Turf Magazine - September, 2011

CENTRAL FEATURES

Do What You Promise

Fullmer's Landscaping keeps delighting customers as it approaches its 50th anniversary
By Carol Brzozowski

"We've always just tried to do what we say we're going to do when we say we'll do it, and make sure we offer better-than-expected service," says Kent Fullmer, president and CEO of Fullmer's Landscaping, Inc. in Dayton, Ohio.


This Italian fountain garden was a complete backyard overhaul: large columns, low sitting walls and tasteful greenery now grace this comfortable hideaway.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF FULLMER'S LANDSCAPING, INC.

Does it matter?

Actually, it matters a lot, judging by the success of Fullmer's Landscaping. After all, how many landscape companies can point to 49 years of continuous customer service? Not many, but Fullmer's Landscaping can, and is looking forward to its 50th year in business next year.

Just showing up is not enough, says Fullmer.

He says you have to show up with something different, something of value. In the case of the company his father, Lloyd, founded in 1962, that something is a unique landscape design. That's not so surprising, considering that Floyd continues working in the business to this day. "We don't ever do the same thing over. Every design and project is custom," says Fullmer, who now owns the business. He joined the family business full time in 1985, taking on a management position in 1990, and then purchasing it in 2005.

Fullmer's Landscaping, Inc.

Mission: "To create a unique, high-quality landscape experience for our clients and encourage the personal growth of each other as good stewards of the blessings God proffers us, giving HIM all the glory!"
President and CEO: Kent Fullmer
Headquarters: Dayton, Ohio
Market: Southwest Ohio and adjacent regions
Services: Design/Build, Constant Care, Seasonal Color, Irrigation, Arboriculture
Employees: 40 in peak season
Website: www.fullmers.com

Fullmer's Landscaping never does the same design twice. Owner Kent Fullmer emphasizes that every design and every landscape design/build project is a custom project.

Serving southwest Ohio

Fullmer's Landscaping primarily services the residential sector, although there have been opportunities in the commercial sector for health care facilities. Its primary market area is the corridor in southwestern Ohio on either side of I-75, the four-lane highway that runs north/south from Sault St. Marie, Mich., to Miami, Fla.

The family-owned business provides a range of landscape services, but heavily promotes its Constant Care program, which delivers consistent and ongoing landscape services following an installation. Included in the program are fertilization, weed control, spring and fall cleanups, edging, mulching, plant care, pruning, paver leveling - actually just about any landscape service a property owner could want.

The company's maintenance contracts typically run one to three years and include service weekly or every two weeks as necessary. They do not include mowing. Many clients prefer to do it themselves or have someone else do it, Fullmer says. "Anyone can mow. Mowing doesn't take the expertise that we like to bring to the project. We'd like to stay in the areas that take more expertise in jobs that not everyone can do," says Fullmer. He points to his company's prowess in providing seasonal color, irrigation services and arboriculture.

Color magic

"Seasonal color is a big service for us," says Fullmer, adding that his company has a patented program called Instant Color, inspired by landscape practices he'd seen during the early 1990s at Walt Disney World. "We have growers grow plant material for us in a special flat, and we lay our annuals like sod," Fullmer says. "We don't take them out of the flat." His employees are out on clients' properties performing their plant magic as soon as he's convinced that frost has left for the season.

"In the fall, when the frost has hit, we remove those and plant spring tulips and spring bulbs for the seasons," Fullmer says. "If they want chrysanthemums, they go on top of the bulbs right then. So then they have fall color, and in the spring have spring color with tulips again."


Fullmer's Landscaping consistently takes cues from nature, designing planting beds to imitate natural growing habitats like this lush garden.

In spite of the region's recent economic problems, Fullmer continues to see demand for more outdoor living spaces in his region. Yes, some people still want fire pits and fire rings, but not at the same level as before. Now they want something different, which is right in his company's wheelhouse.

"We're doing a lot of outdoor spaces and kitchen areas," he says. "One of the newer things in the kitchen is the pizza oven. That's been quite a big deal along with the TV cabinets and the grills." Sometimes his company will design that space in a building adjacent to a swimming pool; other times, it stands alone. Fire pits and fire rings are still prevalent, though in less demand over the past four years, Fullmer notes.

Learning clients' needs

In order to design and build a landscape with an eye to how it will be maintained, on the first client visit Fullmer asks about the plan for future maintenance.

"That will make a difference on how the design is put together from the beginning," he says. "We spend a lot of time conversing and seeing the space with the client and getting ideas from them. A lot of folks don't have an idea of what they want, but we get an idea of what kind of lifestyle they're living and how they like to do their hobbies. That helps us put together the proper design. We ask if there is going to be someone to maintain it or if they're going to do it themselves, and that will make a difference on how the design finishes up."

Proper maintenance

Fullmer's firm takes a "hybrid" approach to chemical use. "We do have to have some chemicals, and we're not against that. It just needs to be used properly, wisely and minimally," he says.

Even in the Dayton region, which gets an average of 40 inches of precipitation annually, fine turf and ornamentals require irrigation to remain fresh and colorful. Fullmer's Landscaping offers fully automated and programmable irrigation systems featuring pop-up sprinkler heads.

The company is also certified with the International Society of Arboriculture and, as such, its employees can take measures to prevent and diagnose issues with trees. The company removes dead tree branches, uses an injection method to treat against emerald ash borer, and a dormant oil spray is used annually on trees to provide a layer of protection to help prevent pests.

As for equipment, Fullmer's Landscaping primarily utilizes track-based equipment to get in and out of muddy situations.

The labor market

With up to 40 employees, finding qualified labor has been a challenge for Fullmer over the past year. While the labor pool has grown due to job losses, it's not necessarily comprised of people with landscaping experience.

Fullmer does use the H2B program, "but that's not any easier than it's ever been," he says.

The company is putting together a package for each position, focusing on individual responsibilities in order to ensure the best fit for each position and so potential employees will know precisely what the job entails. Fullmer considers attitude the most-important quality in a potential employee. "We can train for the skill, but we have to have a good attitude, good work ethic and good Christian ethical people. We're a Christian-based business, so that's a big portion," he says. "We have a mission to be kind and loving, so we want that in our people. We look at their attitude, commitment, ethics and honesty. They also need to be willing to learn, so we can train the skill."

Keep it clean

Fullmer wants a clean image for his company, so all of the trucks have marking and signage, and each employee is expected to be clean-cut and dressed in a uniform specific to the division in which they are working.

Stewardship is an important company value, Fullmer says. "This means we take good care of the things that God has created; we're just rearranging it," he says. "We need to be cognizant of the environment to the degree that we use it wisely and not do things that are blatantly harmful to the environment and to the people we work with."

Fullmer says he also feels a sense of responsibility to customers. "It's also stewardship of our time and resources, and stewardship of the time of our clients, because they are important and have things to do, so we need to do what we say."

Stewardship also means not being wasteful with costs such as fuel, Fullmer says. "We do our own recycling and re-composting of all of our materials or concrete or other landscape waste that comes back," he says. "We crush pavers. We're starting a new area where we're going to pile them and crush them, using them for a base. It's a reuse, reduce and recycle kind of thing."

Looking ahead

Fullmer says his company's focus for the future is on building a company personal performance program so employees feel as if they are growing into becoming a better person by working with the company.

He also plans to expand the company's service area into the Cincinnati region. "We're not looking for tremendous growth, but growth to maintain what we have," he says. "We're not that interested in doubling or tripling - in fact, our goal this year was to downsize from last year and hone in on several things."

As for marketing, Fullmer's Landscaping is focusing on its website, www.fullmers.com, social networking at fullmers.com/face book and LinkedIn.

"We want to give people more information so they know a good source to go to get answers," Fullmer says.

Carol Brzozowski is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has written extensively about environmental issues for numerous trade journals for more than a decade. She resides in Coral Springs, Fla.