Turf Magazine - August, 2013

WEST FEATURES

From the Ground Up

CLCA award-winning Las Flores Landscape has come a long way in 10 years
By K. Schipper


Joe Hamby is focusing on making his company more efficient rather than making it bigger.
Photos courtesy of Las Flores Landscape.

When Joe Hamby launched his own landscape company, it was in response to what he felt was a lack of service by his then employer. Fast-forward 10 years and the owner of Las Flores Landscape, Inc. describes his business as a niche contractor committed to providing high-quality service to a select group of clients, most of whom are higher-end commercial developers and homeowners' associations (HOAs).

Hamby believes a big part of his success has come from his ability to get and keep quality employees. And, he says he also always tries to keep the client's perspective in mind.

As with so many people, Hamby started in the landscape industry while he was still in high school.

"I started working at an office campus in Wyoming during the summers when I was in high school," he says. "It was the national headquarters of an oil company, and I worked my way up from there."



Founder and owner Joe Hamby describes his company as a niche contractor committed to providing high-quality service to a select group of clients.

After moving to California, Hamby eventually found work with a large Orange County landscaping company. However, over time, he became dissatisfied.

"It got to where we were just feeding the machine," he says. "It was all a numbers game and I didn't feel like we were providing the service our clients deserved." Hamby quit and started Las Flores from his home with, as he says, "no clients and no employees."

He did have some major assets, though, starting with his wife, Debbie, who has always worked in the business and still handles all the administrative chores. And, he had good lists of contacts, both potential employees and possible clients.

Las Flores Landscape, Inc.

Owner: Joe Hamby

Founded: 2002

Headquarters: Orange, Calif.

Markets: Cities and communities in and around Orange County

Services: Landscape maintenance, turfgrass management, tree trimming, water management, pest control, weed abatement, landscape renovation and horticultural consulting

Employees: 120

Website: http://lasfloreslandscape.com

"Most of my key guys had worked with me in the past," Hamby explains. "I had to make a few phone calls and collect some of my trusted friends. Of my first 10 employees, probably eight of them still work for me."

With so many people mustering outside his house, Hamby was soon forced to relocate, first to a small yard and later to the company's current location on a little less than an acre in Orange.

When it came to developing a client base, Hamby also had some good contacts. Certainly, the best has proven to be his relationship with The Irvine Company. The Irvine, Calif.-based developer is the largest landowner and developer in Orange County and today accounts for about 60 percent of Las Flores' business.

"The company I worked for before had worked for them, and so I had made some contacts at that time," he says. "I called on some of those contacts, they gave me an opportunity and I capitalized on it."

Hamby's particularly proud that he's the only landscape contractor in the firm's portfolio that works for all the developer's divisions.

"They have divisions that build homes and apartments, and others that own retail centers," he says. "We do maintenance on their model homes, on their shopping centers, on their apartment complexes and on their commercial sites, as well."

Keeping a handle on it

Las Flores is able to keep up with the workload by running around 120 employees in 34 crews. More than 90 percent of Hamby's employees are full time.

"We don't have routes," Hamby says. "Most of my guys have a job and they're there five days a week. Crews range anywhere from one guy on site full time to 10 guys for a big time share property."

He gets and keeps good employees by offering benefits that many of his competitors don't, including paid holidays, vacations and rain days, and some insurance. Many of his people come with experience in the industry, and he extensively trains the others, especially during their first months on the job.

"Eventually, some of these guys may be the one full-time guy on a property," Hamby says. "They have to work toward that, but it's an opportunity they have."

Because of his self-selected niche, Hamby says most of his jobs come through referrals and repeat customers. Much of that is by design.

"When I started my business, I thought, 'I'm going to keep it where I can keep a handle on things,'" Hamby says. "I'm still interacting with my customers and my employees. We're not a gigantic company and we're not looking to become a company like that."

And, when adjustments need to be made, they are. One was the addition of a dedicated tree crew, which primarily services Las Flores customers. Hamby says he learned a hard lesson when he hired another company to trim trees for a customer.

"They did the tree trimming and consequently stole the maintenance away from us," he admits. "Rather than let that happen again, we started doing our own trees."

One of its specialties is helping clients manage water use. Many of the company's customers are served by districts which have tiered rate structures with extremely high rates for heavy users, such as landscaping.

"Working for The Irvine Company, we can be held responsible if water use reaches the penalty phases," he says. "Penalties can be thousands of dollars on a monthly basis."



Las Flores Landscape, Inc. earned "Best Overall Maintenance" recognition from the CLCA in 2012. The quality of its maintenance services is reflected in this attractive property.

The company encourages its clients to go to smart controllers - Hamby estimates as many as 85 percent have - and its crews track water use on a weekly basis. Las Flores has also worked with customers to convert to point-source irrigation, and precision nozzles.

"We have one client where we did a total renovation of their irrigation and they're seeing a 30 percent to 40 percent savings on their water," he says.

Hamby is very much about efficiency. He recognizes that landscaping is an industry where costs are always going up and revenues often go down.

"It's hard to go to one of our clients who's suffered a loss of income due to foreclosures and say, 'I need to have a 20 percent increase because of my workers' comp,'" he says. "We just have to become more creative and efficient."

Rising workers' comp and fuel prices are his biggest concerns right now, but Hamby has fought back by going to more slow-release fertilizers.

He also has a policy of putting himself in clients' shoes when there are problems - especially the HOAs.

"A lot of times you feel it's a squeaky wheel," Hamby says. "It's not a big deal to us, but it's something they see every day. We try to see it from their perspective and deal with it as quickly and satisfactorily as we can."



The company encourages its clients to go to smart controllers, and its crews track water use on a weekly basis. Las Flores has also worked with customers to convert to point-source irrigation, and to using precision nozzles.

Ultimately, his goal is to be a better company, not a bigger one.

"We'll probably grow another 10 percent to 20 percent," he says. "There's where I want to end up. But, every day we're trying to hone our operation and become more efficient. I want to be as efficient as we can be."

While his greatest pleasure comes from considering how deep Las Flores goes and how many people - both employees and clients - have come to depend on it, not surprisingly Hamby feels his greatest success is the business itself.

"For example, we won best overall maintenance from the California Landscape Contractors Association in 2012, and that was a big kudos for us," he says. "When I look at the successes we've had, our market share and our reputation in business, I'm very proud."

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.