Personal attention and quick response time keep Tiedeman, LLC on top

Troy Tiedeman’s entrance into the industry began as so many others: he started mowing his neighbors’ lawns at the age of 14. “I actually had customers pick me up to take me to their properties to mow their lawns,” he says. “From there, I started putting the mower in the trunk of the car and started mowing properties here and there.” He did that for four years, then worked for other companies for a year before returning to the landscaping business. “I just had that bug, and I had to get back into it,” he says.

Owner Troy Tiedeman gets ready to use a Toro Dingo for some retaining wall work.

Today, Tiedeman, LLC in Saginaw, Mich., serves a two-county area in the central part of the state with a variety of services, including pesticide applications; low-voltage landscape lighting; water features; fertilizer applications; lawn mowing; shrub and tree pruning; spring and fall cleanup; snow removal and salting services; irrigation installation and repair; lawn aeration and detaching; landscape installation; deer and rabbit control; snow removal from roofs; lawn and tree spraying program; and weed, insect and disease control.

Tiedeman is passionate about two business strategies. “One is personal attention,” he says. “You basically have to make that customer feel like they are the only customer. It may sometimes be frustrating to do it, but you have to make them feel important. If they have a problem, you have to solve it. If you don’t solve it, you commit to them that you are going to find a solution for them.” The second is quick response time. “That has kept us in business and has allowed us to charge a higher price for services,” he notes. “When customers request an estimate, they don’t want you to say that you’ll be out there in a week or two weeks. They basically want you out there the next day, or even within an hour.” That’s why Tiedeman’s favorite tool is his smartphone. “It updates me constantly,” he says. “If someone sends me an e-mail, it gets sent to my phone. I have a lot of customers who contact me via Facebook. The message gets immediately sent to me on my phone, so I can contact them right away. Customers are shocked by it, but I’m big on quick response time. They want you to respond quickly to their problems.”

A Colorfalls, from Atlantic Water Gardens, was used for this project because a cascade box was too big for the tight space. The Colorfalls had to be shipped overnight the day before the project deadline.

Seven years ago, Tiedeman instituted lean management strategies, such as streamlining billing, route optimization and easing loading and unloading procedures at the company. Part of his approach was to downsize his company. “We grew so fast that the quality got out of control,” he says. “We cut about 80 customers and scaled back to where it was more managed and more on a personal level. We started cashing in on the quality side. In the past few years, we started to expand a little bit more, but we’re doing it in a controlled state. We’re more about picking and choosing who we want to work with.”

Hiding the landscape light fixtures are a major key to a successful low-voltage landscape lighting installation.

Tiedeman points out that his company is far from the cheapest in the area. “We built this company on quality, and we figure if we’re going to give someone quality, they’re going to pay a higher price,” he says. In order to deliver that quality, Tiedeman is big on certification. He is a Michigan certified pesticide company, a certified horticultural technician, a certified manager for turfgrass, a certified RainXchange Professional and a certified micro-injection mauget applicator. “I’m a big advocate of constantly being knowledgeable in your field,” he says. “There is no excuse at all for not knowing what is going on. You should be reading trade journals and always be kept up to date on the latest information. I will guarantee you that if you’re not staying up to date, your customers are.” He adds, “There are new and different techniques. You constantly have to keep up with what’s going on. We recently just finished a certification on RainXChange through Aquascape. That is something that we want to be proactive about. If people contact us about wanting a rainwater harvesting system, we have the certification and know how to install it.”

In the past few years, Tiedeman has switched priorities for services the company offers and, as such, has experienced among his best years yet. He found that the maintenance side yielded smaller profit margins, so he’s put more emphasis on the installation side, particularly renovating older landscapes. “We’ve been pushing that a lot more lately, and that’s been very, very successful,” he says. “We’ve been marketing it to people that gas prices are going to be on the rise, the economy is down and instead of going on vacation, why not invest it back into your property instead. You can see the results, enjoy it and stay home.”

Many times, people will have landscaping installed and then not follow through with a maintenance contract, Tiedeman says. “What we started last year regarding tree installation is they have two options for any tree that gets planted,” he explains. “We can plant the tree and the first year of a spraying program is free. The other option we provide them is if they want to add on a spraying program, they have a lifetime warranty for that tree. No matter what happens to that tree – leaves, insects or any problem to the point where it needs to be replaced – we’ll replace it for them.”

Maintenance and pesticide application plans are offered at a monthly rate or a prepayment discount for a yearlong contract. “For example, we’ll install the landscape lighting, but then we’ll offer them a maintenance plan,” Tiedeman says. “Every two weeks, we’ll go in and check up on the lights, see if any adjustments need to be made, any bulbs that need to be replaced, check the timers, and be proactive.”

The company has been emphasizing low-voltage landscape lighting and water features, especially pondless waterfalls. “It’s very low maintenance,” he says. “Customers don’t have to worry about standing water. They love that feature.”

Tiedeman is pushing smart water controllers and better spray heads for his customers. “We’ve been trying to audit people’s irrigation systems to find leaks or areas where they could save on water,” he says. “We’ve been suggesting different pesticide programs, moving more toward an organic program.” While there is a ban on phosphorous in the area, convincing people to save water or go more organic in pesticide use is a hard sell in a part of the country that isn’t experiencing water shortages or chemical runoff concerns found elsewhere, Tiedeman says.

The key to a good landscape lighting installation project is hiding the lights so they appear as if they are coming up out of the ground, not from a fixture.

While some 90 percent of Tiedeman’s business is in the residential sector, he recently began providing consulting services to commercial and real estate entities. “That was in regards to commercial site bidding,” he says. “It got to the point in this area where it became really cutthroat with commercial site bids, and I stopped bidding on commercial sites. You could do a site analysis, show them your whole portfolio, certifications and even be better than the other company, and they’ll still go with the lowest bid.” Looking for a way to continue to service that market sector in another manner, Tiedeman began consulting. “I can consult with them on different ways to enhance their property and how to save money if they totally turn over the upkeep to a landscaper,” he says.

One of Tiedeman’s biggest challenges has been people who pay their invoices late. “We’re really proactive in letting people know that their invoices are going to be coming due. We provide them a lot more payment options, so there isn’t any excuse not to pay the bill,” he says.

Company Owner Troy Tiedeman fixes an irrigation intake line while standing almost waist-deep in water.

Going forward, Tiedeman sees two different industry trends. “I can see where people are specializing in certain things, but I can also see where one company is going to handle everything,” he says. “They’re going to handle construction, lawn maintenance, concrete pouring, pool maintenance – people are going to hire one service company to take care of their entire grounds. It’s great to a point, but I believe companies are spreading themselves too thin as it is right now. They need to bring themselves back and really concentrate on a few particular services.”

Tiedeman says it’s difficult to predict where his company will be five years from now. “Sixty percent of our business is pesticides,” he says. “It’s hard for us to predict where the pesticide industry is going. I don’t know if there are going to be more regulations. If I took a guess, I think we’re going to be more into specialty services; services that the average Joe won’t be able to do, such as lighting maintenance or pond care maintenance. It all depends on the pesticide industry and how that’s going to play out.”

Carol Brzozowski is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has written extensively about environmental issues for numerous trade journals for more than a decade. She resides in Coral Springs, Fla.