Taking Full Responsibility
There's no finger pointing when Florida's Juniper Landscaping provides service
Dan deMont, left, business development manager, with Brandon Duke, company vp, accepting one of the many awards earned by Juniper Landscaping.
Photos courtesy of Juniper Landscaping.
Juniper Landscaping in Fort Myers, Fla., has built a strong company by providing a full range of landscape services, from growing its own plant material through maintaining what it designs and builds in order to control quality and keep all of its clients' landscape-related income in-house. But offering all of these services means nothing unless each segment can be delivered at a customer-pleasing level.
Juniper Landscaping knows this and makes ongoing investments in improving its human resources and equipment.
When a company such as Juniper Landscaping brings all services - from growing plant material to design/build and maintenance - under one roof, it gives clients the opportunity to work with one company that will take responsibility for the entire package, points out Dan deMont, who oversees business development.
Management: Mike Duke, president; Brandon Duke, vice president; Dan deMont, business development
Headquarters: Fort Myers, Fla.
Markets: Naples to Tampa, Fla.
Services: Commercial and custom home landscaping, maintenance, irrigation, outdoor lighting, design/build and nursery
"It's never a situation where that turf died because it wasn't fertilized properly and it's the landscaper's fault or because irrigation coverage is horrible and it's the irrigation company's fault," says deMont. "It's always Juniper's fault if something goes wrong. We prefer to do things that way because we can manage everything in-house and control our own destiny."
Yet, taking on the responsibility of providing many related landscape services also requires a company to be at the top of its game in terms of knowledge and service delivery.
"A lot of companies have branched into a lot of different areas, but they usually don't do many things well," says Brandon Duke, vice president and son of President Mike Duke. "They'll advertise that they have a nursery, but may just be holding a few plants around. We have landscape and irrigation designers on staff. Being in the nursery business and being in maintenance, we understand how the product is going to perform long term."
Any one of Juniper Landscaping's divisions could be an independent company.
"But as a group, it makes for a good and easy experience when we deal with clients and there are no missed holes," says Duke.
Adds deMont: "We prefer work where we have the sole responsibility on the job. It's our job to make it or break it and I think that's why we keep nearly every community we maintain. It's not a situation where we're rebidding work every year and losing jobs."
Mike Duke started Juniper Landscaping started in 1981 in Fort Lauderdale. He grew the company until he sold it in 1999 and moved west across the state to the Gulf Coast and started Juniper Landscaping. In 2009 he purchased a tree farm that grows perennials, hedge material, palms and other trees for its own use as well as for sale to other companies.
"Things were very depressed then, and while we probably didn't have a need for it and you couldn't grow it for what you could buy it for at that point, we decided things were going to turn around," says Duke, adding that owning the tree farm ensures consistent quality plant material for the the company.
Juniper Landscaping provides turf and ornamentals fertilization and uses high-quality, slow-release fertilizers in its IPM-based program.
"Staying on top of the irrigation and the chemicals, having those mixes and blends calibrated correctly and having a quality applicator out there makes or breaks your product. There's only so much you can do to properly mow a property," says Duke. "But keeping the soil rich and that grass green, that's the real difficult part of our business, and that's what we've been able to get really good at."
"One of the biggest things about the landscape industry is there are a variety of qualified contractors providing different services," deMont adds. "One of the biggest trends that started in California 10 years ago was landscape companies bringing irrigation in-house. This allowed them to more closely manage quality control," adds deMont. Not surprisingly, Juniper Landscaping handles irrigation services internally.
A welter of regulations
While Duke is the company's irrigation license holder, deMont is the vice president of the Southwest Florida chapter of the Florida Irrigation Society. The organization's main objective is getting state licensing requirements for irrigation. Irrigation licensing is voluntary in Florida.
"Approximately 50 percent of water use in the state is irrigation, including turf landscape," says deMont. "It's almost appalling that there's not a license managing the irrigation contractors' trade in Florida. Water is one of our most important resources."
The hodgepodge of regulations that exist on the municipal level complicates doing business in Florida, notes Duke. He says the company works in many municipalities in several different counties, and the landscape and lawn service rules often vary between adjacent communities.
"All of the different licensures you have to have has been a huge hurdle for our company," he says. "It's almost like we need one person dedicated to understanding which municipality has what and if we're compliant." For example, in the City of Fort Myers, you have to pull an irrigation permit and provide irrigation plans to be able to do irrigation, but in Lee County (where Fort Myers is located), you do not, he points out.
The company's maintenance services focus on commercial and homeowners' associations, and is a stickler for maintaining its fleet of mowers and other professional-quality landscape tools.
"Although we do not do maintenance on single-family homes, when we design and build a custom home landscape package, we also provide a maintenance spec to ensure the client is getting a bid on the maintenance that's going to provide a good product for them year after year," says deMont. "We're giving them all of the resources they need to make sure they're not hiring a 'mow, blow and go' guy on their $50,000 landscape package.
"We write their spec on how it's maintained and they're given the spec to hand out to multiple bidders. We have industry professional partners we recommend. That's not always how the client goes. At least we're doing our part to provide them with specs because they most often don't know what they need."
Juniper Landscaping's Equipment List:
- 10 International landscape trucks with trailers
- 10 Isuzu irrigation trucks with dovetail and trailers
- Assortment of Kubota, Bobcat, Vermeer and Toro heavy equipment
- Eight Isuzu dump bed landscape trucks with enclosed trailers
- Four Ford Super Duty trucks with enclosed trailers
- Two Ford Sprinters for irrigation technicians
- Two Ford F-150s for spray technicians
- 200-plus Echo hand equipment, trimmers, hedgers, edges, chain saws and blowers
- 12 John Deere 54-inch, 60-inch and 72-inch riding mowers
- 10 52-inch Wright Standers
- Four Carlo Walk-Behind mowers
- Four custom-built riding spray rigs
- Four Lesco riding spreader rigs
Wanted: crew leaders
Juniper Landscaping has 130 employees and is seeking more crew leaders in response to the uptick in the Southwest Florida economy. When it gets good employees, it does all that it can to keep them.
"Our key guys have been with us for a long time," says Duke. "We pay them well and invest in them, train them and treat them good."
"I had the opportunity to join several other companies when I decided to go to the contracting side," agrees deMont. "I chose Juniper based on how they operate: the laid-back, fun yet professional environment that they create here and more importantly from a sales perspective, it's a company that can grow as much as I can grow it. There are no boundaries to what I can or can't sell with this company."
Management focuses on developing talent and promoting from within. Every Monday morning the staff gathers for safety meetings, training and tailgate talks. Through the workweek, managers note opportunities for recognizing outstanding work efforts or employees that take a proactive approach to solving or heading off problems..
The company's primary challenge is competing with contractors that don't hold themselves to the same standards held by Juniper Landscaping, says Duke.
That entails "qualifying and differentiating our company from the guys who are consistently the low bidder," deMont points out. "We've done a lot to differentiate ourselves through references, pictures and site visits with potential clients but it still comes down to the bottom dollar."
That's not to say that Juniper Landscaping is the best company for every client, not at all.
"If the client is looking to stick to their budget that they've had for five years despite the fact that community is failing in some regard to the look of their landscape, we're probably not the right community for them," says deMont. "We pick out our communities based on our ability to get more work from those communities."
The company is in a position where it can be more selective in choosing clients than say, five years ago, Duke points out. "There are more projects around, and we know the clients who aren't going to hold their contractors accountable. When they come to us for a bid, we just say 'no thanks'," he says. "We would like the work, but we're being more selective because we don't want to be put into a position where we can't put out a great product and we're not going to compromise on our product."
Adds deMont, "We want to work for the client that has an eye for landscape and respect for what landscape brings to their community or their new development. When landscaping is an afterthought to a contractor or property manager, those tend to be our most challenging projects. It puts us in a situation where we go against the goals and principles of our company."
The cutting edge
The company's recent rapid growth calls for a fiscally responsible approach in controlling that growth, continues deMont, adding that as a result, the company created specialty positions in contracting, contract review and facilitation and scheduling to streamline customer service.
Juniper Landscaping also established of an office in Sarasota, which is several hours north of its headquarters, for drive time efficiencies. The company purchased 10 new vehicles this year.
"We try to be proactive when equipment needs come up," says Duke. "The biggest business expense is not equipment, it's labor. If you're running overtime because you don't want to buy a truck, the math quickly doesn't work out for you very well. We'd rather invest in another piece of equipment than just continue paying overtime."
deMont says if there was anything the company would have done differently from years ago, it would be "managing our clients as much as they manage us.
"In the past, we got burned with big accounts receivables," he says. "Letting our clients get a little bit extended was a problem for us as it is for other companies. Nowadays, we manage our clients very well and the clients pay their bills very well."
Going forward, Duke says Juniper Landscaping seeks continued quality growth with clients who will provide residual work.
"We focus more on the relationship aspect of business and providing value so that they're not always out there re-bidding projects and looking for the next guy to do their (clients') work," he says. "We just want to manage well what we have, build upon our good reputation and have satisfied customers."
Carol Brzozowski, Coral Springs, Fla., is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a frequent contributor to Turf magazine. Contact her at email@example.com.