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The Power of Listening

Pacific Landscape Management grows by offering what customers really want
By K. Schipper


Pacific Landscape Management


Founders: Bob Grover, president; Elias Godinez, vice president; and Ron Knesel, area manager
Founded: 2001
Headquarters: Hillsboro, Ore.
Markets: Metropolitan Portland and surrounding areas
Services: Landscape management, landscape renovation, irrigation service and renovation, weather-based irrigation, seasonal color, snow & ice services, aquatic management, seasonal services, ecological lawn and lawn alternatives, rain gardens and bio-swales, and green roofs and green walls
Employees: Approximately 100 (peak season)
Website: www.pacscape.com

"We are very focused on making sure we understand what each customer wants and thinks is important," says Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, Hillsboro, Ore.

It might sound like a basic tenant from Business 101, but Grover says that philosophy is not only the backbone of how the company costs its services to make a profit, but it's also enabled the firm to keep growing, even as customers pay less.

The real secret: Listening. That, and realizing that while the firm might be capable of delivering a botanical garden on every job, the customer probably doesn't notice, or even want, some of the things the company can provide.

"The name of the game is to become more efficient and focus on those services the customer really appreciates that we do," Grover says. "We have to figure out how to do less. Our standard customer is paying less than they did four years ago and our cost structure has gone up."


"Most of us in the landscape trade were attracted to the business because we're inherently green," says Bob Grover.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF PACIFIC LANDSCAPE MANAGEMENT.

Grover is in a good position to understand both the field and the office sides of the business. A horticulture graduate of Oregon State University, he worked for 10 years for the Tigard, Ore.-based Northwest Landscape Industries. When that company was acquired by ServiceMaster as it launched its TruGreen brand of land care companies, he became TruGreen's regional manager for Oregon and Washington.

"I was happy in my role at Northwest, and I enjoyed my time at TruGreen, but it got to be a grind," he says. "I got tired of the traveling and the conference calls and spending half my week in Seattle. I like to spend most of my day figuring out how to make beautiful landscapes and keep customers happy."

Joining up with two other Northwest veterans, Elias Godinez and Ron Knesel, the three founded Pacific Landscape Management in 2001 to recreate their experience there. After 11 years, Grover says Pacific Landscape isn't quite as big as their old firm "but we're definitely a major player in the Portland market."

With approximately 100 employees - 75 of them full time - working from three locations, the company serves a client mix that's 70 percent commercial and 30 percent condo and homeowner associations with a broad range of services that include a heavy emphasis on sustainability.

Grover says that's become a big focus in the Portland area over the last few years and Pacific Landscape has tried to lead by example. Besides being one of the first landscape companies to earn a local EcoLogical Business Certification, the business has done everything from transitioning to lower-emission vehicles and reducing its use of chemical fertilizers to installing a bioswale outside its headquarters.

Subsequently, Oregon Business Magazine recognized it as one of Portland's Best Green Companies.

An active participant in PLANET, Grover also helped lead the push for a sustainability track at the Green Industry Conference.

"Most of us in the landscape trade were attracted to the business because we're inherently green," Grover says. "We're maintaining the green segment of urban living and we have to figure out how to do that with the lowest amount of chemicals and the least amount of fuel, and that's been a fun process."

Pacific Landscape's own green push includes offering services such as weather-based irrigation, ecological lawns and lawn alternatives, rain gardens and bioswales, as well as green roofs and green walls. Grover says a lot of that goes back to simply listening to his customers.

"Our market has become interested in being more ecologically sound, and we've expanded our offerings and evaluated our services accordingly," he says. "We want to make sure we're where our customers want us to be in terms of being a sustainable green company and providing a sustainable green product."


The company has earned the nickname of "that orange company." Bob Grover, president, says, "All our trucks are orange and all our employees wear orange uniforms, so we're very visible."

At the same time, Pacific Landscape doesn't skimp on more traditional offerings. For instance, the company has a reputation for its superior bedding plants and creative designs for seasonal color.

Surprisingly, Grover estimates some 40 percent of the company's business is related to construction. As a maintenance contractor, all of that is tied up in enhancement, remedial and corrective work for existing landscapes.

"Anything that's a living environment eventually dies, so over time you have to do extensive work to keep it looking great," he says. "One of our main focuses is helping people cost-effectively keep their landscapes looking Class A, and some of that is beyond maintenance."

While its sheer breadth of services helps make Pacific Landscape attractive to potential clients, Grover says when his sales people focus on accounts the company doesn't already have, they're taught to ask potential clients if they're happy with their current landscape firms.

"If they're happy, the only way you're going to get their attention is if you're lower, and it's going to be a challenge to do a good job if you're always the low bid," he says. "Our focus is finding people that are not happy with their current vendors, because they want somebody to do a better job or be a better communicator or be more proactive. Whatever it is, we try to take advantage of that."

While the company does take advantage of traditional marketing methods, such as participation in a number of real estate industry associations, it also sends out a monthly newsletter to clients and perspective clients that tries to highlight landscape issues unique to that month.

However, Grover says probably his most-effective marketing ploy is the visibility of his teams out in the community. Pacific Landscape Management has earned the nickname of "that orange company."

"All our trucks are orange and all our employees wear orange uniforms, so we've very visible," Grover says. "If we're on a landscape site, people definitely see us. We're taking care of a beautiful landscape and making it look beautiful, and when we're there people see us doing that."


The company has a reputation for its superior bedding plants and the creative seasonal color it offers clients.

Pacific Landscape puts considerable effort into retaining its full-time employees, offering benefits including medical and dental insurance and a SIMPLE IRA with employee match. However, Grover believes the best thing the company does is provide opportunities for jobs to become careers and people to improve their skills.

"We're a very training-focused organization," he says. "We do a lot of training in-house and we also support anybody who wants to take classes at school or get certified in something. If it's related to what we do, we pay for it. Not only are our employees well-trained, but they feel appreciated and supported because we're helping them get ahead."

The economy remains a challenge for the company, Grover admits, in large part because with little new construction, firms that normally focus on that part of the market are trying to survive doing maintenance. Not only does it mean more competition but, "it's hard to grow in an economy that's not growing."

Still, he remains confident that truly understanding each customer's particular needs, even as the market has changed for them, too, will lead to even greater success.

"It's not generic," Grover concludes. "Each customer is a little bit different in what they need. We spend time listening to them, predicting what they'll be interested in and truly want, and then being proactive in communicating.

"We tell them, 'Give us the keys to your landscape and you won't have to call us; we'll be there for you.'"

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.