Vito Mariani founded Mariani Landscape 58 years ago. His son, Frank Mariani, took over the family-run business in 1972 and continues to lead it out of its modern 18-acre site in Lake Bluff, Illinois. Mariani Landscape is one of America’s premiere landscape companies.
Today, the company employs more than 450 associates and provides landscape architecture, construction/installation and maintenance services in the Chicago metropolitan market and surrounding areas. Its design and construction projects regularly win the highest regional and national honors. On the property maintenance side, its eye-popping 95 percent customer retention rate speaks to the quality of its mowing, trimming and related services.
The company is on a quest for 100 percent customer satisfaction, says Tony LoBello, Mariani Landscape design director, but he keeps things in perspective. “As much as we try, we can’t satisfy everyone,” he admits.
What accounts for the company’s enviable reputation for retaining maintenance customers? The obvious answer is that it follows well-defined systems to deliver consistently great service, which is much appreciated throughout the region but especially in the North Shore, a cluster of upscale villages and cities along the Lake Michigan shoreline northwest of Chicago. The North Shore is one of the most affluent and highly educated areas in the U.S.
In terms of the company’s systems, LoBello says: “This has been a process that we’ve been working on for a long time. This isn’t something we just developed.”
You can succinctly describe the company’s success in attracting and retaining maintenance clients with two simple phrases—engaging clients in their landscapes and paying strict attention to details.
While LoBello concedes that all property owners want attractive lawns, beautiful flowers and clean properties, as well as contractors who arrive in clean trucks, use dependable equipment and employ trained, responsible employees, Mariani Landscape strives to take service to the next level.
“Residential maintenance is very personal. You have to tune in to whatever homeowners’ want,” says LoBello.
One striking example: The company does not use power shears when it shapes clients’ woody ornamentals, a service it promotes and executes in the offseason mainly. “Everything we prune, we prune by hand. Pruning to us is critical,” LoBello continues.
“Some people don’t want any big mowers in their yards because of pets or children,” he adds. In other words, when it comes to mowing, Mariani Landscape will use whatever size mower it takes to please a client.
Transitioning to maintenance
In many cases, the company generates maintenance business from its award-winning design/build projects. One of the powerful sales messages the company shares with clients in moving from installation to maintenance is: “Why would you entrust the maintenance of your beautiful new landscape to another company? Will another company preserve the integrity of your beautiful new landscape from season to season?”
The company also points to the expertise it has earned over more than a half-century of business. It reminds clients that it has the resources, including manpower and equipment, to provide the precise mix of services for each client’s unique property management needs and personal desires.
Indeed, nothing that Mariani Landscape does, including transitioning construction customers to maintenance, is willy-nilly.
“We are pretty fanatical about tracking everything,” says LoBello.
The transition process, like every aspect of the company, involves specialized teams of associates, including experienced client representatives. Mariani Landscape has 16 maintenance representatives, with each serving as a single point of contact with his or her individual clients.
Transitioning the property owner from relying upon the construction representative as their primary problem-solver to a new face, the maintenance representative, requires finesse.
After the completion of an installation, the landscape architect will return to the property and walk it with the property owner to make sure the project meets or exceeds his or her expectations. If the company will be maintaining the property, the primary maintenance representative will also join the landscape architect and owner on the property.
Attention to details
During the walk-through, the parties discuss specific details relating to the property’s maintenance. “We want them (representatives) to understand what we want as landscape architects so the design integrity continues,” says LoBello, conceding that sometimes the discussion might get specific or detailed.
“Sometimes we get a little bit carried away with the maintenance, and the customer might say, ‘That’s fine. You can tone it down a bit.’ That’s why bringing them into the process is critical,” LoBello adds.
The transition to the maintenance rep is obviously crucial to building a beneficial and ongoing relationship with each maintenance customer. The company’s goal is to personalize the relationship so the representative and the property owner develop a friendly relationship, and both of them know exactly what is expected in terms of services.
“Once you get to know your clients, their families, their hobbies, how they like to use their landscapes and so forth, it is so much better than the typical client-supplier relationship,” says LoBello.
As the relationship between the client and the company deepens, the maintenance representative with their strong knowledge of the property can confidently suggest enhancements to increase the value and utility of the customer’s landscape. This could be spring bulbs, winter pruning or holiday decorations, for example.
“Anticipating customers’ needs is not always easy,” says LoBello. “But, paying attention and developing a personal touch makes a big difference.”
PHOTOS: MARIANI LANDSCAPE