NXT: What does Breckenridge Landscaping do?
We’re a landscape construction company. We do landscape construction for both residential and commercial clients (50-50 in terms of client numbers but revenue is much larger on the commercial side). Additionally, we offer irrigation and maintenance services as well.
NXT: You broke $3mm in sales in 2015… is that typical of a landscape company?
In our market in the Midwest, the average landscape company generates $700K in revenue. We’re multiples larger than that, and we’ve continued to grow. We’re on track for $5mm in 2017.
NXT: How are you different than the typical landscaping company… what’s your secret sauce?
We’ve carved a niche in the permeable pavement market that’s been taking off as a method of storm-water management.
Permeable pavers are brick pavers but the way they’re made allows water to pass between them. This helps mitigate storm water when you have heavy rainfalls because it can drain wherever it lands right back into the ground.
We’re the market leader and we’ve actually dominated that segment. With our size and expertise, we’ve developed better capabilities than our local competitors. Only much-larger out-of-state players can compete with us on these types of projects. And this has been one of the primary drivers that fueled our rapid growth.
NXT: How did you identify this niche market?
A couple of projects came up where the permeable pavers were spec’d by the engineer. I thought it was a really great idea for both commercial and residential applications. So we just started pursuing our own avenues, trying to create projects.
If we were working with a client, we would offer up this idea, where they should consider these pavers as a means for their storm-water management.
Once we explained the benefits and value prop, we were getting 60-70% close rate on these projects.
So we doubled down and partnered with one of the pavers’ manufacturers. Their team focused on working with engineers to get these pavers spec’d on new projects (and we would install them), and we would push new projects into this type of application (and they would manufacture them).
A true win-win playing to each other’s strengths, and helping each other grow our side of the business.
NXT: In terms of execution, can you explain the dramatic difference between you and the average landscape company in sales and growth?
We started in 2009 at the bottom of the worst recession in one of the more difficult areas of the country for landscaping, where you have 5 months of snow each year. Our growth has been the result of i) acquisitions, and ii) digital marketing.
- We acquired 3 companies over the past 4 years. Most of them came to us unsolicited. Perhaps the founder was ready to retire, or didn’t want to go through another recession. So they approached us and they wanted us to buy them out. For me, it was a strategic plan to go that route because in my mind when things slowed down a lot of companies laid off people and contracted with the economy, whereas we took the opposite approach. If everyone’s contracting, we can expand and fill in the void.
- We also got very aggressive on marketing. When things slow down, the first thing that most companies cut is marketing. But we were created in a slow period so we were naturally a lean company and that was our culture from the beginning. That allowed us to focus heavily on marketing. We were particularly innovative on the side of digital marketing. Most landscaping companies weren’t using tools like that, though they’re starting to catch up.
NXT: What benefits does your size give you?
Recognition and trust: we’re on the Inc5000 and Future50 (a more local business group that recognizes high-growth companies). Awareness improves our marketing and advertising results. And trust improves conversions.
Another thing is that I’m a big believer in building momentum. Getting started is tough but once things start moving, keeping it going is easier and easier. Of course, there are still many challenges but momentum really helps.
For example, every year we work with 35-40 residential clients, who become potential brand ambassadors. Contrast that with starting off and you have only 3-4 clients in a year. There just aren’t many people who’ve experienced what you bring to the table.
Relationships and word of mouth can help you grow exponentially.
NXT: How do you plan to keep this momentum going?
Our growth plan for the next 5 years is to get to $10mm. Our local market is only around $800mm so we’ll have to expand regionally to grow past the $10mm mark. So we’re looking at regional growth out west in states like Colorado, and we’re spreading out to areas that are 1-2 hours away.
Also, since we’re one of the biggest players, we’re approached a few times a year for acquisition deals.
And we’ll continue to focus in the paver market. It’s a niche industry that didn’t exist before 2009 and is slowly gaining momentum, but there’s lots of growth opportunity there because it’s such a great solution.
NXT: And can you expand some more on the digital marketing side, which seems to be another big differentiator for you?
Yes, we really embraced digital marketing from the get-go. Typically in the landscaping industry, most companies are VERY slow to adopt new tools and technologies.
We’re always at the forefront of technology and look at where’s our clients’ attention.
Take the Houzz platform, for example. It’s like Pinterest for architecture. People go there for ideas on renovations. So we created our profile and have been very active on there. This boosted our general SEO because now we have another page linking to us. But it was also a great lead generation source.
We also had a lot of success with facebook ads. We run campaigns April through October. Each post we boost gets exponential returns, not just in terms of activity but also verifiable leads and conversions.
In fact, every digital avenue we’ve explored has delivered leads and projects: linkedin, facebook, twitter, houzz (we haven’t explored Pinterest yet). Especially back in 2009, we were the only ones doing that. Now some people are catching up. But this was a huge component in winning market share.
That said, we don’t do much in terms of email marketing because our business isn’t typically a repeat business. You won’t do a $100K landscape project for the same client very often.
NXT: How do you win a project?
There are 2 main ways: we get invited to be part of a contractor’s bid, or we cultivate projects with clients.
We get invited
On the commercial side, there are website resources where projects are posted and go out to bid. We get invited by general contractors (GCs) bidding on these projects. We have strong relationships with a group of about a dozen GCs regularly seeking bids from us.
This is where we go into a project and deliver a proposal, but we supplement it with a pitch for our special pavers. We take a consultative role and add value by offering to both design AND build. This is another differentiation of ours because most landscaping companies are “build-only”.
Here’s an example: I meet with a client (let’s say it’s a local city council), and they ask me to attend their board meeting. I share a proposal for what they asked for, but also present them with the idea for a paver roadway (even though there weren’t soliciting for it). They end up liking the idea and doing the work.
NXT: Are there any other ways in which you differentiate yourselves from the competition, that really helps you win projects?
A very big differentiator is how we’re organized. We are fast! Speed is everything in this environment.
We achieve that by being very technologically oriented. Everybody on my team is connected all the time with laptops, phones, and ipads. They can work remotely from anywhere in the world at any time.
So we offer our employees tremendous flexibility. The only metric is “getting things done”: getting customers what they need, keeping clients happy, making sure the work is done. I don’t care when it gets done, it just needs to get done on time.
A client may send an email on a Saturday evening and get a response right away instead of having to wait until Monday or Tuesday. This means a big deal for lots of our clients.
NXT: How did you get your first client?
I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. I started as a laborer digging holes decades ago and worked my way up. In doing that, I made a lot of connections and built a client base of people who liked me and wanted to work with me. In fact, one of my initial investors in the company is a client.
We got our first project in the first few days of starting the company, and it came through connections. Someone who was working with the County park and knew me suggested I work with them. And that turned into a very large project.
Now, we’ve done 100s of thousands of dollars with the County park system because the people were so happy with our work so more and more projects came our way, building up momentum.
NXT: What keeps you up at night?
Fast growth is great but you have to be able to finance it. Access to capital is excruciating!
The more work you do and the more successful you are, the faster your expenses grow since you have to take on more employees. But it takes some time to collect on payments, which are typically back-end loaded.
So we’re definitely profitable but the cashflow cycle is stretched out. And what I deal with on an everyday basis is cashflow management.