Turf Magazine - June, 2012

WEST FEATURES

A Step Ahead

California company offers "end-to-end" services to meet all site needs
By Carol Brzozowski

Environmental Site Maintenance


President: Gil Carrillo
Headquarters: Simi Valley, Calif.
Markets: Southern California, including Bakersfield, Santa Barbara County, Ventura County, Orange County, Los Angeles, Inland Empire, San Diego and Palm Desert
Services: Landscape maintenance, weed abatement and control, dust control, water sampling, erosion control, environmental maintenance, site monitoring and inspection, drain inlet filtration, and stormwater prevention pollution plans (SWPPP)
Employees: 25 full time
Website: www.esmenvironmental.com

Gil Carrillo, president of Environmental Site Maintenance (ESM) in Simi Valley, Calif., is always trying to stay a step ahead of the game. Not only has he reconfigured his company in response to changes in the residential construction market sector, he's also had to adjust his services to meet California's water restrictions.

After Carillo bought ESM two years ago, he added landscape maintenance to the existing erosion control services that it provided, creating a suite of services that could meet nearly every environmental need on any given site.

The company provides necessary services when earth is moved for the purposes of development all the way to maintaining landscapes on newly constructed and established residential and commercial properties.

While other companies have seen work for residential construction dry up, ESM maintains on ongoing relationship, doing erosion control and sidewalk sweeping, with two developers - Richmond American Homes and Lennar Homes.

Working for the residential construction market sector still comprises 80 percent of the company's revenue stream, although the type of work has differed.


Restaurant owners feel this attractive drought-tolerant landscape maintained by ESM boosts business.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF ESM.

"We were providing erosion and sediment control services, which included vacuuming, street sweeping, dust control and installation of best management practices," Carrillo says. "As it slowed down, we were able to transition into doing their model home landscape maintenance as well as their weekly landscape maintenance.

That included mowing, blowing the debris and weeding," Carrillo adds. "We want to make sure the properties look good so when people come to look at buying a new home, it is aesthetically pleasing and makes them feel good."

Carrillo says Richland American has about 20 sites in Southern California. "Five years ago they had maybe 10 to 12 sites. Those sites had more than 40 houses going at a time. Now they have 20, but there's only three to five houses going at a time."

Maintenance in greater demand

The commercial landscape maintenance sector of the business is growing, with ESM providing an increasing amount of lawn mowing and weeding services. One emerging market is senior housing, which is becoming more predominant as the U.S. population ages. The company also provides services for single-family residences.

Because the company is so diversified, it's able to provide a variety of needed services for its primary clients, such as site preparation work for developers. "In the past, they may have had an assistant to the superintendent who could do prep work. They've laid those people off, so they would call us to do general labor work," says Carrillo.

"We've gotten more into concrete washouts, wastewater removal and reclamation as well as demolition, breaking up of slabs, fence removal," he adds.

Company "teams" with clients

Carrillo sees his company's relationship with its clients as being part of a team. "It's not like they're the bosses and we're the workers," he says. "We're a team and we're all working together. We're trying to save them as much money as we can. They hire us for that reason."

His company also provides value to clients who must keep their sites clean to avoid local, state and federal regulatory fines for issues relating to water and air quality enforcement.

To that end, ESM also does site monitoring, conducting in- spections on a weekly or a twice-monthly basis, and the company has a QSP (qualified stormwater prevention) certified inspector who conducts the inspections to ensure compliance for its clients.

California's water challenges mean ESM has to put more effort in planning for the needs of clients, Carrillo says. "We're having to change sprinkler cycles daily just trying to be proactive for them to make sure they're in compliance," he says.

New equipment, continuing education

The company has added new equipment, including two new pickup trucks and a second street sweeper. "It's not that we've grown, but we've been able to maintain, and over the years you need to keep up a perception," says Carrillo. "You don't want to go out with beat-up old trucks that are broken down where you can't get to work. You've got to stay with the times."

That includes engaging in continuing education and acquiring more certifications to offer more services.

"For our water sampling services, we had to buy pH and turbidity meters," says Carrillo. "It's required. You get a half-inch of rain on a Risk Level 2 site and you've got to get out there and sample. It's our job to protect these clients."

Carrillo considers his company fortunate to have a fair amount of work these days. "A lot of my competitors are not in business anymore," he says.

Carrillo says the driving factor behind the growth of the landscape maintenance part of the business is attributable in part to the fact that the company has been able to pick up where other landscape contractors left off when they had to close their operations.

Also, offering two types of businesses - landscape management and erosion control - provides a suite of services to clients, as well as two revenue streams for the company.

Costs down, quality up

Carrillo says the company's challenge these days is to keep costs down while maintaining client satisfaction. That can be difficult, he points out.

"Everybody wants a Cadillac for the cost of a Volkswagen," he says. "That's the advantage of having two sides to the company. When it's raining, you can't do landscape work, but you can do erosion control work. We're able to keep our guys close to full-time hours where a landscape-only group or an erosion control-only group wouldn't be able to work during typical off-times. They wouldn't have as much work, so it would be a lot tougher to keep employees around, let alone quality employees."

Because the company focuses on landscape maintenance only to the exclusion of design/build services, employees are more easily cross-trained and costs are kept down, Carrillo says.

ESM also became leaner over the years, downsizing from 55 to 25 employees.

In looking to hire and retain those quality employees Carrillo seeks, he says he endeavors to treat others the way he wants to be treated. "You try to take care of your guys the best you can," he says. "It's not necessarily always good compensation, but you treat people right, treat them like family, and make them feel like they're part of the business and not just a number."

While it helps to have some experience, Carrillo seeks out those who are the "right person, not necessarily the right employee," he says. "The right person understands their role and wants to strive for more. They want to climb the ladder and improve."

Ensuring satisfaction

To retain customers, Carrillo says he emphasizes honesty and fairness. "You've got to make sure you're in front of them and checking on them to make sure they're happy," Carrillo says. "Between me and my operations manager, we'll get out and see people at least every other week. We want them to know we care, we're interested and we want to make sure they're happy with our work."

As for what the future holds for ESM, Carrillo says he'd like to maintain the status quo for a while.

"I like the size that we're at," he says. "Sometimes the bigger you get, the more problems you have and the less money you make. I'm not looking to grow so much more, but to bring on a few more client relationships, a few more employees."

Yet, just as he was a few years ago when he bought ESM, Carrillo seeks to be constantly vigilant about the direction of the industry and to respond accordingly.

He noticed during a visit to Las Vegas last year that gravel is now being laid where turf used to dominate.

"They're using more gravel, hardscapes and landscapes that are not requiring water," Carrillo notes. "Even in Palm Desert, we're seeing that. I think we're seeing that a lot more simply because of our water issues."

He'll continue to make the appropriate adjustments to serve client needs.

"You roll with the punches and take it as it comes," Carrillo says.

Carol Brzozowski, Coral Springs, Fla., is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a frequent contributor to Turf magazine. Contact her at brzozowski.carol@gmail.com.