Whether it’s forming a strategic alliance or making a full-blown acquisition, partnering with a business that offers services that you don’t offer can be a great way to grow. That has been the case for Blondie’s Treehouse Inc., a Manhattan-based company that has grown its business with a combination of both strategic alliances and mergers since their first acquisition of a company that did holiday display work around 1990. Since then, the company has branched into multiple divisions and services in an effort to become more of a one-stop-shop for clients — and it’s paying off.
Of 15 different partnerships and acquisitions over the years, the most recent is with Opiary, a Brooklyn-based green design and high-end landscape company that offers unique lines including custom planters, fountains, indoor/outdoor furniture and sculpture. Howard K. Freilich, president and CEO of Blondie’s Treehouse, says the partnership will give his company its first fabrication studio, which is dedicated to designing and producing planters, containers and furniture. Rather than being a total acquisition, Freilich says this is a “strategic alliance.” But he has done both forms of business relationships over the years.
“We have partnered with companies and we have purchased them,” Freilich says. “It all depends on what works strategically for us and what the owners of those companies prefer to do. Some owners desire to get out of their businesses entirely and want to sell them. Others are interested in partnering so that they can still be involved in the company but aren’t responsible for the day-to-day financials. We want to make the best decision that works for everyone.”
Freilich equates it to a marriage. He says that a partnership must work for both partners – or it doesn’t work at all. In terms of why Freilich grows his business through acquisitions and partnerships — rather than just adding those services on his own — he says that it is like “dating.”
“First, you have to date,” he says, equating it to that marriage analogy. “It’s a lot easier to date and break up than it is to take the leap and get married only to decide it’s not what you wanted. When we partner with a business that offers a service that we don’t, it allows us to try it out and see if it works. We might give it a try for 12 months and see how things go. At that point, we would decide whether we want to move forward together, whether Blondie’s will buy the company or whether it wasn’t a good match after all.”
Over the years, Blondie’s has expanded the company in many ways. When Freilich started the company in 1979, he was a one-man business selling plants on the street corner. Since then he has grown to 150 employees and branched into a little bit of everything.
“After buying a company with a strong holiday display presence, we bought a company that did a very strong floral business and started building clients on the floral end,” he says. “Today we have our own floral shop. We also started getting into the sale of silk and made another strategic partnership there.”
Freilich says they’ve also moved more heavily into landscaping services over the years and even purchased a landscape architectural firm so that in addition to doing the installations, Blondie’s would also have licensed architects to do the design work. He says that has strongly ramped up their design/build division.
“Each of these steps has been about keeping the client happy,” Freilich says. “When you have a client that uses five different services, they find it much easier to work with just one vendor — Blondie’s — than to have to hire multiple companies. They’ve come to know and trust us, and it only makes sense for us to handle all of their needs.”
Freilich says that expanding into multiple service offerings has also been a differentiator for Blondie’s. It not only sets him apart from the competition but it also bolsters the relationship between the company and its clients.
“It’s given us some power in that clients aren’t able to find other companies out there like us,” Freilich explains. “In a day and age where people switch services frequently, they’re a lot less likely to switch from us because there aren’t very many companies out there that could offer everything we do. We also work very hard to build and maintain client relationships. Our clients all have our cellphone numbers and when they need an answer — even on a Saturday — we get them what they need.”
Going forward, Freilich says that they’ll continue to always look for ways they can grow and improve the business — and, in turn, better serve clients. While they already have so many offerings, Freilich says the next step will likely be to move more into the e-commerce market. No matter what, Freilich says the company will continue to be driven by that entrepreneurial spirit that has lead them into all of their strategic alliances and acquisitions, to date.
“We are a big believer in vertical integration and continuing to add on to what’s already established,” Freilich says. “We will always look for ways to bring in new, dynamic concepts. Our goal is to continue to grow as a company and to be a leader in the industry.”
Read more: Get to Know Howard K. Freilich