Arizona’s ILM seeks continuous improvement in the commercial sector. By Nancy Riggs

ILM received the ALCA 2013 Excellence in Landscaping Award for their maintenance of Towers property in Phoenix. PHOTOS: ILM

“We stick to what we do best,” says John Garigen, co-owner of Integrated Landscape Management (ILM), in Tempe, Arizona, just outside Phoenix. And what it does very well is commercial landscape maintenance focused on saving its clients’ money and eliminating any hassles related to service quality.

Garigen along with Robert Clinkenbeard launched the commercial landscape maintenance business in 2001. The Phoenix Valley with its population of about 4 million offers a broad service area potential, and the two partners seem to have found the right mix for success.

ILM received Arizona Landscape Contractors Association (ALCA) 2013 Excellence in Landscaping Awards for three properties, two of which are located in Phoenix’s Central Corridor and the third in Phoenix’s Biltmore Corridor. Building and retaining client relationships, delivering excellent service and growing responsibly have been the cornerstones of building their company into today’s $16 million commercial landscape firm with more than 300 employees.

Garigen, 40, a native of Buffalo, New York, earned a degree in liberal arts and studied business management before working in landscape management sales with a national service. Clinkenbeard, 46, a native of Scotland, holds degrees in horticulture and landscape management, and worked in operations for the same landscape management firm. Their combined expertise provided the sound foundation for their client-based landscape management firm. Garigen focuses on sales and new business development, and Clinkenbeard on operations.

Integrated Landscape Management

Owners: Robert Clinkenbeard and John Garigen

Founded: 2001

Headquarters: Tempe, Arizona

Markets: Tempe and Tucson, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada

Services: Landscape maintenance, irrigation management, tree management and general property health maintenance

Employees: 300-plus


Building client relationships

ILM services clients throughout the Valley with a corporate office in Tempe along with several satellite locations. Services include landscape maintenance, irrigation management, tree management and general property health maintenance. ILM has expanded its service area into Tucson, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada, with managers at both sites.

Garigen and Clinkenbeard draw on their business and operations experience and on lessons learned along the way relating to client relationships. Developing and maintaining client relationships has been a major focus for the partners, which they attribute not only to expert knowledge and services but also to gaining a good understanding of their clients’ needs, and following through on fulfilling those needs.

“We carefully vet who we service,” says Garigen. “Our clients tend to be sophisticated, and they understand that the least expensive bid is not always the best value. We work to lower overall maintenance costs for our clients.”

He says that while this model has worked well for ILM, it might be more difficult to incorporate into a residential maintenance firm. Commercial clients are focused on return on investment (ROI) in operating their businesses, while residential clients are less focused on ROI but, instead, think in terms of cash outlay.

Helping clients lower costs

Throughout the Southwest, and increasingly across the country, water continues to be a concern in any landscape maintenance business, particularly the cost of water. Therefore, careful attention to landscape management can greatly reduce the amount of water needed to maintain an excellent landscape and lower maintenance costs for clients, says Garigen. Enhancements that include replacing thirsty plants with more drought-tolerant plants and installing automatic irrigation controls are investments that pay high returns.

Although landscape enhancements were done early in the company’s development, ILM now focuses strictly on maintenance. The company proposes upgrades, particularly those that will save clients money on long-term maintenance.

“Our concern in our market is making sure we are always improving our product,” Garigen notes. Clients are sometimes reluctant to spend money for enhancements, but because they understand the long-term goal of lowering costs, that aspect is always appealing.

ILM provides clients with irrigation assessments and recommendations for improvements, and installs and programs smart controls that help conserve water. The company maintains and makes minor repairs to irrigation systems and budgets costs for major improvements and repairs. While ILM has elected not to do landscape enhancement installation, the company maintains strong networking with landscapers throughout their service areas.

ILM does have multiple arborists on staff, and together with landscape technicians they make recommendations to clients to best manage their landscapes to reduce maintenance costs and assure maximum potential benefits from their investments. Site-specific plans are provided to clients, and the firm maintains a plan rendering department for recommended enhancements. “That helps speed up the process as we show clients specifically what enhancements we recommend and how they can save on costs,” Garigen says.

Increasingly, cold temperatures have caused extensive damage to landscapes in the U.S. Southwest, and ILM assesses properties recommending corrective pruning and other steps that can be taken in response to frost and freezes. ILM is one of the strong advocates of sustainable landscape practices promoted by ALCA.

Summer monsoons are high among challenges to landscapes in the Southwest, somewhat paralleling major spring windstorms and winter ice storms in the Midwest and Northeast. ILM’s website contains a special segment to help property owners understand ways to try to reduce the risk of damage to their landscapes from these storms.

Growing responsibly

Managing increasing operating costs is essential. “We reduce travel costs by having managers on properties instead of having travel expenses,” Garigen says. Operating from satellite locations also helps cut travel costs.

Maintaining effective working relationships within the company is essential to ongoing success in delivering service to clients. While management styles vary significantly among companies, Garigen describes a less hands-on type of management. “We value competency in our upper management and assume they know what they are doing,” explains Garigen. Ongoing training for the entire team is a major focus at the company in helping to assure excellent service delivery.

Garigen notes that having the entire team participate in training workshops and seminars is essential to maintain knowledge of state-of-the-art techniques. “It helps keep us polished and keen in horticulture,” he says.

Looking ahead

“We’re always trying to improve, to better understand client needs and our business,” says Garigen.

He says that balancing long- and short-term client needs as well as sales and operations is essential. He says the challenges to the entire landscape industry include the E-verify process to assure eligibility of potential employees to work in the United States, as well as the impacts that the Affordable Health Care Act (known as Obamacare) will have on their business.

ILM maintains numerous professional and business affiliations, including Arizona Landscape Contractors Association (ALCA), Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), Irrigation Management Association and Sustainable Landscape Management.