only one.

He says they maintain this culture by not getting complacent.

“You don’t take your clients for granted,” Artigues says. “You don’t take your employees for granted. You take nothing for granted. Nothing. It is all a blessing. It’s all a gift. It’s all an opportunity.”

Click here to read more Level Up stories.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.