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A team effort

Features - Maintenance

Arteka Cos. work as a unified maintenance/construction front, and this come-together style has won the firm notable accounts over the years.

Kristen Hampshire | July 15, 2013

The mounds on the plaza in front of the Federal courthouse in Minneapolis are representative of glacial deposits that can be found in northern Minnesota.

When maintenance and installation crews work as a united team rather than two armies on separate missions, the result is an ability to attract and win large accounts, fine-tune operational efficiencies and grow a stronger overall business.

That’s why Arteka Cos. does a bit of mixing and matching with its maintenance and installation personnel. “We shift people back and forth so they have their hands in both sides of the business,” says Stewart Hanson, president of the Shakopee, Minn.-based firm, which services major accounts like Best Buy and Target corporate headquarters. “Our maintenance and construction companies share the same (equipment) yard. We share the same offices. And the guys all get together on a monthly basis to talk about issues.”

A small but important example: how mulch is applied around trees. It may seem trivial, but if installation crews build mulch up too high around tree trunks, over time the health of the tree suffers. The mulch creates problems, rather than helping maintenance crews by creating a buffer around trees to avoid mowing challenges and helping trees retain moisture. When the two departments can come together and understand “the why” behind installation techniques and maintenance practices, a common understanding is realized – customers, the business and both divisions benefit.

“Construction and maintenance guys have different ways of looking at things,” says Hanson, who joined the firm in 1973 and worked his way up from the field to president of Arteka Cos. in 1994. “Our maintenance people help with installations, and our installation crews gain efficiencies by learning from our maintenance staff. It’s healthy for the company for us to work as a team.”

For the kids

Arteka Cos. doesn’t let discarded playground equipment go to waste.

When a jungle gym, or any play equipment, is removed from a property to make room for enhancements, Arteka Cos. have just the purpose for the retired gear.

Through its charitable arm, KidsParks, the organization facilitates the renovation of parks in needy neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities.

“We try to reclaim any playground equipment and furniture, and we bring it back to our offices to clean it up,” says Stewart Hanson, president of the Shakopee, Minn.-based firm. “We put it on our website and donate it to a worthy park or organization.”

Arteka also volunteers labor and works with vendors to secure materials to revitalize rundown playgrounds in the city. Hanson says initiating KidsParks projects has been difficult the past several years, “as we have all been in survival mode” – and so have parks, with more becoming rundown or neglected during lean times.

Hanson says he looks forward to implementing a more sustainable program, and expanding it.

“The program is a good way to give something back. We have materials in stock that are looking for a good home.

“If someone has a worthy project, we can tap into vendors, employees and other volunteers who will help out.”

A cohesive operation.

Arteka started in 1970 as a high-end design/build firm created by Jerry Bailey, a landscape architect. A separate company called Natural Green, founded by David Luse in 1976, focused on commercial negotiated and bid work. In 1990, the two companies merged under the ownership of Luse and became Arteka Cos.

The merging of Arteka and Natural Green marked the firm’s first bold move toward joining maintenance and installation, Hanson says. Rather than keep the departments separate, Hanson wanted a cohesive business model where best practices were shared among all employees.

Supervisors of the maintenance and installation departments have switched roles. And, the two teams have always shared the same office. “It has made us a better, stronger company to have the maintenance and construction departments under one roof,” says Kent Harris, vice president.

Harris says clients and prospects tune into this work-together model. “When we have an installation job that gets transitioned to the maintenance department, the project manager from installation walks the property with the sales manager for maintenance,” he says, relating how each sheds light on how to improve client service.

Maintenance might point out an aspect of the property that could be improved by installation crews to make the property easier to manage – such as the way a bed is designed. And installation personnel can explain why a feature was designed and built so maintenance crews gain a better understanding of the construction process.

This cross-company communication builds respect. “Most of our supervisors have come from the field,” Hanson says. The construction supervisor oversaw maintenance operations at one time; and the current maintenance supervisor moved up from a construction foreman position. “So they have seen both sides of the business,” Hanson says. “And, they work together all the time.”

Bidding big.
Arteka’s playlist of maintenance clients includes heavy hitters like Best Buy, Target, Wells Fargo and G.E. Fleet Services. The firm held the Mall of America snow account before the retail giant reeled those services in-house. These corporate headquarters accounts trust Arteka because of the firm’s history and track record in the region. “Once we get locked in with a property management company, they approach us about managing more of their portfolio,” Harris says, explaining how these big accounts were landed.

Keeping them involves constant communication. During the snow season, Arteka emails weather updates and gives clients estimates of when crews will arrive and how long clearing their properties will take.

Email is a crucial tool for communicating with clients, especially these larger accounts. “Our foremen drive around with computers in their trucks,” Harris says. “Our property management clients like email communication because they can forward message on to homeowners.”

Visibility on prestigious commercial properties also wins Arteka more work. “When we go to Best Buy with our trucks, people notice that,” Harris says.

Also, when executives at these corporate campuses move from one job to the next, they sometimes take vendors like Arteka with them.

This apartment complex included a green roof and a green screen mounted on an exterior wall.

Meanwhile, as the Twin Cities continue urban development and the creation of green spaces downtown, Arteka is bolstering its team with specialists and a dedicated division to capture cutting-edge work, such as interior and exterior green walls, rooftop gardens, rain gardens, the eco-friendly maintenance of these projects. Arteka has an urban landscape maintenance specialist – someone the firm trained and transitioned into that position.

“The rejuvenation of Minneapolis and the greening of our downtown area has been a big push,” Harris says. “We are River City – and we are a design-oriented community where we’re seeing more neat projects go up that aren’t your typical jobs where you plant shrubs, lay sod and go.”

Taking on new challenges keeps Arteka fresh, Hanson says. “We are not afraid to try new things,” he says. “One of our keys to success is that we have always pursued opportunities and we like a challenge.” L&L

Photos courtesy of Arteka Cos.