Succeeding in Suburban Chicago
K&D Enterprises Landscape Management continues to grow despite economic challenges
K&D Enterprises Landscape Management, Inc.
Chicago suburban areaServices:
Residential and commercial landscape design, installation and maintenance; snow removal; and erosion control Employees:
A combination of knowledge of horticul- ture, landscape design and construct- ion coupled with management skills has helped maintain the growth of K&D Enterprises Landscape Management, Inc., since founder Kevin Manning launched the firm that serves the Chicago suburban market.
Manning worked in the lawn care industry in his teens, earned a degree in horticulture with a turfgrass focus at the University of Illinois, then worked two years in the golf course industry before launching his own business in Joliet, Ill., in 1998.
"We started with lawn care and landscape service and were quickly doing landscape installation. We grew significantly with about 30 to 40 percent growth between 1998 and 2003," Manning says. The company has evolved to large-scale landscape design, installation and management projects in high-end residential, commercial and public works, and had steady growth of 10 to 15 percent through 2010. The past two years the growth has been about 8 to 10 percent.
Manning credits his staff with helping his firm to grow. He points out that John Algozzini, director of design, has earned numerous local and national design awards, including awards from Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA) and other professional organizations, and Phil Rausch, construction manager, holds a degree in horticulture and has 25 years of experience in commercial construction.
This garden path made of Unilock pavers, designed and installed by K&D Landscape, gives students at Joliet Junior College a beautiful place to stroll thanks to an appealing and lush selection of ornamentals.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOHN ALGOZZINI.
While about 40 percent of the company's business is in commercial and residential landscape maintenance, landscape services that include landscape design and construction, erosion control and snow removal represent about 60 percent of its revenue.
"We obtained lots of residential work initially by word-of-mouth referrals," says Manning. Commercial design and installation has continued to grow and expand over the years, primarily due to those same word-of-mouth referrals.
K&D Landscape focuses on incorporating horticultural knowledge into the initial installation of turfgrass and plants. The same holds true when constructing retaining walls and patios or designing projects from concept to completion where professional knowledge and experience are invaluable. Residential upgrades make up much of the company's residential landscape work with few new residential projects since the economy has slowed.
"We try to separate ourselves from the competition with the reasons why people should have us complete their projects," Manning says, stressing the importance of carefully going over projects with owners and of providing prompt customer service.
Managing for efficiency
Phil Rausch, left, and John Algozzini discuss a landscape design being prepared for a client.
Becoming more efficient in operations was a major focus for many landscape companies as overhead increased and the market became tighter with fewer new construction jobs a few years ago. Manning says that with the looming economic downturn, his company took some initial steps to improve its position.
"We jumped in and started bidding more of the public works projects. We aggressively bid what we're best at." Manning emphasizes the time and skill required in effective bidding, and cites the importance of managing people. "You have to have the necessary staff to devote time to bidding," he says. "Public works has different requirements. We have regulations, prevailing wages and union agreements."
Equipment also plays a significant role in efficient landscape management. Manning says, "Efficiency is number one along with safety and versatility. We have a wide range of John Deere equipment from large to small."
While landscape maintenance is seasonal, the company is also in the snow management business. K&D Landscape owns and operates large-scale snow management equipment to deliver snow management to major sites, which helps keep some key employees year-round.
"Our employee retention is extremely high," Manning notes. "We have a core of about 20 people, with several having six to nine years of service. A lot of our seasonal staff comes back to us each year." He says that having experienced labor is important, and that when new labor is brought on, it's essential that new employees grasp the concept of service.
Manning emphasizes the importance of quality in all aspects of landscape installations whether it's turfgrass and plants or hardscapes. Major paver projects have been done at a number of commercial and residential sites. K&D Landscape installs only Unilock pavers in the many projects that feature pavers.
"The extensive offering of color, texture, style and shape provides our landscape designers and clients a myriad of possibilities," he says. The company installed a paver garden at Joliet Junior College that enhances not only the aesthetics of the college, but also provides high-quality horticultural examples.
An increased interest in outdoor living has spurred a number of residential projects that feature paver patios and walkways.
A landscape project completed last year at the Autobahn, a private racing facility in Chicago's southwest suburbs, features several types of Unilock pavers. In addition to members' racing, the Autobahn hosts various sized gatherings, which include automakers such as Cadillac, Porsche and Audi. Rivenstone is the featured brick type, and Eco-Priora, a permeable brick paver, is used as part of the landscape design. A circular seating area symbolizes the winners circle, and a long curved Olde Quarry wall capped with Ledgestone represents a road track circuit. Landscape plantings that heavily feature grasses provide a prairie style reference, and seasonal flower rotations in pottery highlight the landscape design.
K&D Landscape expects to continue its growth as the company seeks out new business. "We look for new streams of business," Manning says. "The skill of our sales staff, designers and our work is what sets us apart. We stress our track record, which is a good indication of why clients should hire us. They can see who is working for a lot of larger business on a regular basis."
Competition is increasing, and pricing is decreasing due to the downturned economy, so maintaining pricing as overhead increases is a significant challenge. The cost of insurance and fuel continues to rise, and while many costs cannot be contained, operating even more efficiently in tight economies becomes more important for both large and small companies. "We work on the bottom line through logistics, and we streamline purchases of tools and parts."
K&D Landscape is a member of ILCA and Contractors Association of Will and Grundy Counties.
Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer from Mt. Zion, Ill., and has been covering the green industry for Turf for more than 20 years. You can contact her at NFRIGGS@aol.com.