Turf Magazine - August, 2014

SOUTH FEATURES

Building a National Footprint

Merit Service Solutions' acquisition of SunTerra gives it a strong Texas presence.
By Amy K. Hill


SunTerra Landscape Services has about 400 commercial properties that it services throughout the state of Texas.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF SUNTERRA LANDSCAPE SERVICES.

What started out as a small landscape maintenance and irrigation contracting company in New Jersey in 1976 has turned into a national establishment offering a range of exterior facilities services, including landscape and parking lot maintenance services to snow and ice management services to capital improvements and enhancements.

The company, originally Lipinski Property Services, expanded into the Delaware Valley in 1986 with its snow and ice services, and also adding commercial services to its "portfolio". Throughout the years, the snow and ice division was its leading revenue maker, ranking as the fifth largest snow removal company in 2004 by Snow Business magazine, and then hosting the regional training series for the Snow & Ice Management Association in 2005. Lipinski topped the charts again in 2006, ranking as the third largest snow removal provider.



The benefits of the merger with Merit are tremendous for SunTerra, which now has access to more finanical, IT and operational resources.

In 2011, Lipinski and R.E.I.T./M&H Services formed a joint enterprise, and in 2013 Merit Service Solutions was launched. Merit has a presence in 46 states.

Recently, the company has expanded its presence in Texas with the acquisition of SunTerra Landscape Services, a landscape maintenance service company based in Austin, Texas. Vince Willis, chairman of Merit, explains what attracted the company to SunTerra: "The reason we were interested in SunTerra was they have a very high-quality, self-perform landscape model that operates throughout the state of Texas. Merit before SunTerra had a decent size business, but it wasn't one of a large self-perform market. We just really thought SunTerra had demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent quality across marketed properties."

SunTerra services more than 400 commercial properties throughout the state of Texas, and the company has already seen a tremendous benefit to the merger. "We are bidding more jobs that require a broader reach than what our capacity was previously. Having a national reach gives us a whole new playing field," says Judy McNew, chief operating officer of SunTerra. "We have a wide reach and a lot more flexibility. Clients want options. We can now give them that. We have already picked up more clients in Texas because we are now Merit and have that flexibility. We are able to offer our existing national clients that option of growing with us and having that partnership for all states."

In fact, that is a main goal of Merit going forward. "One of the reasons we acquired SunTerra was to be able to take some of their relationships and help them spread that on a more national basis," says Willis.

Merit also has an exceptional amount of resources that will "bolster" SunTerra, including financial, information technology and operational resources, such as its iMerit operating platform. iMerit provides a realtime dynamic scheduling solution to customers, enabling an optimized deployment of Merit skilled mobile resources with enhanced control and visibility of these assets resulting in superior customer service. "The technology of iMerit is exciting and is futuristic in the industry. If you aren't moving forward then you won't survive in this industry. It's not just about mowing grass anymore," says McNew.

Plus, the availability of resources by being part of a larger company is also a huge benefit. "We have more buying power, which helps tremendously with negotiations with vendors. It also enables us to be more competitive in the industry. With more resources that Merit brings to the table we are able to increase efficiencies and team morale," McNew explains.

As for team morale, employees are excited for the new direction of the company. McNew says, "I have found in talking to existing employees and new ones coming on there is excitement in their opportunities ahead. In the past I would talk to the team and hear questions like 'Is there really any chance I can move up in the company?' Now the possibilities are too many to name."

The author is editor of Turf magazine, and is based out of the St. Johnsbury, Vermont, office. Comment on this article or contact her at ahill@mooserivermedia.com.