Survivor Story

Updated Feb 13, 2013

Education, safety are top priority

With the recession forcing professionals to re-evaluate their business practices, one New Jersey landscaper went back to his law-enforcement roots and watched as his profits grew.

Patrick Donovan altered his schedule and saw growth.

“It’s the best year we’ve ever had,” says Patrick Donovan of Classic Landscaping in Edison, New Jersey, who has 28 years of industry experience. He started landscaping during his off hours as a police officer before focusing on it full time. “We did things that were out of the ordinary.”

This included working 10-hour days, four days a week – the same schedule he kept during his previous job. “It gives us an extra day for equipment maintenance, and sometimes we don’t even need to bring the employees in on the fifth day.”

They also cut costs by planning their routes and working on jobs in a straight line, instead of going back and forth between sites. They bought new mowers in 2011, which increased their efficiency.

He was also flexible with his maintenance accounts that were having trouble paying, mowing three times a month instead of four. “If you can work with clients, they will stick with you when the economy recovers,” Donovan says.

He also shops around for insurance, buys fuel often “because we know it’s going up tomorrow,” indicates fuel subcharges in his contracts and runs vehicles with a light load.

“We did things that were out of the ordinary.”

Classic Landscaping is a family business composed of Donovan and his four sons. Although hecurrently is looking for new employees, he’s having a difficult time, even with the high unemployment rate. “People want a job, but they don’t want to work,” he says.

Photos: Donovan added brilliant seasonal color, curb appeal and a hardscape feature that can be enjoyed year-round to these New Jersey residences.

He looks for workers who are cross-trained on various pieces of equipment, such as skid steers, backhoes, mowers and excavators, to increase productivity. They maintain large corporate, commercial and industrial accounts, as well as handling excavation, brush maintenance, tree work, landscape design/installation and snow removal.

Another key to surviving the recession has been a focus on education. He teaches safety classes where he relates his life experiences to work on the jobsite.

“I spent 27 years in the law enforcement industry, so I’ve seen what can happen if you don’t enforce safety,” says Donovan, who assisted in the recovery efforts after the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and the 1993 bombing.

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