As a high school junior in 1989, Eric Brand took over his brother’s landscaping business, equipped with a push mower, a chain saw and some hand tools. His mother co-signed for an Isuzu pickup and he went to work, making $8,000 in sales the first year by mowing and maintaining the lawns of eight customers. By year five, he hit the $100,000 mark. Today, his $2 million firm is poised for even more growth, experiencing a 20-percent boost in the past year.
One indication Brand has made all this effort work: he still retains a few of his original eight lawn maintenance clients.
P & L’s growth is not accidental. “I’ve never worked for another landscaper,” Brand notes, “so all of my learning has been on the job. I’ve learned by talking to other landscapers, suppliers and customers, and then piece everything together. So I tell my guys that I’m always open to different ways of doing things.”
Brand has also hit the books. P & L is certified by several entities, including the Interlocking Concrete Paver Association and the National Concrete Masonry Association. The company is also a certified Aquascape Contractor, Techo-Pro Installer and Hunter Gold Preferred Installer, member of the New Hampshire Landscape Association and an accredited member of the Better Business Bureau. “By taking courses, passing exams and meeting certain criteria, we’re giving more to our customers to make sure the job is done properly,” he says.
And he tries to show his crews the potential in front of them. “Our growth is limited to our personnel,” Brand says. “If we did not have capable foremen, we could not add crews. Finding experienced crew leaders is our biggest challenge.” So P & L promotes from within. “Actually, we’ve tried to bring in experienced people for crew leaders from the outside, and have found it’s hard for them to change their ways and start to do jobs the way we do them,” Brand says.
Brand credits Jason Monahan, his general manager, with providing invaluable aid – assistance that proved essential during an especially critical time of Brand’s life. When his middle son was in Boston’s Children’s Hospital for several months, “Jason just held everything down,” Brand says, simply. “On jobs, he’ll make the same decisions I would. It’s scary how alike we think. Our customers get the same answer from both of us.”
Growth by diversity
While Brand learned early on landscape construction was more profitable than lawn maintenance, he knows he still needs to maintain a solid base of maintenance customers. “We had gotten down to four crew days of mowing a few years ago, but now we’re back up to seven days, which is important now that new housing construction is down,” he comments. And winter commercial snowplowing now makes up about 25 percent of P & L’s annual revenues.
Always on the watch for ways he can logically expand his services, Brand added hydroseeding about nine years ago. It proved to be an excellent decision, “way beyond what I thought when we first purchased our hydroseeder,” he comments. He now provides hydroseeding for other landscapers in addition to his own jobs.
Next on the diversification list: establishing the company’s new retail landscape materials center, in part prompted by P & L’s move last fall to a new address on a main street in town. The materials center sells the products that P & L has been bulk buying for years, including mulch, wall blocks, pavers, gravel, loam and hydroseeding supplies. It made sense to Brand that if he had to stock the quantities needed to supply his jobs, he might as well take advantage of his wholesale prices and sell these materials to the public, too.
Return the call
Brand shakes his head over the level of service provided by some landscapers. “I hear this all the time: ‘You’re the only contractor who called me back and actually showed up.'” Karen Garmond, P & L’s office manager, confirms each day’s appointments, and stays in constant contact with customers. “We return every phone call, and we show up for appointments, and sadly, that sets us apart,” Brand says.
“He’s done excellent work – I just love Eric,” says Delana Prince, customer service manager with Ashwood Development, Nashua, New Hampshire. “If I have questions about why something isn’t growing in one of our developments, he always has the answer.”
Beyond the immediate vision to create a profitable retail landscape materials retail center, Brand sees his firm growing to the $5 million annual volume mark. He knows, though, that kind of growth will require him relinquishing the nitty-gritty management of each job and “fixing the larger issues,” he says. “As we grow, so will our team,” he says. “This won’t be an individual effort.”