Wyoming landscaper prospers with a change of location

Nick Orsillo made a drastic move 10 years ago, trading his view of the Manhattan skyline for that of the Northern Rockies. The transition was challenging and difficult, but looking back, he’s glad he did it. His landscaping company is already surpassing the $5 million mark in revenues, and continuing to outpace its competitors in the tristate area of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho with annual growth rates of 20 to 25 percent.

Installing new beds and a rock walkway at the Shooting Star Country Club in Teton Village, Wyo.

Orsillo explains how he made the shift from the New York City bedroom community of Wayne, N.J., where he grew up, to Jackson, Wyo., 2,000 miles away. “Since I met my wife in New Jersey, we spent more and more time in the winter off-season visiting her parents in Wyoming,” recalls Orsillo. “We liked the simpler and easier lifestyle, and the quietude and magnificent beauty of the mountains.”

With each visit, they would stay for longer periods of time. At first it was two-week stays, and then it turned into several months on end. When it came to starting a family, Orsillo was committed to heading west and taking his business with him.

So, when his first was born in 2001, Orsillo moved his business, Orsillo Bros. Landscaping, to Wyoming, and changed the name to Wyoming Landscape Contractors (WLC). Within a decade, the company grew from two to 80 employees with ever-expanding offerings to become the premier full-service landscape company in the area.

Orsillo’s family had been in the landscaping business since 1969. By the time he was 14, he was running his own landscape maintenance company, and for 20 years continued to grow the business successfully. Even when Orsillo moved his operation to Jackson, Orsillo’s father continued to mow customers’ lawns up until his death a few years ago.

An employee of Wyoming Landscape Contractors installs fall bulbs at the Four Seasons Resort in Teton Village, Wyo.

Orsillo doesn’t miss the challenges of operating a landscaping business in northern New Jersey. “It was cutthroat,” he explains. “There was plenty of bad-mouthing.” Orsillo also found that his subcontractors had the upper hand. To get his customers’ driveways plowed after a measurable snowfall, for example, he had to have them wait for a day or more. “That was unacceptable to me, but there was nothing I could do about it,” he explains.

When starting up his business in an isolated ski town, Orsillo faced a new set of challenges. “Suppliers in our region are sometimes two states away; whereas in northern New Jersey there were 15 suppliers within a 20-mile radius,” Orsillo explains. In New Jersey, he could quickly fill orders for seasonal color plantings by running over to a local nursery that same day. “I could pick up sod on Tuesday and lay it down on Wednesday,” he says. “Now, my supplier for flowers and perennials is in Washington state, and my sod comes from Idaho.”

To alleviate costly shipping bills, and ensure a better rate of return on spring plants, Orsillo purchased a Volvo semi-truck with an enclosed 48-foot trailer and 53-foot enclosed trailer. Prior to that, he relied on UPS trucks, which often created a cash flow problem. “In order to make it worth your while, you needed to plan well in advance and ship in bulk. You had to have very sharp estimates on landscaping supplies that could fill a truck and also last an entire season.”

New Installation featuring sod, beds, trees and hardscape at a Wilson, Wyo., residence.

Now, shipping is a whole lot easier. With the enclosed trailer, spring plants don’t die from frostbite en route, and there is no waiting until April to start shipping them. Now that he operates his own nursery, he has enough plants to last him throughout the entire growing season without having to send his truck hundreds of miles away to gather more.

Because WLC owns all its equipment, Orsillo hired two full-time mechanics to maintain the equipment, which he says more than pay for themselves. “In the past, we leased most of our equipment, such as loaders, commercial mowers and snowplows,” he explains. “Any little ‘ding’ with leased equipment and we were hit up for major charges. Now it doesn’t matter so much when our employees damage our equipment.” If it’s just cosmetic, Orsillo can wait to fix them.

WLC’s residential customers make up about 80 percent of its clientele, while commercial contracts make up about 20 percent. The customer base is high-end dude ranches and mountain vacation homes. In small ski resort towns, commercial properties are limited. “In Jackson, a 50,000-square-foot commercial property is as big as they come and is few and far between,” says Orsillo. “There are no major corporations. We tap primarily into hotels and resorts for our commercial business.”

The finished project at the residence in Wilson, Wyo.

For the past several years, the larger luxury resort chains, such as the Four Seasons, have been taking notice of WLC. “We are catering to resorts more and more by offering competitive rates by bundling our services, which the ma and pa landscape companies dominating the region can’t do. We are not the cheapest option, but we can demonstrate that because of our efficiency we are cost-effective in the long run.” To serve this market, WLC offers pool and spa care, irrigation system design and maintenance, and snow removal.

Orsillo admits there are other local landscaping companies doing a good job, but he believes his is the only one that has taken it to the next level. “We have our phones on 24 hours per day,” he says. “Our customers know that someone will always answer the phone. And, we are one of the few landscaping contractors in the tristate area to have highly qualified, fully licensed senior managers, such as certified tree arborists and irrigation specialists.

“Jackson Hole is a unique community in Wyoming,” says Orsillo. “The residents and visitors take the environment very seriously, and so do we.” WLC is constantly evaluating efficiencies in fuel costs and upgrading its fleet. Ninety-five percent of the company’s vehicles are upgraded every three to four years, and the company is also looking into hybrids. Organic fertilizers are now used extensively, because they keep lawns healthy while limiting growth; WLC crews can often skip a week in mowing. Water conservation in irrigation techniques is also a primary concern.

“The community has been so good to us that we won’t turn anyone away no matter what size landscape they may own,” says Orsillo. “We go by the mantra, ‘If you take care of your community, then your community takes care of you.'”

Last year, WLC proved just that. The company was responsible for the care and maintenance of the official U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, a 67-foot, 6,600-pound, 87-year-old Englemann spruce located in the Teton Range until its cutting in early November. WLC watered, fertilized and protected the tree from pests. The company also prepared the site for the removal of the tree and was responsible for site rehabilitation following the cutting. Orsillo received a hefty dose of promotional mileage when deemed “St. Nick” by the local press, and extensive national press coverage followed after that.

Orsillo gave a 9-foot blue spruce to the town of Jackson to commemorate the honor of donating the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree nearby. He also gave away 500 free saplings to the townspeople. The blue spruce was planted on the town square and decorated with holiday lights as a symbolic “exchange” for the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree.

“We donated thousands of dollars and hundreds of crew hours to this high-profile project,” says Orsillo. “It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of it. We were thrilled to be asked to maintain America’s perfect tree.”

For the past 20 years, Tom Crain has been a regular contributor to B2B publications, including many in the green industry. He is also a marketing communications specialist for several companies in the travel, agriculture and nutrition industries.