A long-age move to the suburbs helped Hubinger Landscaping reach one plateau; now technology is boosting this Indiana firm’s fortunes

Hubinger Landscaping Corp., followed an established trend of moving from urban locations to outlying areas. Dave Hubinger Sr.’s business was primarily excavating, seeding and sodding. In 1978, Hubinger moved his home and business to a 20-acre site in Crown Point, Ind.

Plantings and rock features highlight visitor rest areas at Centennial Park. This was a challenging project for Hubinger Landscaping Corp., as the park is built on top of a landfill.

Now 74, Hubinger has retired, but is still active with and maintains a close interest in the business. His wife Donna serves as company president and treasurer, and son David Jr., is vice president, managing operations. Hubinger Landscaping Corp. completes projects in the residential, commercial business and government-funded public projects. While the percentages change from time to time, current projects are about 40 percent public, 35 percent commercial business and 25 percent residential. With the economic slowdown, residential projects are primarily landscape upgrades.

With the move to the Crown Point site that offered more space for equipment, the business was located in a growing area. Both the number of commercial businesses and high-end townhomes were increasing, and the location offered a number of benefits, including an opportunity to expand into retail operations by opening a garden center. While the company followed a national trend in locating its business site in outlying areas, incorporating technology into business operations has been a key element in success, complementing hard work, honesty, quality delivery and adherence to specifications. The company has been recognized for its work with awards from the Indiana Nursery and Landscaping Award for green industry excellence and from the Crown Point Chamber of Commerce.

Incorporating technology

Mike Kocon joined the company 10 years ago, coming from a background at Amoco Corp., where he worked with designing facilities. Kocon is an estimator and has managed the company’s move to incorporate technology into day-to-day operations throughout the business. “We had one computer 10 years ago; now everything we do is computerized,” Kocon said.

Hubinger Landscaping Corp.

Headquarters: Crown Point, Ind.
Founder Dave Hubinger Sr.
Founded: 1968
Market: Northwest Indiana
Services: Landscaping, retaining walls, design/build and a garden center
Employees: 25
Website: www.hubingers.com

From a business perspective, the technology allows access to all information quickly and provides a tool to quickly develop projects. From the customer perspective, it allows a complete picture of what the landscaping project will look like upon completion. “Technology gives us the ability to design plans for construction people to read and for clients to understand. That’s particularly important in residential bids. People can see what the finished job will look like, what their investments will bring,” Kocon said.

Growing the business

“Dave and Donna both had a very keen sense of what community needs would be in landscaping; they both had the same vision for the company,” said Kocon. That vision included not only increasing landscaping work in the three arenas of commercial, public and residential projects, but also moving into retail operations. Hubinger Landscaping Corp. Garden Center opened in 1999, further broadening the focus of the business. The garden center features a materials yard and display garden where customers can view plants in landscaping settings.

Hubinger Landscape Corp. combined turfgrass and various plantings to provide a peaceful setting at Centennial Park.

“The garden center complements the landscaping side of the business,” Kocon said. While the retail center is focused on providing customer needs, it serves as a source for the landscaping end in many situations. “For example, we guarantee our plants for a year or more. If a plant is lost for some reason, we can usually easily replace it with an exact match in size and appearance from the garden center,” Kocon said.

“We’re seeing more water management projects; we’re seeing an increased use of rain gardens and bioswales into plans,” he added. While landscape architects primarily design the projects including timelines and features, Hubinger Landscaping Corp., does design work as well.

“We have excellent crews,” Kocon said. About 25 to 27 people are employed full time, and employees are represented by organized labor union United Steelworkers. The seasonal work force peak is about 38. “We have pretty much the same people who return to us seasonally,” Kocon said.

Hubinger Landscape Corp. was formerly a John Deere distributor and now leases facility space to the John Deere distributor A & M Lawn & Garden, one of its equipment suppliers.

Projects and challenges

Parry Court in downtown Crown Point is a renovated abandoned alley for which Hubinger Landscape Corp. received a Crown Point Chamber of Commerce award for design excellence. Kocon said, “Crown Point is an older city that has a downtown square with the Lake County Courthouse, but there was really no place for people to sit. The city wanted the area to be somewhat secure with no vehicle traffic. We worked in a very confined area and worked with businesses that needed to keep access to their businesses during construction completing all the hardscape and landscaping at the site.”

Two parks in Munster, Ind., presented differing sets of challenges. Hubinger Landscaping Corp. completed paved paths and all the landscaping. “Veteran’s Park was designed to represent the different geographic areas from 20th century wars,” Kocon said. “The various sculptures and plantings represent the countries where the wars were fought. For example, the Vietnam area which has a helicopter angled into the ground simulating a crashed helicopter, and we located plants that are representative of that country, but are compatible to our climate.” Commemorative brick pavers with names of veterans were installed and plantings feature patriotic colors.

Centennial Park is unique in that it is built on top of a landfill. “With the layers in the landfill construction, care had to be taken that nothing is perforated when planting trees. Part of the design was putting water plants into a pond that was a challenge to our landscaping.”

A brickyard had formerly operated at the site, and broken bricks that weren’t used had been tossed into the pond. While not a toxic problem, the bricks represented a landscaping problem. “We often hit pieces of the bricks that remained in the pond, sometimes taking twice as long to install the water plants as estimated,” Kocon said.

Emerging challenges to landscapers

Hubinger Landscaping Corp. works throughout northwestern Indiana which lies within the greater metro Chicago area. Kocon noted that the landscaping market is greatly increasing in competitiveness.

“We’re large enough that we bid jobs both as primary bidders and as subcontractors,” Kocon said. “Particularly in the last couple of years, we are noticing that were we might have bid to eight or 10 local contractors, we’re now bidding to maybe 20 to 30 contractors. They’re no longer local, but from a much bigger geographic area.”

While bids are more competitive with the increased number of contractors, completing the work becomes more complex. “On large projects, if we see the contractor won’t be ready as scheduled, we talk to the project manager and figure out a new timetable. It becomes harder to communicate at a distance with a contractor who may be based out of state.”

Kocon cited additional challenges with the expanded geographic area of contractors. “Sometimes we don’t know the contractor, and our getting paid is sometimes a concern.”

Additionally, he cited increasing costs of landscaping materials as a concern for the industry. “Increasing costs are a concern on big jobs especially. They may take two to three years before we get to the landscaping part, and prices may be different by then.” Kocon noted that the economic slowdown with tighter budgets has resulted in landscaping often being bid differently. “It’s often bid almost as an alternate,” he said. “We’re more frequently asked to modify our bids by deleting something.”

On the plus side for the landscaping industry, Kocon noted manufacturers have greatly improved equipment and products over the years. Safety improvements have been an asset, and plants and seed are much more disease resistant and require fewer inputs. Hubinger Landscaping Corp. maintains a number of professional turf and landscape organizational affiliation that Kocon credits with providing continuing education. “Education and knowledge have greatly improved,” he said.

Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer from Mt. Zion, Ill., and has been covering the green industry for Turf for more than 20 years. You can contact her at NFRIGGS@aol.com.