One of the biggest lessons that Pleasant View Owner Peter Schultz has learned is to say "no" to services his company doesn't specialize in. However, as shown here, the company still has a lot to offer its clients.
Photos courtesy of Pleasant View Landscaping.
Stop me if you've heard this from a successful landscape company owner before: "I started with a couple-thousand-dollar loan from mom and dad when I graduated from high school. Then I bought a lawn mower and a second-hand pick-up. My first jobs were mowing for the homes on my cul-de-sac where I grew up. And now, several years down the road, I finally hit the million-dollar mark expanding to additional neighborhoods."
This typical start-up scenario couldn't be further from the truth for Peter Schultz, CEO of Pleasant View Landscaping, headquartered in Washington, D.C.
At age 27, Schultz was primed on starting his very own landscape management company with a traditional bank loan. After all, for the previous eight years he successfully completed a landscape management program at the University of Maryland; interned at Brickman; was a managing member for a successful grounds maintenance company and a snow and ice removal firm; won multiple awards for revamping the grounds of BWI Airport; and awarded "The Youngest CEO of a Top 100 Registered Snow and Ice Management Firm."
Pleasant View Landscaping
Owner: Peter Schultz
Headquarters: Washington, D.C.
Markets: Greater Washington, D.C., area
Services: Landscape, snow and ice removal and property services (facility maintenance, tenant improvements, parking lot repairs and striping and powerwashing)
Employees: 20 full time, year-round
How could he be turned down, right?
"Despite all this, the bank laughed at me when I asked for a loan," says Schultz. "I was grouped under the 'construction industry' so they wouldn't touch me."
But that didn't stop a determined Schultz. Within six months, he had assembled a group of investors and mentors that believed in him. His investor pool consisted of two local business owners and a family member who chipped in $150,000, all of whom have since been paid back in full.
He also worked with a handful of mentors who dropped their consulting fees initially until the company began generating a pre-determined amount of revenue. Mentors included a neighbor and friend who was a CFO for a national commercial cleaning franchise who helped with financials; a leading landscape industry consultant who assisted with budgeting, projections and strategic alliances; and a leading snow and ice industry consultant who assisted with snow management operations. In addition, Schultz networked with other business owners who kicked in valuable free advice.
With money in hand, Schultz proceeded with his plan to provide snow and ice removal and landscape maintenance services exclusively for commercial properties. In his first year, he hit the half-million-dollar mark. The second year, he went well over the million-dollar mark with $1.45 million. Now, just halfway through his third year in business, the revenue needle has jumped to $2.5 million. Despite the stellar growth of Pleasant View in its first three years, its modest 29-year-old founder chalks it all up to the inclement weather of pounding snow and ice storms that hit the mid-Atlantic.
His investors and mentors don't agree. They credit much of the company's meteoric rise to the finesse of the founder along with the weather working in his favor.
From day one, Pleasant View has been playing in the Land of the Giants with the likes of established and successful operations, such as NaturaLawn, Brickman, Ruppert and Denison, nipping at its heels. So, how has this "David" of landscape maintenance companies not only survived but thrived in this competitive D.C. arena?
"We do an outstanding job aligning ourselves with what is most important to our clients," says Schultz. "If you really want to win a contract, you need to dig much deeper into what the client's needs are. Just giving them a competitive price with promises of great service doesn't get the job done anymore. It's so much more than that. In order to find out what it is they need, we learned that most of the time all we need to do was to listen closely."
Schultz also found it crucial to be tuned into the demands on sustainability practices that he says are requested by more than 75 percent of potential clients. "We stay on top of LEED rules and regulations," he says. "We are replacing annuals with perennials, installing smart irrigation systems, low-voltage lighting and green roofs. We are switching out our mowers from gas to propane and using electric-powered weed eaters and using IPM and organic fertilizers regularly."
These green initiatives go a long way in racking up points in the vendor selection process with the large property management firms demanding more and more green initiatives from its contractors.
Tough lessons learned
In his short couple of years with Pleasant View, Schultz finds the management of growth for a fledgling landscape maintenance company not exactly a walk in the park. "I sure have learned a few important lessons along the way," he admits.
The first one was learning to finally say "no" to performing services that his company doesn't specialize in. "Being in the service industry, it's hard to say no to a client's request," explains Schultz. "A few times we had no business performing services that sounded easy, but ended up sinking us."
An example was the time Schultz agreed to take on a sign installation project that became far more involved than he originally thought. "Digging holes, pouring concrete, setting signs on difficult terrain turned into a long drawn out process that took three months longer than originally projected. That was a considerable drain on our company's resources at the time."
A second lesson for Schultz was learning how to let go of certain tasks. "At some point, you just have to learn to trust in your team, but as an entrepreneur you like have control over everything," he says. "Giving that up was always tough for me. By learning to invest in my employees, I found that, in turn, they will invest in you." Schultz switches up crews, teams and drivers so everyone has a chance to work with everyone else. "My team really appreciates this. They learn from each other, and most importantly, they learn to respect one another."
Although Schultz prefers to lease, the company owns about 85 percent of its equipment. "I learned that you should try to remove as many "unknowns" as possible.
Pleasant View offers a range of property management services for its commercial clients. In this example employees repair a parking lot sinkhole.
This particularly applies to the breaking down of equipment. "To limit a piece of equipment from breaking down too frequently, our goal is to cycle through most equipment every three years while it's still in good working condition," he explains. "We can't afford to have any breakdowns on any day of the year."
Systems, systems, systems
Another lesson was to develop good systems prior to performing various services. "As a small business, a lot of times you are taking care of the priority of that day, so you get caught without having the right systems in place," says Schultz. "We are always working on ways to improve our systems and we found that digitizing them works much more efficiently."
Pleasant View is developing a proprietary website soon to debut what Schultz believes will be one of the most state-of-the-art sites in the industry, improving efficiencies significantly. "The website is going to be interactive and able to sync with our own Pleasant View iPhone app, complete with emergency service requests at the push of a button," he says. "It's going to be a real estate manager's best friend. By using all the digital resources available through our website, we will be able to respond to our clients requests more effectively, efficiently and professionally."
One sacrifice Schultz acknowledges about starting and growing his business in a relatively short period of time is having to leave his athletic prowess behind. A former nationally ranked Rugby player at the university level and a frequent Ironman competitor and triathlete, Schultz has been severely curtailed from training for competition.
In removing a tree the Pleasant View crew found it contained three baby hawks. The firm called in an expert who relocated the fledglings in a rebuilt nest.
"Once you enter the real world, juggling even one hour a day of exercise is a real feat," he says.
Maybe one day he will get back onto the triathlete circuit, but for now, the only muscles he wants to exercise is that of continued revenue growth and efficiency improvements for Pleasant View.
Most of the company's clients now request property services that advance sustainability. Consequenlty, owner Peter Schultz stays on top of the LEED initiative.
For the past 20 years, Tom Crain, based in Akron, Ohio, has been a regular contributor to B2B publications, including many in the green industry. You can comment on the article or reach him at email@example.com.