Turf Magazine - February, 2012

NORTH FEATURES

All According to the Plan

Providing exceptional service to a select group of customers in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley is working for this husband and wife team
By J.F. Pirro

Hursh's Landscaping


Founders and Owners: Brian and Shawn Marie Hursh
Founded: 1994
Headquarters: Emmaus, Pa.
Market-Territory: Greater Lehigh Valley
Services: Lawn care, fertilization, aeration, dethatching, overseeding, soil testing and analysis, spring and fall clean-ups, edging, mulching and bed maintenance, landscape design, installation, maintenance and restoration, tree and shrub pruning, tree installation and removal, lawn installation-sodding, seeding and hydroseeding, annual, perennial and ground cover, hardscaping design, installation and maintenance, and commercial snow removal
Employees: 30
Website: www.hurshslandscaping.com

The husband and wife team of Brian and Shawn Marie Hursh is building an exceptional landscape company serving the Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania. They're doing it with a carefully thought-out plan, and with determination. They're also growing a young family, raising two children, ages 2 and 5. And, yes, they're both busy and optimistic about the future thanks to their ability to plan and to their grit.

Hursh's Landscaping in Emmaus, Pa., is easily recognized by its fire-engine red trucks and trailers, and crews dressed in matching red shirts and khaki pants. This past year the company's image, boosted by these same red and khaki uniformed employees, got a huge boost as Hursh's Landscaping moved to new, spacious, road-front quarters a mile south of its original , Hursh's head- quarters are nearly the size of the entire former lot.

Hursh's is so proud that on April 21 they will host their first open house, a sort-of first-anniversary party designed for existing clients to see what else the company has to offer, and to attract future customers, too.

"It's a chance to see behind the scenes," Hursh says. "We're more than our trucks and men. [Visitors] can see all these mower parts in here, where we store all our fertilizer and ice melt. They can meet our full-time mechanic. We're more than our guys and our lawnmowers."


Brian and Shawn Marie Hursh are the proud owners of Hursh's Landscaping, which recently moved its headquarters into a building nearly the size of its entire former lot.

Business is so steady that Hursh, 44, who founded the business in 1994, has been in transition the last couple years from the field into management. "It's hard," he admits. "I'd rather be in the field, so it's been hard to let go and delegate, but we've hired these guys because they're dependable, and now I have to let them do the work."

Shawn Marie comes out of a hotel and culinary background, and has had a smooth transition. She's still handling employees and customers with a heavy hand and kid gloves at the same time.

"She sees the big picture," Hursh says. "She looks at a five-year plan. I'm making sure everything runs smoothly five minutes from now."

Eight years ago the Hurshs sat down and developed a long-range plan, focusing on sustainability. They asked themselves what would make the growing company bullet-proof safe in a recession, and began aligning the company with homeowner's associations for 55-plus communities. Today, the company has surrounded itself with 10 such contracts.

The "niche-pitch," as Hursh terms it, wasn't hard to configure. Hursh's is a local company that's big enough to handle developments from 60 acres to 200 acres, but small enough that an association president or property manager can pick up the phone and call either Hursh or Shawn Marie directly.

All in a day's work

Not that there are drawbacks with association contracts, but Hursh points out that his crews are always under close scrutiny. Retired folks inside the homes don't necessarily have much to do other than look out the window and watch. "They're looking to see what we're doing," he says. "We tell our guys that."

Taught to perform their turf, landscape and other responsibilities in a uniform way, Hursh's is dead-set on details. In some cases, builders of these clustered communities help educate the company on what homeowners' expectations are.

The Ridings at Brookside in Macungie, Pa., was Hursh's first homeowner's association contract; now, it is one of its smallest community (commercial) jobs. At first, it took Hursh and a four-man crew an entire day; now, it's a half-day job for a larger crew.

"The most important thing is that here we are 12 or 13 years later, and they're still our client," Shawn Marie says. "Over the holidays, they even walked in and gave us a present, and said we're the most stellar company they deal with."

The present was thoughtful, too: a framed 8x10 photo of The Ridings community board along with the clever message: "April showers bring Hursh's Landscaping." "It illustrates the personal relationship we have with them," Shawn Marie says. "They may be a small account, but they're still one of our favorites."

The Ridings backs up to Brookside Country Club, but she says there's a clear dividing line between the club's grass and the turf at The Ridings. "Ours is better," she says.


The company's hardscaping department is "Shawn Marie's baby." A staff of one has grown into a team of six, and sales have tripled from last year to this year.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF HURSH'S LANDSCAPING.

New business has always arrived by word-of-mouth or referrals. "[Property managers] call and tell us that we do a good job and that they'd like to get us in so that they don't have any headaches," Hursh says. It was also a boon to the company's reputation that a local television station honored it with one of 13 recent episodes that focused on "at home" improvements. Hursh's was the landscape expert. Crews filmed last spring and summer, and then the episode ran shortly thereafter.

The company's second priority in its long-range plan centered on developing a hardscape department, "Shawn Marie's baby." A dedicated staff that began with one - and one they educated through programs at Rutgers and Penn State - has now grown by leaps and bounds. There's now a team of six led by Jason Grate, and sales tripled from last year to this year, mostly with repeat work and referrals.


Most of the company's hardscaping projects have come in the form of repeat work for clients and referrals

Managing growth

Hursh's growth has come in a relatively short amount of time, so coordinating it is worth some attention.

"We have to plateau," Shawn Marie says. "We have to know what we can do and do well."

The new facility alone, Hursh adds, will regulate that growth. "We can't outgrow it in three years," he says.

What was once 1,800 square feet is now housed in a 6,000-square-foot building. The entire property is a little over 2 acres, and is gated and fenced and equipped with security lighting. The property's number one highlight, though, is the visibility it's added.

"The exposure is awesome," Hursh says. "We're even out on jobs and the customers are saying they've seen the new building and that it looks great. Our idea wasn't to move here last April. It's kind of a busy time for a turf and landscape company to move, but it's how the chips fell."

Right now, there are three commercial crews and two residential crews handling 100 individual customers. Five trucks and trailers mow five days a week (and Saturdays if absolutely necessary) cutting 40 to 45 hours a week. A detail crew handles landscaping, mulching, shrub pruning and bed maintenance, and there's also a hydroseeding crew as needed, a two-man fertilization team, and two three-men hardscaping crews.

"In the morning when I meet with everyone, it's a circus act, a real Chinese fire drill, but that's the plan, to get them all in and then out," Hursh says. "There's 15-minute off-the-lot rule. Crew leaders arrive by 6:45 a.m. and their crews by 7, but by 7:15 everyone has to be off the lot. If there are still 30 guys standing around for even five minutes, how much is that costing me? By 7:15 it's a ghost town."

He's still making the transition from field to office. "It's the reality," Hursh says. "It's a necessity. There's too much to oversee, and so I have to let go, but what I still enjoy the most is being in the field."

Crews gas up at the end of the day to be ready for the next morning. The preparation pays off, though juggling is a constant necessity. Mowing is the simplest to schedule, but when a hydraulic hose blows, that crew isn't sitting around waiting for it to be fixed. Hursh shuffles the schedule and assigns the crew elsewhere. Hursh's is a partnership in every facet of the operation.

"We are both offering something as a team," Shawn Marie says.

"That's the way we've sold ourselves," Hursh says. "We sold ourselves as a team and we're going to continue doing that as we move forward."

Several employees have remained for years, a loyalty factor the Hurshs say is also part of their success. "We wouldn't be anything without them," says Hursh. "It's all intertwined," he notes. "At those 55-plus communities, it doesn't go unnoticed that the homeowners see that we're sending the same guys." Top performers are given good wages and year-end bonuses, as well as benefits.


Hursh's Landscaping in Emmaus, Pa., is easily recognized by its fireengine red trucks and trailers, and crews dressed in matching red shirts and khaki pants.

When the season changes

Snow removal, Hursh says, is more tenuous than turf. Everyone wants snow removed immediately, which has contained growth. Clients are also not as eager to spend money on snow removal. Because they can't make additional plowing customers happy while keeping old ones satisfied, Hursh's doesn't accept new snow clients. "It's a tougher season because there's such a small window, so there's only so many properties that we can do," he says.

What was once two pickup trucks and an old tractor for plowing has multiplied into 17 plow trucks and 15 skid loaders with heated cabs. In all, Hursh's has 24 trucks and 11 trailers.

"He worked for every penny," Shawn Marie says of Hursh's work ethic. "No one died and gave us anything. It's all a result of hard work and a multitude of sacrifices."

The author is a gentleman farmer and experienced reporter and writer who lives in Quakertown, Pa. Contact him at jfpirro@enter.net.