Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Like many others, Cole and Brent Weller got into the landscape industry by mowing their neighbors’ lawns.
“We’re the kids that started cutting grass in high school, the only difference is that we never quit,” says Cole Weller, president and CEO of Weller Brothers Landscaping, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The pivotal moment for the Weller brothers was when they started having children and had to decide whether they wanted to keep the business going or go their separate ways. They opted to really make something out of their business and now Weller Brothers Landscaping earns $14 million in revenue a year.
Weller says the biggest part of their income is from high-end residential landscape design and construction. The construction side of the business has been booming with the pent-up demand from the pandemic.
“With supply chain issues that we experienced, starting in late 2020 or early 2021, we’re still reeling from that a little bit, although we’re getting caught up from some of the supply chain stuff,” Weller says. “A significant amount of it is also just new customers.”
He says they’ve also had a high demand for their full-service maintenance offerings. Weller says around 70 to 80 percent of their design-build customers are buying some type of maintenance service from them.
“Our goal is to sell them full-service contracts,” Weller says. “That doesn’t always happen, but we do have for 2022 an initiative of ours to make sure that we’re doing everything we can with the processes and flows to turn those construction customers into full-service maintenance customers.”
Weller says they don’t have an ideal company size they’re trying to reach but their three-year strategic outlook puts them at $25 million.
“I’m proud of our team,” Weller says. “We’ve got a lot of really good people that come to work every day and give their best. It takes an army so I’m grateful for each and everyone on our team for what they do for us each day.”
Keys to Success
Weller says their ability to grow is largely correlated with how well they can attract and retain their employees.
“Not just onboarding those new hires, but retaining them over time as well,” Weller says. “The better we can do that the more realistic it becomes for us to achieve our strategic plan.”
He says they also pride their ability to provide quality construction and maintenance services to their markets.
“I encourage our design team to study and appreciate good landscape architecture, and different textures and elements that they can integrate into projects,” Weller says. “We are definitely not an organization that postage stamps landscapes. We’re giving our best with each product.”
Weller Brothers Landscaping charges design fees, which helps them vet potential customers when they call.
“We know that not every single individual looking for a landscape is our ideal client,” Weller says. “We do this through the budget guide and just helping potential customers understand what things cost. We do try to keep our sales process as efficient as possible.”
The budget guide on Weller Brothers Landcaping’s website outlines what design elements can be included for various budgets. Weller says customers are going to find out how much things cost sooner or later and they have an obligation to tell their clients sooner.
As the company has grown, they’ve added outdoor furniture sales to their services at the request of customers.
“Not only can we provide you the backyard, patio space, or pool and pool deck, we also have the ability to furnish it for you as well,” Weller says.
Weller says this service allows them to design the outdoor furniture to incorporate well with the landscape design as they can offer customers different textures, designs, and fabrics.
“What we find is that with the higher-end clientele that we service in our construction division, many of those customers once you’ve built that trust with design and construction of the backyard, there’s a direct correlation between that and that transfers over to the furniture sales piece,” Weller says.
In the early years, Weller Brothers Landscaping had steady growth. It was 2015 when they made the decision to focus on strategically growing the business.
“That’s when we got actively involved in NALP and started networking and learning from others,” Weller says. “We met so many good people through the association. When you talk about growth, it’d be hard not to mention what NALP is done for us.”
He says doing an org chart restructure was a challenge for him and admits he should have utilized the network of landscape professionals he’d met through NALP. Weller says by connecting with someone who is slightly larger than you, you can dig in and save yourself a lot of hassle by learning from those individuals.
“NALP provides a platform through events like Leaders Forum and ELEVATE for us to come together with other landscape professionals and learn from them,” Weller says. “I think what you learn from those events is although you think you’re this really unique organization and you’re facing challenges that are unique to you, through networking with some of those other landscape professionals what we find is that we’re really all facing roughly the same problems.”
Weller Brothers Landscaping currently employs around 100 to 110 staff members during the peak season. Weller says there’s no easy answer when it comes to effective recruiting and retention methods.
“There is no magic wand that you can wave and become good at recruiting and retaining employees,” Weller says. “Rather, it’s all of the things you’re doing.”
He says while compensation and benefits are not the most important factor, they do play into an individual’s decision. Weller Brothers Landscaping works to foster a company culture that practices honest and open communication internally where they have fun at work.
They have breakfasts with the team and make sure managers are appreciating their staff by providing professional development opportunities, as well as other small perks throughout the year.
“Culture to us isn’t having a company barbecue,” Weller says. “Culture to us is what happens big picture every single day within an organization. What we’ve found is that there is no easy answer. It’s a whole bunch of different things together woven together to really make the fabric that we are at Weller Brothers.”
Weller admits that the bigger they get, the harder it is to maintain that culture. He says the key is making sure their managers understand the company culture, who they are as an organization and live that out on a daily basis.
“It’s just much easier for us to maintain that culture if we got everybody with a direct report living and breathing it than if it was just me standing in front of the room preaching to the organization this is who we are,” Weller says.
Currently, Weller Brothers Landscaping has one other location in Rochester, Minnesota, where Brent Weller, is the operations manager. There are about 15 employees at this branch right now.
All of their administrative functions are centralized in Sioux Falls. Only sales and operations staff are at the Rochester location. Weller says his brother has done well in the four years at the Rochester branch. They studied the demographic of the area and knew thanks to the Mayo Clinic the household incomes were similar to Sioux Falls with their medical community.
Weller Brothers Landscaping has broken into the market with relationships and has gotten good traction. Brent sits on the weekly leadership team meeting and also is in contact with Cole throughout the week over any issues he’s facing.
“The biggest upside for them is having us here in Sioux Falls where we’ve done it already,” Weller says. “They can really draw on the experience that we’re having over here as they grow the branch over there.”
Weller says they have plans to expand beyond their two locations eventually. They are currently considering Cedar Rapids, Iowa, because it’s a similar market to Sioux Falls and Rochester.
“Our strategic vision is one that includes moving into some of the just slightly smaller markets,” Weller says. “We’ve got Cedar Rapids, not Des Moines. We’ve got Lincoln, Nebraska, not Omaha. Just because those are the size markets we know and we feel comfortable with.”
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