Landscape Maintenance Professionals lives up to its name

LMP crews trimming a jasmine hedge in Jacksonville, Fla.

Landscape Maintenance Professionals was started in 1991 by Orlando Castillo Jr., who had experience working for a large landscape contractor. “He wanted to create his own company that focused on a high-quality level of service, and understood that if he took care of the customers they would take care of him, and that’s what provided him the opportunity to grow,” says Scott Carlson, the company’s general manager.

Despite the economy, Landscape Maintenance Professionals has grown 30 percent in the past three years. Twenty years after the company was founded, it has an extensive presence in Florida, servicing the Tampa and Orlando regions, as well as the east coast of Florida, from Jacksonville to Miami.

LMP maintains the landscape of this high-end hotel and retail center in Boca Raton, Fla.

The company offers services in landscape and irrigation maintenance, pest control and fertilization, arbor care, floriculture, and landscape and irrigation design and installation. Landscape Maintenance Professionals’ client base is completely commercial, and includes homeowners’ associations, community development districts, office parks, retail facilities and shopping plazas. “We are a very diverse company,” Carlson says. “Orlando got started doing high-end office parks; we’ve had some customers now for 20 years.”

Carlson likes the commercial sector because his company gets to deal with a diverse group of people. “We have a lot of interaction with people from different walks of life,” he says. “With homeowners’ associations and community developments, you’re dealing primarily with a controlled group of people. With retail facilities, you’re talking about one decision-maker who has a lot of pull over many properties. Office parks and high-end Fortune 500 companies want their grounds to be immaculate. We’ve got clients who work on millions and millions of dollars worth of deals who want their properties looking very high class and like a million bucks.”

The diversity in clientele also ensures that “no two days are the same for our guys, and we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket,” Carlson points out. “We understand that sometimes there is a lot of jockeying and shuffling going on.”

LMP grows their own annuals for landscape beds.

Carlson says what differentiates Landscape Maintenance Professionals from other companies is the personal attention clients receive. “We’re a detailed company that happens to mow grass,” he says. “During these economic times, people are stretched so thin that they want to know when they hire a landscape contractor that the contractor has got their back. They’ve got other things they’ve got to worry about. They want to know when they hire a landscape contractor that it’s going to be taken care of.”

The company strives to be proactive in identifying areas on client properties that need to be addressed, and educating the client about the needs.

LMP Crews mowing neighborhood common grounds in Tampa, Fla.

What has made Landscape Maintenance Professionals a success thus far is Castillo’s continued involvement and that the company has held true to its core values, such as “over-deliver and under-promise, do the things you say you’re going to do when you’re going to do them,” Carlson notes.

The company endeavors to establish relationships with customers that focus on communication. “They know if we say something as a company, we’re going to be true about it,” Carlson says. “The most important thing in this business that’s allowed us to be successful to this point is relationships and honesty and integrity.”

To service such a discriminating clientele means hiring employees who will accommodate their needs. Landscape Maintenance Professionals has 160 employees. “The first thing we look for is strong character,” says Carlson. “We want to make sure the people we’re going to put on these properties are going to be honest and put in a hard day’s work. They’re willing to learn and to move up within our company. We don’t have a lot of turnover, which speaks to the culture that Orlando has created – dependable, honest people who are looking to make a difference on a daily basis.”

The Buschwood Office Park in Tampa, Fla., which is maintained by an LMP crew.

Each of the company’s maintenance programs are customized to meet local government restrictions, seasonal climate factors, and the client’s landscape needs and budget. The maintenance division provides full-service landscape management that includes mowing, edging, trimming, shrub pruning, bed weeding, irrigation inspections and repairs, arbor care, palm trimming, pest control, fertilization, mulching and the installation of its award-winning annuals. The company’s pest control and fertilization teams are best management practices (BMP) certified through the state of Florida. That’s important at a time when government entities are taking an increasingly tougher stance on the use of BMPs, Carlson notes, adding that this certification of his managers gives the company a competitive edge. “Most governmental regulators are moving in that direction that all technicians be certified, and if you’re not moving in that direction as a company, you’re going to be left behind pretty darn soon,” Carlson adds. “We’ve been proactive to ensure that most of our managers are best management practice certified prior to that mandate coming down. For some of our clients, it is a requirement.”

An annual bed designed by LMP.

The company also offers design and installation services, with an eye towards keeping maintenance timely and cost-effective. The first consideration in its designs is that the right plant is in the right place to ensure it will thrive in the long run “and not just be something that three years down the road needs to be moved to a different direction or location because it should have never been placed there in the first place,” notes Carlson. “We make sure what we have will fit the climate zone,” he adds. “The last thing we want to do is install something in Tampa that’s really zoned for south Miami and we get hit with a heavy frost. That does nothing for the customer but make them dig into their pockets.” Overall aesthetics is another consideration, Carlson says. “It’s making sure what is the existing theme for an enhancement in exactly what the customer is looking to achieve,” he adds.

LMP maintains this Community Development District in Tampa, Fla.

Landscape Maintenance Professionals works closely with the University of Florida, following the opinions of its Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, says Carlson. “We want to make sure the species of plants we’re using going forward will require less water and be low maintenance,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be a Florida native, but it’s imperative that it’s Florida-friendly. With the extremes we have here from dry weather to the heavy rains, plant balance is very challenging in Florida in the various areas.

“We see where water is only going to be a bigger issue and it’s imperative that we do our part to conserve water usage as much as possible,” he adds. To that end, any time the company does a new irrigation installation, the goal is to convert it to drip irrigation to minimize water loss through evaporation, says Carlson. The company is increasing its use of technologies such as smart controllers, water optimizer systems and soil moisture sensors. The company does backflow testing, and all of its irrigation managers are licensed. “We see that as being the wave of the future, and we’re on the cutting edge of that,” Carlson says.

Given Florida’s high unemployment rate, the industry competition has mushroomed with what Carlson calls the “one truck, one trailer, one mower” operations. “I don’t have a problem with that – people have to take care of their families,” he says. “But for us, our image is very important. You’re hiring a professional to take care of your landscape, and it’s the largest uninsured asset that anyone will have on their property. Whoever you hire has to have the reputation, background and experience to handle it, and part of that is the image you present in being a professional company.

LMP crews line-trim a steep pond bank in south Florida.

“I don’t fault any of the guys who don’t have the uniforms or who are showing up with truck with no letters on the side. They are trying to make a living as well, but Fortune 500 companies and larger commercial accounts want to know that who they hire is going to take care of their largest uninsured asset.”

Florida’s unpredictable weather patterns of the past few years are his company’s biggest challenge, says Carlson. “It’s either too hot or too wet,” he points out. “One day you’re dealing with chinch bugs, and the next day they’re floating away and you’re dealing with fungus.”

Carlson says his company aims to be an industry leader “that others will follow in terms of what to do in landscaping in Florida. “This industry is only going to get stronger,” he adds. “We’re in a reoccurring revenue industry, where someone’s going to have to maintain the landscape. With the marketplace where it’s been, we’ve found a good opportunity to hire some very qualified professionals who’ve been in the industry a long period of time and unfortunately lost their jobs due to the economy. We promote from within, and we’ve been able to grow within these economic times. We are positioned very well for our growth in this industry and to be an industry leader.”

Carol Brzozowski is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has written extensively about environmental issues for numerous trade journals for more than a decade. She resides in Coral Springs, Fla.