Family runs deep in Greenleaf Landscaping.
Ken and Dorene Schuster took over the family firm from Ken’s father in 1984 and now they have all three children – Genine, Monica and Bill, plus a son-in-law, Bryan – working side by side with them. In addition, two of Ken’s brothers, Gregg and Warren, run crews and oversee hardscape work.
The couple took a leap of faith about 10 years ago when they opened a garden center on a busy rural intersection just 10 miles from Green Bay, Wisconsin. But leaps of faith are a common theme with the Schusters.
“I believe in God’s direction,” Ken says simply.
Ken and Dorene say building the garden center – which now has a gift shop, outdoor plant and water feature display, along with housing their offices – has been an essential part of expanding their business.
“Our children wanted to come into the business and to do that, we needed to grow,” Dorene says. “It’s increased our sales tremendously. It gave us a storefront and a presence in the community.”
But the garden center isn’t the only way the $1.5 million firm has grown. When the business was headed by Ken’s father, the company concentrated on grading and lawn work, reflecting the senior Schuster’s construction background. When Ken and Dorene took the reins, they envisioned a full-service landscaping operation, paying attention to creating a professional image.
The Schusters carved out a client room in their offices, a place where they could showcase past projects and spread out proposed blueprints. In addition to a digital landscaping plan, clients also receive a booklet showing all plants, with care information and pricing.
“We close about 90 percent of the clients who come to the center,” Dorene says. “They can put a place with the people and see we are credible.”
The sense of professionalism extends to the jobsite. “When we arrive, we’re all in uniforms and our trucks and equipment are up to date,” Ken says. Once the job is done, they give their clients a follow-up survey to make sure they’re completely happy. If not, they take care of it.
Although Ken went to college to study landscape design, much of his and Dorene’s education has come through landscape associations and vendor seminars. As past president of the Green Bay chapter of the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association, Ken demonstrated his belief in sharing best practices. For example, after discovering an edger that cut perfectly to the exact depth, Ken brought it in to an association meeting so that the other members – many of them his direct competitors – could get a look.
Dorene takes a personal touch when marketing Greenleaf. She conducts seminars on a number of topics during the local home show, and spends part of the Wisconsin winter writing gardening tip columns that the local newspaper will use between spring and fall.
The company’s website, www.greenleaflandscaping.com, is a colorful, inviting front door, showcasing both the garden center and recent work, including before/after photography designed to give clients an idea of what’s possible.
But perhaps the most significant marketing push is their yearly Sunset Garden Party, which takes place in July. Tiki torches, live music, vendor tents from local microbreweries, wineries and cheese makers – plus a sale on both plants and gift items – make this a go-to local event.
When a client contacts them, “we listen twice as much as we talk,” Dorene says. This emphasis on hearing what the client envisions continues through the project stage. “We always let them know when we are coming, and if there is anything that doesn’t meet their expectation, we immediately take care of it,” Ken says.
Client Tim Weyenberg can attest to this customer care. “They were extremely accessible and flexible,” he says. “And they came up with alternatives to what I first thought I wanted. Those alternatives saved me $8,000 and in the end I got what I really wanted.”
“We are surrounded with employees who work and think like owners,” Dorene says. “Everyone is thinking about how we can be better and more creative and efficient.”
With about 25 employees, many of them seasonal, the Schusters promote teamwork with a “Hero of the Week” program. Each Friday, everyone nominates a fellow employee for an outstanding effort. The person with the most votes receives a $25 gas card.
The first Friday of each month, all are invited to go to church for Mass, followed by going to breakfast. The Schusters use this opportunity to read letters from happy customers and further recognize outstanding teamwork.
It helps that several of the Schusters’ employees are their children, whom they want to see become successful in their own right. Genine and Bill have landscaping degrees, and Monica’s created the company’s website and is now moving into landscape design. Dorene jokes that Bill knew how to say “spirea” before “mom” and “dad.”
“Our kids are determined to make this successful, and they work their tails off,” she says. “They’re always thinking outside the box.”