NORTH FEATURES


Classic Case of Success

It's never "business as usual" for Scott Hall's Maryland-based Classic Landscaping
By Tom Crain


Classic Landscaping


Founded: 1979
Owner: Scott Hall
Headquarters: Woodsboro, Md.
Market Area: North-central Maryland (around Hagerstown) and south-central Pennsylvania (around Harrisburg)
Services: Design/build, grounds management, tree and shrub, hardscaping, irrigation, snow and ice management and erosion control, Weed Man lawn care
Employees: 110
Website: www.classiclandscaping.com

Scott Hall attributes his success to living up to the challenge of the naysayers who kept telling him "it can't be done" and never giving in to the business-as-usual mindset.

"Everyone said, 'You can't start a landscaping company without the residential market,'" Hall says. To this day, he hasn't ever added a residential account to his Classic Landscaping. The company's commercial-only customer mix consists of medical facilities, apartment homes, condos, homeowners' associations, hospitals and government properties.

The company's full-service approach to its commercial customers has also always included snow and ice removal. "We've been clearing snow since we opened our doors," says Hall. "You can't count on snow around here, but last year we had three blizzards in one snow season, which gave us some good additional revenue."

When Hall attended Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, he was also told that he couldn't operate a landscaping business in his hometown while finishing college in Kentucky hundreds of miles away. "With a year of college left in 1980, I bought my landscaping business back in Maryland. For an entire year during the growing season, I flew home each weekend to run the business. During the week, a couple of employees worked the business for me until I graduated. I proved it could be done."

Thriving in the country

For the past 30 years, Classic Landscaping has focused its operations around Hagerstown in north-central Maryland and Harrisburg in south-central Pennsylvania. It has outlived many of its independent smaller competitors and successfully competed against huge multistate players and franchise operations.


Crew supervisors and executive staff line up with the company's mascot golden retriever on the headquarter's lawn.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CLASSIC LANDSCAPING.

Prior to 1994, Classic Landscaping operated out of several warehouse spaces around Hagerstown. It consolidated its operations 17 years ago on a 9-acre hog farm dating back to the mid-1700s in north-central Maryland's agricultural region. Its current base of operations includes a signature executive office occupying a brown fieldstone farmhouse first built in 1741, a fleet management facility, several storage barns, a large holding area for plant materials, and greenhouses for cultivating annuals.

After 20 years in business, Classic Landscaping experienced substantial "growing pains." Hall looked at a few different ways to grow and diversify his company, such as golf course management, expanding his client base to include residential customers, and buying a design-build company. He ultimately decided to add two Weed Man franchises, one in Maryland and the second in Pennsylvania, this one winning the "Rookie of the Year" award granted by the North American Weed Man franchise system. The lawn care franchise is the one part of his business that serves the residential market. It's been very profitable, says Hall.

Major overhaul

A few years after adding the franchises, Hall restructured Classic Landscaping. "We recognized that we had unnecessary overhead, so we underwent a strategic restructuring, examining every system in the company. We replaced or rebuilt anything we thought would hinder growth," he explains.

Hall assembled a team of marketing consultants that he continues to use for such areas as website design, marketing development and strategic planning. "I couldn't find any one person to help in all the areas we needed, and I don't view consultants as marketing professionals to follow blindly, rather as tools in my arsenal where I can still be the one in the end calling the shots," he says.

Also in the process of working with outside consultants, Hall was introduced to a business management "enterprise" software system that consolidated and integrated all of his company's previously scattered business operations into one single interface. He attributes 4 percent of his bottom line to employing this particular software system.

"We used to spend three entire days every month working payroll. Now, it takes us three hours. We can now make estimates in one place, manage sales and marketing and keep track of job costing - all within a single entry system. It has given us return on the dollar two times over: for every dollar spent we gain at least two back," he says.


Classic Landscaping maintains the grounds and course of The Links at Gettysburg in south-central Pennsylvania. Pictured here is the course's Premier Clubhouse overlooking the 18th fairway.

In fact, Hall became such an advocate of this software system that he now operates a side business, Oakleaf Advisers, which consults, deploys and supports other small landscaping companies in its use.

"When I consult with companies who are implementing the new software, I gain a unique perspective on the industry," says Hall. "I learn about the innovative ways other companies operate and how critical a software choice is to the success of operating a landscaping company."

Other important cost-saving measures that Hall learned from outside consultants are proper management of his fleet and equipment. "We have saved a lot of money by owning all of our own equipment," he says. "We hired a full-time fleet manager that keeps our many maintenance vehicles in service for as long as 10 to 12 years. We rarely need to hire out for fleet and equipment repairs."

For years before "going green" was a prevalent business practice in the green industry, Classic Landscaping followed the 3R's: reduce, reuse and recycle. "We reduce the amount of chemicals we use through IPM," says Hall. "Internally, we recycle all our old cell phones and printer cartridges, and burn the used oil from our fleet engines to heat our shop."

A matter of trust


Scott Hall in front of the old red barn at the Classic Landscaping headquarters. He attributes his success to living up to the challenge of the naysayers who kept telling him "it can't be done."

Classic Landscaping also learned how to effectively position itself as an all-American, down-to-earth, no-frills landscaping business to be trusted. For example, it produced a 30-second webspot called "My Name is Scott" featuring Hall onsite at the bucolic farm headquarters, and a social media campaign featuring its volunteer maintenance crew participating in the annual Renewal & Remembrance public service event at Arlington National Cemetery.

Even though the company has maintained $5 million in annual revenues and a workforce of 100 throughout the current downturn in the economy, it has had to work harder at it.

"Because construction is down, landscaping companies such as ours are now relying on maintenance for maintaining revenues," explains Hall. "Getting into maintenance is not as easy as one thinks. There are many moving parts in successfully operating a maintenance company. We've learned that landscaping [installation and construction] and maintenance are two different businesses with two distinct types of clientele."

Hall attributes his hardened shield from the economic downturn to always challenging the naysayers and never succumbing to "business as usual" that he has employed consistently in his business over the years. "In this current economic climate, we have had to rethink everything about our business practices to remain healthy, including restructuring, financing and adapting new technologies," he says. "What we saw in early 2000s, we'll never see again in our lifetime. America has some excess in our system that still has to be worked out.

"Fundamentally, we have a lot of things to deal with: oversupply of housing, labor and debt. It's going to take a long time to work through it. In order to thrive in this challenging economy, business owners and leaders will have to be innovative, disciplined and courageous. Especially now, we know how crucial it is to drastically change the way we approach things by going after new markets with new customers."

For the past 20 years, Tom Crain has been a regular contributor to B2B publications, including many in the green industry. You can contact him at tecrain@goingreenguy.com.