From Start to Finish

Maldonado Landscaping and Nursery designs, installs, constructs and maintains
By Suz Trusty

Photos by John Suarez.

Every company safety meeting of Maldonado Landscaping and Nursery begins with a crew member standing among the nearly 280 employees and proudly reciting the mission statement in English. A second crew member then repeats it in Spanish.

Each employee is expected to memorize this statement and it’s on the back of all company business cards: “The Maldonado Mission: To provide unparalleled customer service and superior product at a fair price. Never compromising God’s principles or our strong work ethic in the process. Striving to maintain a workplace where all employees obtain their full potential and are content doing so.”

That’s the foundation on which the company was established in San Antonio in 1984 by President Rogelio Maldonado. Residential landscape con­struction was the original focus. As the business grew, different divisions were added, always seeking ways to better serve their existing clients and expand their market. Today, the multifaceted business produces annual sales in the range of $20 million.

Rogelio continues to oversee overall operations, with his three sons as co-owners concentrating on specific divisions. This organizational structure puts an owner at the helm of each area of the business, strengthening the consistency of operations. Roy Maldonado serves as treasurer and oversees maintenance and residential landscaping. Jerry Maldonado is vice president and oversees financial operations, construction and commercial irrigation. Oscar Maldonado is secretary and oversees commercial landscaping operations.

Maldonado Landscaping and Nursery understands that the view from the street plays a role in the marketing programs of their clients.

The lawn and landscape maintenance operations were added about 13 years ago, first on the residential side as clients began requesting the services, and soon afterward for commercial accounts. The most recent addition is complete commercial janitorial services. Yes, they do wash windows, along with general cleaning and even installation of tile flooring.

Maldonado branched into Austin about three and a half years ago, with a facility for offices and equipment and materials storage. Approximately 50 employees report to work in Austin, with the remaining 280 continuing to report to the corporate headquarters in San Antonio.

John Suarez is regional manager, based at the Austin branch to ensure the corporate culture is upheld. He says, “It’s all about consistency. We want the cookie-cutter system for our Austin branch so that everything is the same, from A to Z, in the way we conduct our normal activities. The owners want to ensure the way we treat our clients, and the way we treat our employees, adheres to our values and is in accordance with our mission statement.”

On the employee side, that carries through for everything from the pay scale to company meetings. If San Antonio does a heat stress meeting, the same meeting will be repeated in Austin about a week later.

One source, one contact

Every client has an account manager, and all services for that client are channeled through that single source. Suarez says, “That way, one individual represents the company and oversees the service, ensuring the properties are in good order in all aspects of the lawn and landscape.”

The San Antonio branch is much larger than Austin, and provides a broader level of services, so more supervisory personnel are needed. “There’s a division manager for grounds maintenance in San Antonio and an enhancement department run by a division manager. In Austin, the account managers coordinate the enhancement within their crews. One of the account managers is filling the role of grounds maintenance division manager. We’re not doing any residential work in Austin yet in any of the divisions. We concentrate on the commercial-scale landscape design and construction and commercial irrigation installation and all the maintenance that goes with those services.”

Part of the maintenance services focus on apartment and condominium complexes and home owner associations.

The account managers also handle the crews that are assigned to their clients. Suarez says, “Each is in charge of everything related to those crews, from the basics of hiring, salary and personal issues [and] handling complaints to firings. To further ensure consistency, the account manager reports directly to the division manager, who reports to the regional manager, who reports to the owner in charge of that division.”

The company has just added a commercial landscape division manager for Austin to handle the sales for that market. “Each division feeds off of the others,” notes Suarez. “We’ve very aggressive in sales, both in getting new business and building services for existing business. Each salesperson is instructed on selling the full range of services, from design and installation to irrigation to maintenance.”

Ideally, the company develops the landscape and irrigation designs, handles the construction and installation and, once that work is completed, the grounds maintenance division takes over. There’s no opportunity for one service provider to blame the other for problems when one company handles the entire project.

“That’s a huge selling tool for us,” says Suarez. “We’ve just begun on the maintenance phase for the AMLI Towers in downtown Austin. We did the same thing for the Verizon wireless facilities in San Antonio, starting with construction in the late ‘90s. We’re the only landscape people that have been on that property. The clients appreciate the convenience of dealing with one source.”

Maldonado Landscaping and Nursery stresses the advantage to the client of one source service when the company develops the landscape and irrigation design, handles the installation and provides the maintenance.

Maldonado Landscaping’s standard warranty is for one year. Sometimes that’s extended to two or three years (or beyond) if they’re also taking care of all the maintenance aspects. Each situation is dependent on the size of the property and the extent and mix of the plantings involved. With the client base ranging from corporate properties to school districts, malls, cemeteries, condo towers and homeowner associations, each with individual service packages, many factors must be considered.

Employees specialize

Training is ongoing to encourage each employee to achieve their full potential. Specific crews concentrate on specific groups of tasks, so there are always options to consider. The core maintenance crew focuses on the mowing, edging, trimming of shrubs, fertilization, ant control and spot weed control in plant beds and on paved areas. A separate crew concentrates on sprinkler general maintenance and repair. The enhancement crew tackles special projects, such as color change outs, plant replacement or mulching beds. The spray crew stems from the enhancement crew and handles the pest control following standard IPM procedures, using control products only when necessary, and then only in the affected areas.

Suarez says, “We’ve found we achieve the highest efficiency when each employee specializes on specific tasks. We may have up to four separate crews on one property at different times within a month. The maintenance crew is on each site once a week, an irrigation technician once a month; and the enhancement crew or spray crew on an as-needed basis. The account manager is in control of all of those aspects. That may require interaction with another manager, perhaps in the enhancement area, to ensure everything is taken care of on a timely basis.”

The Maldonado ownership team expects their employees to function as professionals, and equips them to do so. The trucks are well marked and well maintained. When the truck is parked at a work site, cones are placed at the front and back for safety. The crews are all uniformed and wear safety vests with the company logo and the name 100 percent of the time, not just in hazardous situations. That’s a zero-tolerance issue. Each employee is issued specific pieces of equipment and is expected to use and maintain them properly.

Every maintenance crew is equipped with a truck and a trailer. The crew foreman, typically the driver, is responsible for the level of work the crew performs and monitors what is scheduled to take place, as well as what does take place. Suarez says, “For example, hedge trimming is set up on a weekly schedule with the cycle based on the number and type of shrubs on a property. At the end of each cycle, all of the shrubs will have been trimmed. Because it’s an ongoing activity, there’s no major difference in appearance, eliminating that shaggy to just trimmed look that happens too often in this industry.

“We value our foremen immensely, expect a lot from them and pay them accordingly. They understand that they and their crew are representing the company and their own professionalism on the job site. They report directly to the account manager, which further emphasizes the importance of their role.”

The smallest maintenance crew consists of three people, the largest is seven. “All crews use a 21-inch, walk-behind lawn mower for the high-visibility curvature areas, no matter what the size of the facility,” Suarez says. “That mower also is used for the area around the signage and the main focal points, such as the front entry and the space around the clubhouse at an apartment complex. They also use 36-inch, walk-behind mowers and a 52-inch to 72-inch, large area, ride-on mower. They have an assortment of blowers, string trimmers, stick edgers, hedge trimmers, loppers and pruning shears. The spreaders used for fertilization are calibrated at the maintenance facility to fit the nutrient package to be applied.”

The full range of equipment assigned to each crew adds flexibility that lesser equipped crews wouldn’t have. All of the crews are on a Nextel radio system. If one crew finishes their job assignments at 3 in the afternoon, they may be dispatched to assist one of the crews at another site.

Clients appreciate the results of the attention to detail consistently delivered by the core maintenance crews.

Choose builders

“There are two types of employees: the builders and the destroyers,” notes Suarez. “The builders want to learn, have great attitudes, set goals, never quit a task until it is successfully completed and always have smiles on their faces. The destroyers are the exact opposite. We look for builders, and then give them the opportunity to advance. Our crew foremen discuss any negatives directly with the crew member, sometimes helping them work through problems, other times setting specific standards they must meet to retain their position. They understand that even one destroyer can make a huge impact on the functioning of a crew.

“If there’s a personality conflict within the crew, yet all individuals involved are good employees, the foreman can make a recommendation that certain individuals be reassigned and works with the account managers to make that happen. Though there’s a high turnover rate in this industry, all of these steps help keep that to a minimum here.”

The Texas location keeps the maintenance crews working at full speed about nine to 10 months of the year. Things slow down during the winter season, but there’s still work to be done. Maldonado Landscaping does use the H-2B program, with the administrative staff interacting with an attorney to make sure they are always informed on the updates and are meeting all the time parameters, documentation and fees. These personnel work 10 months of the year, which is a good match for the maintenance crews.

Suarez says, “We look for the best people, treat them with respect, work with them to expand their training and experience level and let them fly as high as their abilities will take them. That’s why no matter how busy we are, we always have time for growth. We’re growing our people at the same time. It all works together to help us deliver the consistency our clients expect with our one source, one contact program.”

Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.