Father turning over the keys to daughter in prominent San Diego-based landscape firm

The primary focus of the company’s landscape business is maintenance. Clients include commercial sites, HOAs and a large component of regional military housing.

In many ways Randy Newhard’s journey from laborer to successful landscape entrepreneur isn’t remarkably different from many others – except for how he arrived and is now easing toward retirement.

The founder and CEO of New Way Landscape & Tree Services traveled west by motorcycle from Pennsylvania to San Diego and soon found himself working for a firm that today is one of his major competitors.

Now, with more than three decades at the helm of his own company, Newhard is handing more of the day-to-day operations over to his daughter, Kathryn DeJong, who serves as president and who is confident that technology will help take New Way to new levels of customer service.

Newhard admits he wasn’t experienced when he took his first landscape job in 1976. At that point, he was mainly interested in working outside, making things grow and keeping them green. Along the way, he also started doing side jobs for residential customers, a practice he continued as he moved on to other positions with the unified port district and later the city. It was a disagreement over his duties with the city that prompted him to launch New Way in 1980.

After building up his residential client list to some 250 accounts, New Way expanded into doing commercial, municipal and larger HOA contracts.

“Our business is about a third commercial, a third HOAs and a third military housing that we do off-base for a private property management company,” says Newhard.

It’s about relationships

Volunteering your time shows people that you care and they see you do what you’re going to do, according to Randy Newhard.

New Way got its military housing contract – some 2,200 housing units – in much the same way it gets its other business. Newhard says much of his marketing is done through involvement in professional associations.

“We belong to seven or eight different associations,” he says. “You join them, you volunteer your time on them, and people see that you care and see you do what you say that you’re going to do, such as participate in the events and join committees. That’s how you grow relationships.”

New Way’s primary focus is on landscape management and maintenance, as well as tree services. Newhard estimates 70 percent of the company’s work is in maintenance; the remaining 30 percent includes enhancements such as irrigation upgrades, repairs and retrofitting, upgrades to plant materials, brush management and other minor work for existing clients.

While New Way’s primary emphasis is on landscape maintenance, tree services have always been a part of the equation, too. However, 12 years ago the business split into two entities, with New Way Tree Services becoming a separate company. New Way Tree Services, Inc. services the same client base, but also does residential tree trimming, removals and consultations. Today, the two operations combined employ more than 200 people, peaking at about 225.

While the company’s main office is located in San Diego, New Way serves San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties, and is preparing to open a newly purchased facility in Murrieta, Calif.

New Way Landscape & Tree Services

Principals: Founder and CEO Randy Newhard, President Kathryn DeJong
Founded: 1980
Headquarters: San Diego, Calif.
Markets: San Diego and San Diego County with locations in Orange and Riverside CountiesServices: Landscape management, design and enhancements, water management, sustainable landscape and seasonal color arbor care
Employees: 225 peak season
Website: www.newwaypro.com

“We have about 11 satellite offices and satellite yards where we work out of the client’s yard or just have a satellite office in space we rent,” says Newhard.

With so many people working away from the main office, Newhard acknowledges that it requires hiring good people, but he says the company empowers them and that makes it easier for him to find and keep top managers. “We have eight account managers and above them is a regional branch manager,” he explains. “The account managers have their own book of business, and their own separate financials. They’re accountable for everything they’re running; it’s like they’re running their own little business.”

Also important: the company job-costs every project. However, that’s a level of detail New Way clients are coming to expect, thanks in part to technology and the vision of DeJong, who took a summer job answering phones 16 years ago simply to gain some work experience and has never left.

“I’d say I spent the first couple years just getting to know administration and the clerical side of things,” she says. “The longer I stayed here, the more I got to love it. I really began to admire what my father had built and how passionate he was for the company and how much he loved his customers. This was a man who went into business because he loved grass, flowers and dirt.”

Randy Newhard markets his company by becoming involved in professional associations and volunteering his time to grow relationships.

Learning the trade

Since her earliest days on the phone, DeJong has filled numerous roles, including reception, accounting, customer services and marketing. For several years she worked developing databases that have helped capture important internal company information and client information. Today, everything from inventory to billing to customer service is at the fingertips of New Way’s managers.

Customer service is where DeJong puts her greatest emphasis.

Twelve years ago New Way Tree Services became a separate entity offering residential tree trimming, removals and consultations.

“I had to look at this from a customer’s point of view and what would be useful, helpful and informative,” DeJong says. “It gives me, as the president, a way to look at a property without being there since this is a large company with hundreds of accounts. I need to be able to see trends in our performance and to help determine if we need to adjust, expand or train our crews to better service the property.

“We are also able to budget within our SRS database, providing the customer numbers on what they’ve spent from irrigation to enhancements to trees,” she adds. “Not that the human touch is missing from my evaluations – this is just one example of how we use technology to gain an upper hand.”

New Way does its initial training through the New Way University. This acclimates new hires to the company’s customer-focused service culture.

The goal is always to identify and offer solutions and report findings to the property manager.

That may seem like going the extra mile, but DeJong believes providing a better level of customer service is what makes New Way stand out.

It’s the people

DeJong agrees that good employees are the key, and while it’s always going to be a challenge to find the right people, its New Way University does its best to get them their initial training, as well as acclimated to the New Way culture.

“We want our employees to grow within New Way,” she says. “Hiring outside has its advantages, but it’s always more rewarding to promote within.” It’s also a formula that’s now providing the blueprint as Newhard gradually removes himself from the business and DeJong takes over.

Newhard says these days the people part of the business still holds him, and he’s in the office three or four days a week maintaining relationships that sometimes date back three decades.

“We’re a family-oriented business,” he says. “Taking care of our clients, taking care of our employees, and letting them know we care is probably my greatest success.”

“Now, we need to figure out the best strategies going forward,” DeJong says. “Working hand-in-hand with my father still proves to be a great partnership.”

And on those days when Newhard isn’t working at the office? Often he’s spending time with DeJong’s twin toddlers.

“That’s one of my biggest joys in life right now; I consider them to be the dessert on that thing called life,” he beams.

K. Schipper is a writer and editor specializing in B2B publishing. She is a partner in Word Mechanics, based in Palm Springs, Calif. Contact her at kschipper@wordmechanics.com.