Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Dennis Evans, owner of Quiet Village Landscaping, based in St. Louis, Missouri, grew up going to the Missouri Botanical Gardens as his mother was studying horticulture and landscape design.
When he went to school for business, he started cutting grass as he didn’t want to be a busboy or waiter anymore.
“I literally did it out of just pure necessity of not wanting to be in the restaurant business anymore,” Evans says. “I grew up working in the restaurant business since I was probably 15 years old and did about every job you can imagine as I just wanted to do something different.”
He says things quickly snowballed from cutting a few yards to people asking him to take care of gardens and build retaining walls.
“I was lucky enough to have the expertise of my mom around,” Evans says. “I just asked her how to do those things. Growing up, my grandpa and dad had a manufacturing business, so I grew up around just business in general. So I understood the general principles of running a small business, turning a profit and all that kind of stuff.”
Evans says he never thought about going to work for another landscape company at the time, but in hindsight, he says he could have learned a lot by working for another business rather than learning mistakes the hard way.
“I didn’t intentionally start off to build a large landscaping company or make this my career, but it’s taken off, and it’s something that I’ve never stopped doing,” Evans says. “It’s been beneficial to continue to grow. It’s been a great industry to be in because it has been growing and expanding and there’s a lot of opportunity out there.”
The company’s annual revenue for 2023 will be just over $7 million. Quiet Village Landscaping’s three-year vision they set two years ago was to hit $10 million and Evans says they are on pace to hit that next year.
Steady and Strategic Growth
Quiet Village Landscaping has around 95% residential customers and 5% commercial customers. Evans says they do almost all commercial snow work and is ramping up his efforts in growing that service line.
The company has had steady growth between 15 to 22% a year.
“Anytime we’ve even gotten close to explosive growth, it really puts stress on the culture, cash flow and and client satisfaction,” Evans says. “You get too diluted and all your systems get stressed out and it almost tells you, ‘Hey, it’s time to slow down.’ Go for planned quality growth as opposed to explosive growth that can really cause some aspect of your business to spiral out of control.”
Evans says having a skilled workforce that can deliver a high-quality product is another key to growing successfully. He says training their field staff has been a pinch point for continuous stable, quality growth.
Over the years, the company’s most popular service has shifted. Five years ago, they were 60% design-build and 40% maintenance. Now, they are 70% maintenance and 30% design-build.
“Where we knock it out of the park is our fine gardening services,” Evans says. “Fine gardens for residential homeowners is where there’s a gap in the market. A lot of people can go cut grass and mow lawns and fertilize and a lot of people can do tree work or build retaining walls and build patios. But I think that the market that we’ve penetrated and really had a lot of traction is in the fine gardening horticultural services just because it is a little higher level skill. You got to find someone who’s really passionate about the plants and horticulture to execute that. It takes a little bit more training and dedication to pull that service off.”
Evans says this is what sets them apart, and they are able to present other service offerings once a client realizes they are a step above the competition.
Around 15 years ago, Quiet Village Landscaping added service lines quickly, but Evans realized they weren’t doing all of the services to the level they wanted to deliver to their high-end clients. Evans says they pared down their offerings to focus on what they were good at and could execute at a high level.
“Once we got those to the top of the market and clients were raving about them, we would strategically add a service and then nurture that until I got to the top of the line and was a really high-end service that we can be proud of and stand behind and execute properly,” Evans says.
Initially, they just offered turf and lawn care, gardening and landscape construction. More recently, they’ve added outdoor lighting and irrigation services. Another niche the company has added is labyrinth design and installation.
“Since we put it out there on the website and social media, we’ve been sought after to build a couple of other labyrinths and got lucky to build one for one of the most prominent private schools here in our area,” Evans says.
He says they are looking to add robotic mowing next year. The model they are going with will not live on customers’ properties.
“We’ve demoed two different robotic mowers and I think we’re settling on one and we’re going to release the first five this fall just to get a little R&D going so that way we can have it really dialed in for spring,” Evans says. “We’re going to do a full launch this next spring.”
Keys to Success
As the company grows, Evans says he’s made a point to ensure he is continuing to invest in himself, whether that’s through joining peer groups or local chapters of business groups.
“You need to be personally growing twice as fast as your businesses in order to be able to be ahead of the curve and be able to run that size of business,” Evans says. “If the business outgrows the owner, then that’s when you really see the company stall or stagnate and not be able to take that next leap.”
Evans says they’ve doubled down on their internal training, team building and recruiting around their core values.
“At the end of the day, if you have team members that are happy, then you’re going to have happy clients,” Evans says. “That’s just tried and true and it works every single time.”
He says setting a strategic plan has also helped them grow. They start with a 10-year vision and break it down into three-year goals. Evans says they will reverse-engineer it so they know what they need to achieve each year.
Evans says that they reevaluate their 10-year vision every year to make sure that everything falls into place.
Another aspect that has benefited the company is trying to find strategic partners.
“Whether that’s vendors who are fantastic to work with, fellow referral contractors who you can share leads with and build around, and then also acquisitions,” Evans says. “Finding those companies that are looking to partner with larger business and become part of a larger team or somebody who’s looking to exit. We’ve had a lot of success doing acquisitions. So that’s how we’ve done a good job of building our top-line revenue.”
Evans says that being an NALP member has been a huge factor in their company’s growth.
“It was a really great resource for finding out basic information and then as we’ve grown, we’ve been able to tap into it to find that next level of information when needed,” Evans says.
He says they’ve tapped NALP’s legal and human resource advisor and connected with fellow members at various NALP events. He says he’s used the Navigate mentorship program to visit Grant & Power Landscaping, Inc.
“At the time, we’re only doing maybe $1 million and to go visit a company that at that time was doing $12 million really opened my eyes and kind of blew the lid off of what I thought was possible as far as growth and how big of a company can run within this industry,” Evans says. “I think a lot of people put a cap on what they think is possible.”
Recruiting and Retention
Quiet Village Landscaping has around 75 employees and also utilizes the H-2B program. Evans says while they received their H-2B workers this year, last year they got them late. He says they make up 25% of their workforce.
“Having seen the unreliability of it and what it can do to companies that rely too heavily on it, we intentionally just made it a portion of our labor plan, but never made it the labor plan because it is fickle and it’s something that’s out of our control,” Evans says.
The company just added a full-time recruiter who is responsible for recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training and retaining their staff.
“That’s been really great because she’s just found all these gaps that we didn’t see,” Evans says. “Prior to that, we just did all the typical things and that was one of my main focuses was recruiting and hiring, but it truly is a full-time job.”
Quiet Village Landscaping retains their team by offering a number of benefits and having a positive company culture. Evans says they were ahead of the curve with raises.
“The last thing we wanted to do was for them to come to us and say, ‘Hey, this guy over here is paying more,’” he says. “We knew inflation was coming. We adjusted our prices accordingly and were able to get raises ahead of the current market price.”
The company currently offers a Roth IRA retirement fund but Evans says they are getting close to the size where a 401(k) might make more sense. Evans says they always review their benefits annually to see what’s the best fit for their team. He says this year, they added health care for their employees.
“We have a three-tiered health care program that makes it affordable for anybody that has really good benefits, given the cost,” Evans says. “So that’s been something we’ve been lucky enough to be able to add just based on our size.”
The company also throws monthly barbecues and employee appreciation parties. Evans says their operations manager had the idea of bringing in a Chuck’s Boots mobile trailer and allowing employees to try on and pick out a pair of work boots they liked.
“It’s something you just don’t notice,” Evans says. “You just take it for granted. This is going to change these guys’ weeks because they’re going to have brand-new boots that are comfortable and waterproof again. They’re the ones out there making it happen and really the literal boots on the ground making the changes in these clients’ properties.”
During their morning safety meetings, Evans makes a point of walking around and saying hi to everyone. He says it comes down to treating his team with respect and having a positive attitude.
“When you bring that kind of energy to work, it just makes everybody else happy,” Evans says. “Again, happy employees make happy customers. When the customers are so happy, they’re treating the sales team and the workforce with respect, and it just creates this beautiful synergy that keeps feeding back to itself over and over again.”
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