This family-run Maine landscape company’s next goal is to build up its commercial book of business

Michael Simpson knows he has to more aggressively market his company, Simpson’s Landscaping. He realizes that as competition increases and the size of the pool of prospects remains essentially the same in his mostly rural Maine service market that getting your message heard and recognized becomes increasingly critical.

Simpson’s Landscaping will bag on request, but mostly mulches with Gator blades.

To date, he’s relied on word-of-mouth referrals, and they’ve served his company well, he says, probably better than the newspaper advertising he’s done. His next marketing initiative will be to promote his company’s efforts on some of its larger projects – and one in particular if he can land the contract, a new casino property being developed in his market, which includes western Maine and parts of eastern New Hampshire.

Simpson’s Landscaping

Headquarters: Waterford, Maine
Founder and Owner: Michael Simpson
Services: Sod, Irrigation, Sprinkler Repair, TreePruning and Trimming, Tree Removal, LawnCutting, Fertilization, Weed Control, Skid SteerServices, Ornamental Ponds, Waterfalls andOther Water Features, Snow/Ice Management
Years in Business: 5 years

The goal of this increased marketing is to acquire more long-term customers. He wants clients that desire his company’s services from month to month and, hopefully, year to year. To that end, he’s in the process of re-evaluating customer demands and repositioning his family business, which includes the talents and efforts of his wife, Lisa, and their two sons, Jared and Justin.

Simpson is no starry-eyed dreamer. He realizes that growing a landscape business is a tall order in this anemic economic recovery with its persistently stubborn and worrisome high unemployment.

“It seems like people are struggling no matter what they’re doing, whether they’re a CEO in a major company or working at Wal-Mart. It seems like people have to work two or three jobs just to try to stay ahead. Landscaping is probably not that high up on their list,” says Simpson.

That’s one reason why Simpson’s Landscaping, which has primarily served the residential sector, is building its book of commercial work.

“Commercial seems to be more stable in this economy,” he says. “It seems a lot of people are mowing their own lawns now, so I’m trying to get into something more commercial.” Beyond that, he’s looking to the construction of a new gambling palace to give his market an economic boost.

“They’re building a big casino here, so I’ve been in contact with one of the managers for the casino, putting a bid together for doing the initial landscaping for that,” he says.

The project, expected to bring millions of dollars to the region, will create jobs and, he believes, will have a trickle effect with other associated building projects. This should generate more opportunities for work, Simpson says.

Most of the lawns the company mows are 2 to 5 acres with variable terrain.

Experience matters

Simpson has more than 20 years of commercial and residential landscaping experience in the Lewiston/Auburn region of Maine. He started his business as a maintenance company and eventually added construction services, buying a skid steer and several attachments to tackle a variety of jobs. His company is now accomplished in building retaining walls, walkways, patios, stone driveways, raised beds, new lawn installations, ornamental shrubbery and bed design and skid steer services.

Maintenance services include sod and sprinklers, sprinkler repair, tree pruning and trimming, tree removal, lawn cutting, fertilization, weed control, skid steer services, and snow and ice removal. The company specializes in the installation of ornamental ponds, waterfalls and other water features.

“Not too many companies here that offer that,” he says. “It seems a lot of companies are based on tree work because it’s year-round employment for them and the landscaping comes second. I’m bringing in something new to the area.”

Simpson says the experience and knowledge his company gained doing this diverse range of landscape services over the years gives it a competitive advantage as it moves into the commercial market, provided, of course, he can get the word out to potential customers. What he wants to do is transition his firm’s design and construction projects into maintenance contracts.

Simpson uses specialized photo enhanced design for his company’s design work. He takes photos of the property, and then downloads pictures of various plant materials and hardscape designs. This provides prospects and customers an accurate picture of what the finished product will look like.

Simpson favors an organic approach for his company’s plant health care services. “I think it’s definitely better for the environment,” he says. “Whether it’s a patio, walkway or retaining area, I always tie what natural beauty there is into the design when I create a landscape.” True to that commitment to the environment, Simpson rigorously complies with all regulations that call for maintaining buffers when working around water bodies.

The “natural” approach

“You have to get the permit from the conservation committees; I work side by side with the conservationists,” he says. “As long as you go by their rules and don’t try to do anything sneaky, it’s not a problem. You’re better off just to be open with them.”

Simpson believes the trend toward more environmentally responsible landscape design and care is accelerating, and he won’t be surprised when some of the regulatory issues affecting other parts of the U.S. turn up in his market.

He also firmly believes in providing clients with landscapes that are cost-effective and relatively easy to maintain.

“Even when it’s just mowing, when people install a bed on their own, a lot of times they don’t think of maintenance down the road, such as mowing around an obstacle,” he says. Rather than setting up square areas, Simpson creates landscaped areas that are rounded off, making it easier to mow around the edges with large commercial mowers.

Because his company is small, with his wife and two sons actively involved, it’s especially important that everybody accepts and functions well within their specific roles. “We get along fine, there’s not really any conflict,” he says. “If there is a problem, we try to talk it through. I don’t look at it as me being the boss. I look at it as other people bringing in creativity to the company, and I’m open-minded as far as listening to any input.”

While Simpson says it’s difficult in this economy to put together a five-year plan, in pursuing more commercial work, he’s hoping to have more long-term contracts down the road.

“In business planning, you used to try to put a plan together for five years, but right now, it’s more a one-year plan and responding to what the economy is doing,” he says.

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.