Turf Magazine - April, 2013

WEST FEATURES

Solidly Built on the Bay

San Francisco-based landscape firm focuses on good people to fuel growth
By K. Schipper
Frank and Grossman Landscape Contractors, Inc., is proud of its masons that consistently do projects that surpass clients' expectations.

Frank and Grossman Landscape Contractors, Inc., is proud of its masons that consistently do projects that surpass clients' expectations.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF FRANK AND GROSSMAN LANDSCAPE CONTRACTORS, INC.

At 62, it might be safe to assume Myron Grossman is thinking about retirement. However, nothing could be further from the mind of one of the founders and the CEO of Frank and Grossman Landscape Contractors, Inc.

While he's still enjoying the opportunity to build interesting projects, he takes even greater pleasure in the team he's put together over the past 32 years, and creating a positive work environment for them.

Frank and Grossman Landscape Contractors, Inc.


Owners: Myron Grossman and Allan Frank
Founded: 1981
Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif.
Markets: San Francisco and The Bay Area, locations in Santa Rose, Carmel and Redwood City
Services: Construction, maintenance, estates, urban gardens, and specialties, including carpentry, specimen planting, water features, masonry, pools & spas, lighting and gates & metalwork
Employees: Approximately 150
Website: www.frankandgrossman.com

These days he's focused on seeing the firm recover from the Recession while ensuring the company's culture and its transition to an employee stock-ownership plan (ESOP). As with any good construction project, Grossman says the secret to the company's success is a solid foundation. And, while he and co-founder Allan Frank were both experienced landscapers when they formed their partnership in 1981, the real basis for their success was sound business practice.

"We founded this on what I think one would call really good human principles," Grossman says. "That means being honest and being good with math so we were able to bid things correctly and understand our costs and be straight with the delivery."

Their shared background in landscaping didn't hurt either. The two men knew each other working in the industry in Hawaii. Later, each moved to San Francisco where they went to work for other landscape firms.

"I had been working for someone else for a couple years when I decided to go off on my own," Grossman says. "Allan had struck off on his own a few months before, and it seemed like a natural thing for us to hook back up."

Strong start

Within three years, the company was doing more than a million dollars in business annually, although Grossman admits it's always had an eye for higher-end projects, both public and private.

The construction side of the operation has long drawn from its associations with landscape architects and general contractors. For the first 20 years of its existence, Frank and Grossman relied solely on that for its business.

"For the past 10 years we've done more marketing," Grossman says. "But, it's really just trying to make new connections with people." Of course, he adds that the company's word-of-mouth is all based on past performance, and that has been outstanding.

While Grossman estimates the firm has won more than 100 major awards for landscape excellence, he adds, "What we bring to people is low drama and good solutions on how to get their jobs done on time and on budget. Again, it goes back to good business practices. For instance, we're not change order crazy. We do what we say we're going to do when we say we're going to do it."

Perhaps the hallmark of the company's approach to what Grossman refers to as "protecting" clients from problems is the weekly meetings where projects are discussed.

"We review what's going on with every job," he says. "We talk about what's going on with the project manager in a very direct manner, and that allows us to nip a lot of problems in the bud."

That's one of the areas where Frank and Grossman's main office in San Francisco plays a leading role. Run by Steve Graham, most of the sales and estimating for its other three locations are also handled through there.

Creative growth

On the other hand, the presence of its three satellite locations is a testament to creative personnel management. It all started when Bill Goode, company principal, decided to move out of San Francisco to the area referred to locally as North Bay.

"That was probably 20 years ago," says Grossman. "He moved and soon we started getting more jobs there, so it made sense to put him in an office."

A few years later, the company established the Santa Rosa office and, soon thereafter, another in Carmel. In that case, the company took on one large job, put it under the direction of Carmel native Jeff Houseman and developed a respectable backlog of work there. The company's location in Redwood City, Calif., is its latest addition.

"We decided to maintain our construction projects locally, particularly on the peninsula," says Grossman. "We thought there was a very strong need for high-level residential maintenance. We have about 12 employees there who handle the residential market doing maintenance."

He adds that the company's commercial maintenance group is based out of the San Francisco office.

When it comes to having good personnel, Frank and Grossman doesn't just focus on the people at the top. Grossman says Goode has been particularly active in the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) and the company trains its people to become Landscape Industry Certified Technicians.

Strong training

"We also do all of our own masonry in-house - we have a large masonry division - and we train them and have developed a lot of really fine masons that can create very complicated masonry projects," he says. "We bring a lot of people up through the ranks."

The company maintains strong ties to landscape architects and general contractors,
allowing it to design and build incredible landscapes.

The company maintains strong ties to landscape architects and general contractors, allowing it to design and build incredible landscapes.

Grossman says other efforts to keep good employees include having a bilingual staff, the presence of safety officers in the field, and a company culture that fosters good internal communications.

And, he says, it shows.

"We actually get a lot of work because people like having our crews on their sites," Grossman says. "People sense our crews are happy and that this is a good company."

Not that it's easy. He adds that in the past three or four years it's become harder to get good employees - especially for the San Francisco operation - as the economy has changed and potential employees bypass landscaping for other careers in hospitality and even in Silicone Valley.

The recession also hurt Frank and Grossman. Grossman estimates it shrank by some 50 people during that time, although the company currently averages around 150 employees.

"Not only were jobs much less profitable, but it really forced us to get much better at running the jobs," he says. "We spent a lot more time planning the jobs that we had. I'm hoping the skill sets we've developed will help us move forward as the recession starts to pull back."

Fortunately, 2013 is starting out strong, and the company is even adding some services within its Commercial Maintenance division, including graffiti power washing, indoor plants, spot cleaning and other basic janitorial services.

"We're adding those to make ourselves more attractive to our clients," Grossman says. "A number of our commercial clients would rather have fewer vendors. If we're able to provide more services we can reduce the number of vendors they're using."

Looking to the future, Grossman believes getting good employees and dealing with health care and workers' compensation issues may be the biggest challenges the firm will face.

Since Frank retired in 2000, Grossman has also overseen the conversion of Frank and Grossman to an employee-owned company, and one of his challenges over the next three to five years is to help people realize the benefit it offers to everyone working there.

"I think that will take more time and more work to build upon that culture," he says. "It's new to us, and a goal is to emphasize the employee-owned culture of the company and promote a higher understanding of it."

Already he says more people are taking leadership positions within the firm, and others are being brought along. And, while Grossman takes great satisfaction from building great landscapes, he says his greatest pleasure is the people he works with every day.

"Going to work every day and enjoying the people I work with and having a good, positive team is really the best part of my job," he concludes.

K. Schipper is a writer and editor specializing in B2B publishing. She is a partner in Word Mechanics, based in Palm Springs, Calif. Contact her at kschipper@wordmechanics.com.