Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
When Valley Landscaping, based in Christiansburg, Virginia, opened in 1991 with owner and president, Todd Walters, he had a used pickup truck, three mowers, a trailer and a small loan.
“When we started, we had 4 people on payroll and $200k in sales,” says Brandon Walters, an account manager for Valley Landscaping. “During rapid growth years, we were adding 18-20 percent more people per location. Now we employ about 150-170 great people.”
For the first two to three years, growth was slow, but once the company hit the million-dollar threshold things took off. Walters says they learned from others that they needed to reorganize staff and needed to start running the company like an actual business.
“Another major thing was that we knew that we needed to raise our prices to cover for the extra overhead we needed to manage the company, which forced us get better at job costing,” Walters says. “Soon, we started to recognize that we were beginning to establish ourselves as a top landscape company in our area, which made us focus more on our customer service.”
Starting out Valley Landscaping didn’t provide snow removal services, but after a couple of years they added it on, and in a good year that service brings in a million dollars in revenue. Another recent addition to the company was sister company, Valley Tree, which Walters says will do about $1.2 million this year
Valley Landscaping’s current five-year goal is to reach the $20 million-dollar mark, doubling their current size. The company currently has three branches and is planning to open its fourth location in Richmond next year.
Walters says the company’s growth has always been steady with around 10 to 12 percent growth every year as they want to ensure that their culture and values don’t get lost in the growth.
“We are interested in steady growth over sudden growth because it’s easier to manage,” he says. “Our goal is to grow 10 percent a year in each location. In case we lose a property, we want to be prepared for the unknown and don’t want to go backwards.”
The company did experience rapid growth when they opened new branches in 2004 in Roanoke and in 2014 in Waynesboro. Walters says they expect rapid growth as well when their Richmond location opens.
“A key factor in choosing those markets was that they were growing, and we felt like there was a need for a commercial landscape company to enter the market,” Walters says. “We can hit multiple markets from these areas as well. Now opening a branch in Richmond gives us a phenomenal footprint in the whole state of Virginia while still being able to have support from our Waynesboro office.”
Walters credits their company’s growth to the company culture his father has drilled into the staff, their customer service and the effort they put into retaining their employees.
“Being a member of NALP put us on the next level. It opened so many doors for us and has resources that have helped us excel as a unit. The connections, networking events, and resources at your disposal are unmatched compared to other industries. It’s worth the investment!– Brandon Walters, account manager
“I can speak firsthand on it, being his son, he likes things done the right way – no shortcuts,” Walters says. “He values honesty, being a man of your word, and treating our employees just like they’re family. We try to develop personal relationships with the people that work for us. We explain to them that family comes first in life and we work with them when it comes to personal problems they may have come up.”
When it comes to customer service, Walters says they would rather lose money on a job and make a client happy, than make money on a job and upset the relationship with that client.
Walters says they’d much rather retain a current employee who follows their vision, as it is much harder to train someone on their policies, systems and “The Valley Way.”
Some of the NALP resources that Walters says has helped the company include webinars and podcasts on business management and the educational conferences that allow them to learn and network. He attended the Workforce Summit last year and has been using the Why I Landscape marketing campaign to show students different jobs within the green industry. He also says he frequently visited Coronavirus Resource Center at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Being a member of NALP put us on the next level,” Walters says. “It opened so many doors for us and has resources that have helped us excel as a unit. The connections, networking events, and resources at your disposal are unmatched compared to other industries. It’s worth the investment!”
Maintaining Company Culture
Some of the main challenges Valley Landscaping has encountered while growing are finding quality people, retaining them, and keeping their culture and values in place. Walters says they’ve also had issues finding locations for their satellite branches. He said financing and borrowing money was an issue initially, but as their cash flow improved, this is no longer a problem.
Valley Landscaping’s solution to maintaining their company culture is communicating and being open-minded. Walters says his father isn’t afraid to have a tough conversation if something needs to be addressed.
“We look to get them autonomy to run their crews the best way that works for them,” Walters says. “There’s a different culture of each crew, different personalities and characteristics. What works for one crew might not work for another, so giving them a little freedom can go a long way if managed properly.”
Walters says another big element of their culture is the family-first mentality.
“I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard him tell people to go home early because they have something family-oriented going on or him checking on people or just asking how their kids are doing,” Walters says. “Those small conversations and actions go a long way.”
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