Growing and Expanding the "Neave Way"

Neave Group Outdoor Solutions focuses on employee training and customer retention
By Carol Brzozowski

Neave Group Outdoor Solutions

Owners: Bill Neave, founder; Scott Neave, president
Founded: 1973
Headquarters: Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
Markets: Commercial and residential properties in Westchester County, N.Y., Fairfield County, Conn., and Palm Beach, Broward and Dade Counties in southeast Florida.
Services: Property maintenance, irrigation, turf health care, plant health care, tree care, putting greens, holiday décor, snow and ice management, landscape design/ construction, and pool construction
Employees: 50
Many lawn and landscape maintenance companies grow their business by expanding territories, while others offer more services. The strategy of Neave Group Outdoor Solutions in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., has been to do both.

Credit that to the management of this family business, which Bill Neave started in 1973 and his son Scott joined in 1998 after graduating from Penn State University. Scott now serves as company president, while Neave continues as a partner and helps with quality control

"I laid the foundation," Neave says. "Scott built the house."

The senior Neave kept the company small, but Scott's approach has been to diversify and expand to become more competitive. To that end, Scott also implemented employee training and started new lines, such as pool construction and snow and ice management. The company now has operations in New York, Connecticut and southeast Florida.

"We like the one-service philosophy," Neave says. "That's the way we approach our business and bring value to our clients. On the other hand, it's difficult to offer them all of those services because they're different and distinct specialties."

All employees at Neave Group Outdoor Solutions participate in ongoing training.Managers take part in continuing education sessions, while field employees receive training on safety, equipment operation and customer service. The goal is to get them to care for customers' lawns like they would their own.

One team, one goal

Scott says the company will only be as successful as its people. He hires people who share his family's customer service philosophy. To attract responsible, honest employees, the company offers competitive pay and a positive work environment. "A lot of people love to be involved in a company where they see growth and good management," Neave says. "We can keep them (employees) working all winter with snow plowing and Christmas decorating."

Wade McReynolds, who manages the company's property maintenance department, likes to work with "free thinkers" who understand and practice customer service. He doesn't want "robots" that have to be told what to do. He wants the people that solve problems as they arise. They're aided by the use of iPhones that keep them in communication with management and coworkers. McReynolds favors the HeyTell app, a cross-platform voice messenger system. "The great part about it is it sees the conversation and time stamps it," says McReynolds.

The company trains "the Neave Way," says Scott. Each employee - from top management to field employees - participates in training, the primary message being "to do the right thing, to do the best job possible, and to stand behind everything that we do," adds Neave.

Labor-saving equipment

Mario Colantuono oversees the company's turf health care department and likes the Z-Max fertilizer machines. "It holds 225 pounds of granular and 50 gallons of liquid," he says, adding that it enables a contractor to do granular and liquid at the same time to save money and do more accounts. "The coverage is perfect," Colantuono says. "It gives you a perfect blanket so you don't stripe lawns."

Colantuono oversees four employees. "The way I look at it, I would like everybody to treat our customers' lawns like they were treating their own property," he says, adding that if they see to it that clients' lawns are fertilized, mowed, aerated and watered properly the lawns should look great.

That said, Mother Nature can throw a monkey wrench into any company's plans. This past summer's high humidity and excessively warm evenings encouraged severe turf disease outbreaks, and damaged lawns. Colantuono believes aeration combined with overseeding is the best way to repair the damage caused by diseases, and is usually more effective and less costly than using fungicides.

"Aerating and overseeding is the lifesaver of lawns," he says. "We're looking into more equipment for next year so we can keep up with the demand."

McReynolds manages the company's property maintenance department, and says that weeds and improper irrigation are the two biggest challenges he sees on customers' lawns. Many customers don't understand that weeds must be kept under control with an ongoing program. But more frustrating, he says, is clients' lack of attention to their irrigation systems.

"They have to make adjustments because they're drowning the lawn and it's causing fungus," he says. "When the guys go to cut the grass, it's softer and they're not getting the same quality as they would if the irrigation system were used properly."

Wade McReynolds looks for employees who are "free thinkers" and can solve problems as they arise.
To get the best cut possible, McReynolds sharpens mower blades at least every other day and every day during when the grass is lushest and growing fastest. He also checks clients' irrigation systems as his schedule allows.

"If it's a wet week, blades wear out a lot faster. Sharp blades make a huge difference," he says, adding that he regularly checks clients' irrigation systems.

McReynolds says the company relies upon Scag mowers because of they're reliable and fuel efficient. "Fuel is anyone's biggest expense besides labor. We're always investigating new equipment: equipment that's more efficient, uses less fuel, burns cleaner and uses fewer personnel to run it."

Customer retention

The Neaves realize the importance of customer retention and insists the team does whatever it takes to keep clients pleased with the firm's services. "It's very expensive to replace a customer. It's much easier to maintain customers," Neave says. For the most part, his company has been successful in that. "Not too many people can say they've been taking care of some people's property for 39 years," he adds.

Having a palette of related outdoor services helps too, he adds. "One service flows into another - the maintenance, the construction, the pools, the lawns, irrigation systems. It all intertwines. It's easier for customers to deal with one person than it is to have to deal with five."

Neave sees the residential market growing again, but mostly that segment that's seeking "quality" and high-end professional service.

Dan Gomez, lawn technician with Neave Group Outdoor Solutions, mows this client's lawn with precision, just as he would his own.

In the commercial market, snow plowing services are "huge," he says, driven by the concern over litigation from ice-related accidents. "Customers are looking for a professional contractor who offers a truly professional service instead of someone who is going to push the snow around. It affects their businesses, their revenue and keeps their places rented, occupied, busy and thriving."

Neave also sees the industry becoming increasingly regulated. "In our home state of New York, it's very difficult to do business," he says. "The government is not friendly to small businesses at all."

Whatever way the industry goes, he says his company will play a major role. "The industry is getting better. It's gotten so much bigger in my lifetime. I can only imagine where it will be in another 25 years."

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