Opportunities abound in Arizona

PHOTOS BY LEE RIGGS
Landscape design around the pool adds interest to this small space adjacent to a desert setting.
Katie Pock and Octavian Lopez discuss mowing at a client’s home.

Pock Landscape Solutions in Scottsdale, Ariz., is now in its third year of operation with about 180 clients, and despite a slowdown in the economy, the business is thriving. The rapidly expanding housing market of Scottsdale and the Phoenix Valley has created extensive opportunities. Pock Landscape Solutions handles maintenance, installations and enhancements primarily in the north Scottsdale area. Owner Katie Pock’s intense focus on personal attention and her dedication to fairness are key elements in her business success.

“I always knew I wanted my own business, and I had thought about something in fashion. I was going to school and working part-time when my husband and a friend began talking about a landscape business, and I love being outdoors,” Pock said. Her husband, Ernie, is superintendent at Grayhawk Golf Course in Scottsdale. He was often involved with planting trees and arranging work for his golf course crew after they finished their work at the course midafternoon. He is a third-generation Arizona golf course professional, and with his father and grandfather, represents 30 years of experience in Arizona’s green industry, providing expertise on which Pock can draw.

“I had absorbed much of the green industry talk over the years, and a friend really encouraged us to look at starting a landscape business. I rely on our crew leaders a lot, and especially on our maintenance and irrigation foreman, Octavian Lopez, but I always oversee the installation work,” Pock says. Pock Landscape Solutions has three maintenance crews and one install crew.

Shortly after being launched, the company acquired a large block of clients. “The homeowners’ association for Desert Highlands had been handling maintenance in-house,” Pock said. “We had done work there. They maintain a list of preferred vendors, and they asked us to take over the maintenance. We immediately took on about 100 clients at Desert Mountain under contract with the association. We no longer are contracted with the association, but we have most of those clients.” McDowell Mountain development represents another major area of clients, as does Greyhawk Community. “Our goal is to take on more communities,” Pock said.

The maintenance side of Pock Landscape Solutions has represented about 75 percent of the business and includes mowing, fertilizing and pruning. Although landscape design has increasingly moved toward a natural desert design, primarily in water conservation efforts, grass remains a significant part of landscapes in the valley. “About one-fourth of our clients have grass,” Pock said.

Changing annual plants over from winter to summer selections is a significant part of landscape maintenance for several clients. “Some homeowners do a changeover themselves, but many others want us to do it,” Pock said. While the warm desert climate hosts a variety of choices for winter, summer selections are more limited. Winter choices often include petunias, alyssum, lobelia, cyclamen and impatiens. Summer selections are often limited to African daisies and marigolds due to the desert heat that frequently exceeds 100 degrees. A number of desert perennials are used in the landscape settings.

A Pock crew member clears a driveway of plant debris.
Desert plants highlight the front of the home.

The extra touch of maintaining natural shapes to all shrubs is important to Pock. “We trim all shrubs to their natural shapes,” Pock noted. “We don’t do any hedging, where plants are just shaped into round or square shapes as some companies do, but instead, we maintain the shrub’s natural shape.”

Installations and enhancements

“We design and install for builders, and we complete enhancements for homeowners,” Pock said. Pock spends extensive time researching plants and their need for water. Many clients are increasing their desert focus. “We help them move to a more natural desert landscape,” Pock said. “Most people are concerned about water conservation and some are interested in lowering maintenance.”

Pock sees her business increasing in the future with additional clients although some sites may require less maintenance time. Desert landscape design has been promoted throughout the valley with each town developing its own set of landscape requirements as water conservation becomes increasingly more important.

Giving customers a complete visual of what their landscape will actually look like is a major part of Pock’s approach to designing landscapes. “Some people can’t visualize a plan on paper, so I try to give them photos of exactly what the plants will look like in their settings,” she said.

Bidding jobs is a major issue, particularly when working on enhancements or rebuilds of landscapes, Pock noted. “You have to know what you’re actually getting into. We want to be fair. We don’t want to overbid the job because we’re being careful, but we have to bid correctly to make a profit,” she said.

Over the past three years, installations and enhancements have represented about 25 percent of the business. The economic slowdown has affected the installation side of the business more than maintenance. The housing market throughout the valley has felt a major impact from the downturned economy.

“We slowed down during the winter then picked up for the spring,” Pock said.

A tree surrounded by desert plantings adds interest to a home.

Scottsdale Natural Area Open Space

The city of Scottsdale has an Environmentally Sensitive Land Ordinance (ESLO) in place to help protect the diverse native plants and animals. Part of the ESLO designates extensive Natural Area Open Space (NAOS) easements throughout the city. Although owned by the homeowner or associations, deed restrictions apply and maintenance to the area is restricted to maintain the native plants within the designated area.

Maintenance to NAOS is limited to removal of man-made debris that may be blown onto the land. Neither the homeowner or landscape maintenance companies may alter the native growth within the NAOS. Understanding the requirements is an essential part of Pock’s business and the restrictions are strictly adhered to.

Personal attention and fairness

Organizing her company to assure quality and customer satisfaction is an important part of Pock’s business approach. Work orders and job reports assure that everything that needs to be done at each client location receives attention. “If our staff finds something that needs more work, they note it, and I follow up with the client,” she said. “From our crew to our office staff, we all work to assure that the client is satisfied with what we are doing. Our crew leaders, crew members and office staff are very important,” she said.

Although researching plant characteristics and keeping abreast of regulations are essential to the business, fairness is at the forefront of Pock’s business management. “I was always concerned about being fair to my employer, and now that I’m self-employed, I still have the same feeling,” Pock said.

Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer and has been covering the green industry for Turf for almost 20 years. She resides in Mt. Zion, Ill.