Turf Magazine - May, 2013

NORTH FEATURES

All in the Family

Diane Salks credits loyal employees for 40 years of growth in Pennsylvania
By Wendy Komancheck


Riverview Tree and Landscaping took the pool out (pictured here) and transformed it into a pond.

Diane Salks doesn't toot her own horn about the company's ability to thrive during the 2008-'09 Recession. She credits her team as the reason that Riverview Tree and Landscaping not only survived that economic storm, but continued growing.

Salks' father, Donald Haas, started Riverview Tree and Landscaping, Inc., just outside of Reading, Pa., in 1973 and incorporated the business in 1983. Diane started working in her father's landscape business in 1984 and moved up to be president of the company in 1995. She's now the company's president and sole owner. The company's roots in the southeastern Pennsylvania go deep and its reputation for service there keeps growing. The Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce has named Riverview in its "Top 50 Business" listings for the past four years.



Completed project: Pool to pond installation.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF RIVERVIEW TREE AND LANDSCAPING.

Salks credits her excellent staff as her primary unique selling proposition (USP). They work as a team and she considers her employees as part of her family. She's convinced that because the company feels like family, they transfer that attitude to the market.

"We provide top-quality services. When we leave a property, it will look much better than when we arrived. We believe that we help our clients by recognizing that the first opportunity for any company to make a great impression is when a potential customer drives onto their property. Our staff is trained and licensed with on-going certifications. We develop relationships with our customers and clients; and they understand the value that our services bring," Salk says.

Unique selling proposition

Riverview Tree and Landscaping

Owner: Diane Salks
Founded: 1973 by her father, Donald A. Haas
Headquarters: Reading, Pa.
Market: Lawn and property maintenance services provided throughout eastern Pennsylvania, all the way west to Gettysburg. Landscape, hardscape and pond installation design/build services within approximately 50- to 60-mile radius of Riverview's headquarters.
Services: Landscape design and installation; installation of pavers, including walks, patios, and driveways; retaining walls; seeding and sodding; commercial lawn and landscape property maintenance; tree pruning and removal; and pond installation and pond maintenance services
Employees: 26 to 30 full- and part-time employees year-round
Website: www.riverviewtree.com

And finally, hiring only American workers, who live in the local region, also differentiates her from the crowd.

Riverview Tree and Landscaping's staff has a very low turnover. "We have three foremen who have been with us for 36-plus years, and another three who've been with the company between 15 and 20 years; and four more who've been with the company for over 10 years. We try to maintain a culture of mutual understanding and cooperation, only employ American workers, and pay a living wage, along with benefits, such as paid vacations and holidays; health insurance; and a 401K plan with company matches."

This commitment to employees comes with a cost though, a competitive cost in terms of pricing. "There's a lot of competition in this type of business, including pick-up companies that hire illegal workers, and who avoid taxes by paying under the table. It makes it really difficult for a company, like ours, which follows the rules."

Salks and her staff use social media to stay in touch with their clients. They have a Facebook page, a Pinterest where they can post inspirational DIY ideas, and a blog. Several of the team also use LinkedIn and the company also emails newsletters and announcements. Periodically, it offers discounts through its e-newsletters, and Salks is also working with a marketing professional to spruce up the company website and to set up their its campaign.

Yet, Salks and her staff continue to find ways to stay in touch with their clients, as well as bring new customers into the fold. This includes hosting a book club at the garden store and participating with the "Fall Berks Best Kept Secret Tour." The company will be participating again this season. "The fall tour brought about 500 new folks to our store, and we have seen return visits from this event," Salks says.

A Cause that's Near and Dear to Salks' Heart

For the past five years, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Riverview Tree and Landscaping hosts a "Women Helping Women" event. Riverview partners with five other women-owned businesses and the price to attend is donating something for Mary's Shelter, a nonprofit organization for young mothers in Berks County.

"We all invite our customers; the businesses set up here in our garden center; and we offer specials, free chair massages, wine and hors d'oeuvres. We've collected and donated two pickup truckloads of products, checks and cash donations every year to Mary's Shelter," Salks says.

Yet, like so many businesses, an excellent job done motivates clients to tell their friends, neighbors and family about the service provider. And that's one of the reasons that Riverview is so successful.

"What works best for our business is word-of-mouth advertising created through our exceptional customer service, customer service, customer service," Salks reiterates.



Riverview Tree & Landscaping is well respected for its work in landscape design and installation, and especially for projects that involve pavers, including walks, patios, driveways and retaining walls.

Well established nursery

In addition to Riverview Tree and Landscaping, Salks' owns Riverview Nursery and Garden Center that was added to the landscape business in 1991. This has allowed the company to serve more people who visit the garden center for plant and gardening products. Plus, it draws in clients to the landscaping side of the business.

The original nursery and garden center building started with 1,080 square feet and an addition of over 4,000 square feet was added in 2006. The garden center carries trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, pond supplies, pond fish and Koi, nursery and gardening supplies, and seasonal plants. In 2006, Riverview started carrying more pond products, garden supplies, tropical and saltwater fish, aquariums and aquarium supplies, as well as the garden gift shop.

She is hoping to improve this year's advertising plan by promoting more green-type solutions, by using and selling more organic products, by hosting educational seminars and workshops, and by selling only heirloom garden seeds.

"Even with the economic downturn, the company as a whole experienced growth every year," says Salks. "This was in large part due to our lawn and property maintenance services which experienced substantial growth. We still have concerns about the economy, who doesn't?" Salk asks. "But we are seeing some signs of improvement."

Rising costs are her number one concern, especially the costs of fuel and health care insurance. These and other rising costs may cause her to raise prices in the future. On a positive note,

Keeping up with technology

Salks uses technology to stay organized with the administrative side of the business. She owns six computers and a server which are used in the main office. Excel spreadsheets help with estimating and pricing, and she and her staff use Peachtree (now called Sage 50) business management software for accounting and payroll duties. Also, each of the firm's three landscape designers has a tablet for landscape, hardscape and pond proposals. And the company uses an online service to find and bid on commercial properties.

Riverview Tree & Landscape also believes in giving back to her community. She's active in her local community, and encourages her staff to get out and share their resources.

"An owner's involvement and volunteering in the community greatly contributes to a business' success," says Salks. "I belong to a referral group, Professional Referral Exchange of Reading, where I served as past president. I'm a board member of HBA (Home Builders Association) of Berks and Restoring Hope Foundation. I chair the Reading-Muhlenberg Career and Technical Center executive committee; RMCTC's horticulture, HBA education committee and I'm a member of the Penn Street Posse."

Salks is proud of her company, her trained and experienced staff, and there isn't anything that she regrets doing as far as expanding her business during the Recession.

"I honestly cannot say that I would have done anything differently," she says. "The major expansion of our garden center, only two years prior to the downturn, helped us. I believe that without the addition, we would have seen more of a reduction in our contract work."

A member of the Garden Writers Association, Komancheck writes about the green industry from her home near Ephrata, Pa. Contact her at wendykomancheck@gmail.com.