Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Ever liked your side job more than your regular job? This was the case for Charlie Bourdages.
In 1988, his next-door neighbor had just started his own landscaping company and asked Bourdages to help him on his days off. He went on to found Site Structures Landscape, Inc., based in Kittery, Maine, in 1996 with a one-ton dump truck and a wheelbarrow full of tools.
“I thought I could do it better than the people I was working for,” Bourdages says. “I have a business degree and thought that would help. Those first few years were pretty humbling. I eventually learned from my mistakes.”
Now Site Structures Landscape’s annual revenue is at $4.5 million.
The company has three divisions of installation, mowing and maintenance and snow removal. The installation services are 70 percent residential and 30 percent commercial, while the maintenance services are a 50/50 split between residential.
“Our most popular service is installations,” he says. “We are good at it, and we can’t possibly keep up with the demand. Everybody seems to want a bluestone patio, fire pit and granite steps these days.”
Bourdages says their snow removal is 95 percent commercial and the only reason they’ll do residential is if it’s for a customer they can’t say no to. All of their snow removal work is in-house and they subcontract for another local snow removal provider on two properties.
He says their company growth plans are not about hitting a certain gross volume. Instead, they try to keep their employees by providing them with opportunities for growth and a solid career path.
“The ideal size?” Bourdages says. “Just a little bit bigger, always…”
Keys to Success
Bourdages credits his company’s success to his hard-working, invested employees, long-term relationships with customers and by growing steadily.
“I’m really good at cutting pavers, I need help with pretty much everything else,” he says. “I’m 57, so I don’t cut a lot of pavers these days. Luckily, I’m a good delegator too.”
Site Structures Landscape has 40 employees during the peak season, including college kids. Bourdages says they could keep 50 people busy with their current management team. Bourdages says they are honest and fair with their customers. They end up working with the same clients time and time again and almost all of their work comes from referrals.
“There are a lot of good landscaping companies in our area, and in slower economic times we compete for business, and the competition makes us a better company,” he says. “We have to keep improving to keep up. We deliver a good product, and we take care of our customers and treat them fairly, and our employees are nice people.”
Site Structures Landscape also started a blog and newsletter a year ago in response to people shopping online now.
“I think they show people that we have the expertise to handle their landscaping jobs,” Bourdages says. “I think people check the blog and newsletter the same way people check Amazon reviews. They are just looking for confirmation that they are making a good purchasing decision.”
Bourdages says they’re not focused on growing fast.
“We care about building a solid, profitable company that is a great place to work,” he says.
He says they have learned a ton from their NALP membership. He particularly likes being able to visit other landscaping businesses and observing their practices on NALP Field Trips.
“Every aspect of the business has been improved by seeing how other people do it,” Bourdages says. “There is so much good information to be had. We have stolen most of our good ideas from other NALP members.”
Bourdages also like attending the NALP conventions.
“It’s a big eye-opener for the people who have been with us for a few years,” he says. “They go to a convention and see that landscaping really can be a good career.”
Creating a Great Place to Work
One of the main challenges Site Structures Landscape has faced as they’ve grown is finding entry-level employees.
“We live in an expensive part of the world,” Bourdages says. “It’s really hard for an entry-level landscaper to afford to live within an hour of our shop because rent is so high. Also, Maine is the oldest state in the nation. Landscapers tend to start in their late teens or early twenties. They are pretty scarce these days.”
Team members who bring in new recruits are rewarded $1,000 if the new hire stays with the company for a year.
Bourdages says maintaining their company culture is the most important thing they do.
“Customers and equipment are easy to get,” he says. “Employees are hard. We work on it every day.”
The company provides a number of benefits including high compensation, paid holidays and a PTO plan. Employees who stay for a year earn a week of paid vacation, those who stay for two years get two weeks and after five years they get three weeks of paid vacation.
They offer a parental leave policy of six weeks paid for mothers, two weeks paid for fathers, and as much time as needed unpaid.
“As far as I know it hasn’t resulted in any additional kids being born, but anyone who is eligible makes sure to take advantage of it when the time comes and they truly appreciate the time with their families,” Bourdages says. “It’s a benefit that employees forget exists, and when we remind expectant parents that they can take advantage they seem relieved.”
Site Structures Landscape pays 75 percent of the employee’s health insurance after they have been at the company for a year and they pay 50 percent of the dental and vision insurance. They have a 4 percent match retirement plan that employees are automatically enrolled in after one year.
The company provides a $150/year boot stipend and pays for employee training. They award bonuses for hitting training benchmarks. For instance, earning a CDL results in a $1,000 bonus. Team members also receive year-end bonuses based on individual performance and company profitability. They also host multiple company parties per year.
“We go big,” Bourdages says. “We get them catered, and we have contests with cash prizes. We have contests for the children of the employees. When you give a 9-year-old a $100 bill for winning a silly contest they are really happy. That makes the parents happy, and that makes the parents like their jobs better.”
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