The Yardstick: Q&A With Frank Mariani, Mariani Premier Group

Mariani Premier Group Chairman and Founder Frank Mariani discusses how this multigenerational landscape company is building success upon success.

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By Christine Menapace
From the February 2024 Issue

The Yardstick

A Timeline Of Accomplishments

The Yardstick, Mariani Premier Group

Frank Mariani
Chairman and Founder
Mariani Premier Group
Lake Bluff, IL

1. When, why, and how did you start your business?

Mariani Landscape was originally founded in 1958 by my father, Vito Mariani — an immigrant from Italy. He purchased a second-hand truck and commenced delivering impeccable landscaping services to Chicago’s North Shore. In the spring of 1973, at the age of 19, I assumed control of the company when my father was diagnosed with leukemia, realizing he had a limited time left. At that point, we generated $90,000 in revenue with a team of nine associates, primarily engaged in residential maintenance projects. Operating from our home, as my father had done, we managed three crews of three people each, situated in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

The Yardstick, Mariani Premier Group
Frank as a child with his father, Vito.

 

For a multigenerational company steeped in family pride and dedicated to perfection, it’s no surprise that many clients have remained with us for generations. From a young age, I actively participated in the business and when I eventually assumed leadership, I worked hard with my team to transform Mariani Landscape into a premier company in greater Chicago, widely recognized nationwide.

The Yardstick, Mariani Premier Group
Vito Mariani, an immigrant from Italy, founded Mariani Landscape in 1958 after buying a second-hand truck. The company delivered impeccable service to Chicago’s North Shore.

 

As we’ve expanded, our fundamental values persist: family takes precedence, and our mission is to care for yours. This is achieved by putting our purpose into action daily, on every project. We believe in connecting people with nature in a way that inspires and transports them, contributing to improving the world one garden at a time.

2. Please describe your business now.

In December 2020, we opted to partner with private equity and at the time, we were the largest residential design-build maintenance firm, approaching $60 million in annual revenue. This decision was made to secure the company’s future, ensuring its ability to operate effectively in my absence. Consequently, my role shifted from Mariani Landscape’s CEO to Chairman of the Mariani Premier Group, created to propel our company to be the premier, largest, residentially focused company globally.

After three years, the Mariani Premier Group has experienced meteoric growth and we now have a run rate that exceeds half a billion dollars a year in total revenue with a combined workforce of over 3,000.

3. What is your educational background or skill set? Is there a degree/continuing education class/skill you would recommend for success?

Given the revelation of my father’s illness right after my high school graduation, I did not have the opportunity to pursue a formal degree. However, I took advantage of local junior colleges, enrolling in various business, horticulture, design, and other classes that fit my schedule. While I highly endorse formal education, lacking one expedited my hiring of individuals with specific degrees in landscape architecture, finance, horticulture, agronomy— building a team with diverse expertise. I always encourage others to pursue formal education.

I became a member of the ILCA (Illinois Landscape Association) and ALCA (now the National Association of Landscape Professionals), gaining valuable insights into the Green Industry, attending seminars, and networking with industry leaders. Collaborating with peers through peer groups has been instrumental in sharing best practices and fostering business growth.

4. What do you see as the main reasons why your business grew successfully?

Our success stems from our willingness to take risks and make mistakes. Fear of making mistakes often paralyzes leaders, leading to stagnation. While advocating for learning from others, I believe in adapting successful ideas and sharing our innovations. The Mariani Premier Group now boasts the strongest peer group within our industry, and we encourage companies to engage in peer groups for mutual growth.

The Yardstick, Mariani Premier Group
Members of the Mariani Premier Group come from respected family-run landscape design-build firms.

5. How did you set yourself apart from competition?

From 1973, our goal was to be the best landscape company globally. We continually strive for improvement, seeking partners who are market leaders and are committed to continuous growth. The Mariani Premier Group evaluates potential partners based on their market position and their dedication to constant improvement.

6. What was your best business decision?

My best decision was recognizing that not everyone shares the same career aspirations. Understanding that some individuals find fulfillment in specific roles within an organization was crucial. Differentiating Mariani was our commitment to hiring individuals not just for a job but to help them build a career, providing a clear career path for every position with the understanding that people can find fulfillment in a wide array of different roles. This approach resulted in retaining many long-term associates who contribute
significantly to the company.

The Yardstick, Mariani Premier Group

7. What was your worst business decision?

Earlier in my career, basing raises solely on tenure rather than considering new skills hindered our associates’ growth. Articulating the importance of skill development and defining the criteria for pay increases proved crucial. Failing to communicate and discuss career paths with employees led to missed opportunities and eventual loss of talent.

8. What was your funniest business experience?

Around 25 to 30 years ago, I proposed the idea of starting peer groups at an ALCA (now NALP) convention. Despite initial enthusiasm, when the groups materialized, I was excluded initially due to the newly formed group’s desire to focus on commercial aspects of the business (and we were primarily a residential company at the time). The situation was amusing, and I eventually joined the peer group the following year when they expanded to residential.

9. What’s your favorite piece of equipment or landscape tool?

I appreciate tools and equipment that reduce pollution. Automowers, specifically electric ones with no carbon footprint, are a favorite. They operate silently, enhancing the environment and providing continuous lawn care. In fact we now have nearly 300 in operation at Mariani Landscape and several other companies within our group introducing the service.

10. What is your advice to others? What do you wish you had known?

My advice is to join industry associations like the NALP, actively participate, ask questions, and seek knowledge. There is a wealth of information and opportunities for learning. I wish I had known the importance of early engagement in conversations about career paths with employees, avoiding assumptions and ensuring everyone’s aspirations are understood. spread the wisdom I’ve received. The deepest form of understanding is teaching. I love this community and educating others is my next step as I continue to learn more alongside them.

11. What is your plan for the future of your business?

Even after 50 years since my father’s passing, I remain committed to learning from my partners, associates, and contributing to the ongoing growth and development of the Green Industry. Continuous learning is a gift, and my goal is to continue building the best landscape company globally, as long as I am able and breathing.

For more information, visit marianipremiergroup.com.

Would you like your business to be considered for a Yardstick profile or know one who should? Email the Editor at cmenapace@groupc.com.

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