A distinct evolution

Brian-Kyles Landscapes of Distinction transitions into the next generation of ownership while holding on to the core principles that have helped grow the firm for 25-plus years.

July 25, 2013
Kristen Hampshire
Design/Build and Hardscape

When Douglas Maurer named his landscape and construction business after his two sons, at the time he really wasn’t sure if Brian or Kyle would take over operations one day. But 15 years later, both sons are at the helm of Brian-Kyles Landscapes of Distinction.

The firm morphed from Maurer’s original construction homebuilding company and separate landscaping outfit into a complete design, build and maintenance entity in 1988. The oldest son, Brian, came on board after earning a degree in agricultural sciences and has driven the landscape installation division for the last decade. The youngest, Kyle, entered the business officially as director of commercial maintenance this year, leaving a career in the insurance and financial industries to pursue his passion in the family-owned business.

Both remember working with their father as soon as they could handle a shovel. “Growing up, we were working outside and helping dad,” says Kyle Maurer, relating the work ethic that was instilled early on. “Those are the core values we still carry with us today and have been able to maintain as we have grown.”

The company has posted double-digit growth since 2010, “and that’s rather significant considering the sluggish economy,” Maurer points out.

A focus on commercial landscape maintenance is partly responsible for the company’s success during tough times. Also, the Maurers decided to shift from a “family business” run from a kitchen table conference room to a “family owned” business with senior management (not family) and a senior leadership team (including the Maurers) with a combined 100 years of experience.

Brian-Kyles Landscapes of Distinction is officially in its second generation, and the structure has evolved into a more sophisticated business model with the same grass roots focus on commitment, execution, creativity, excellence and quality.

Meanwhile, the firm is moving forward by implementing technology to drive efficiency, forging relationships to grow its commercial maintenance division, and continuing to seek out installation opportunities where the firm can shine. “We focus on creativity and quality – our designs are authentic,” Maurer says, pointing to the Japanese tea house as an example. “And we know we can build a project from start to finish because of our construction roots.”

In synch. What differentiates Brian-Kyles in a competitive market is that authenticity – a keen design eye, ability to execute complex projects without calling in the subs, and the work ethic to deliver results that keep the referrals rolling in.

Maurer points to the company’s core values on its website, remarking that “these things can seem cliché,” but the leadership and staff of about 15 really live out the company’s mottos. It all starts with a commitment to the community. Brian-Kyles has operated out of Lorain County, Ohio, for nearly 30 years.

“We are heavily involved with community organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis, and we do charity work with the Friendship Animal Protection League and Avon Youth Baseball,” Maurer says. “We have been raised in this area and always operated a business in Lorain County, so we feel like giving back to our community is the best way to conduct business.”

But the foundation of the firm’s success is based on its execution. And how jobs are executed is an evolving process, despite a steadfast focus on quality and excellence. When Douglas Maurer founded the original company in 1983, called Brian Builders, the firm constructed custom homes. He added a landscape company to his repertoire soon after, naming it Kyle’s Landscaping. In 1987, Brian-Kyles Construction was incorporated.

“My dad’s true passion was landscaping, and the decision to merge those firms and focus on landscape construction was driven by the economics of the 1980s and how that affected the building business,” Kyle Maurer says.

Since 1988, the firm has expanded its landscape construction offerings to lawn fertilization, lawn enhancement, irrigation, seasonal lighting, landscape lighting, commercial maintenance and more. “We have been able to carve out a niche for ourselves by not specializing,” Maurer says. “We can essentially build any project from start to finish – we don’t have to use third-party contractors. By being a jack-of-all landscape trades, the firm can be sure that its clients’ needs are met without sending them to a competitor for services.

Creativity keeps the business fresh, and quality wins the firm accolades in regional and national competitions. “We tend to screen our prospects to really qualify them so the work fits with our core values and strengths as a firm,” Maurer says. “We are not in it just acquiring a mass of jobs – we are into the jobs where we can really display our creativity and our commitment to excellence.”

For instance, the Japanese tea house project includes authentic Japanese rice mats for the floor of the house, and the architecture is authentic, based on designs Douglas Maurer sourced. “We don’t just look at something that is a pretty picture in a magazine – we really take our designs to the next level,” Maurer says.

Bringing those designs to life requires a skilled staff. Brian-Kyles has maintained a 75-percent crew leader retention rate during the last two years. “In an industry characterized by high turnover, we find (our retention) to be impressive,” Maurer says. “We recognize that we are only as good as our least experienced employee. We offer our employees medical benefits, and that stems from the family dynamic of the way we run our business.”

The company encourages its staff to pursue commercial drivers’ licenses and professional designations, such as certified landscape technician (CLT). “We invest in our employees and that pays off with happy employees, a high morale and a successful company.”

Looking inside. When Kyle officially joined the family firm in early 2013, his addition to the leadership team followed a national search for a commercial maintenance manager. Brian-Kyles set out to find a landscape professional with a production and sales background, conducting a search through Linked In. “None of the applicants were the ideal fit – none of them matched the principles of the business,” Maurer says.

His brother, Brian, finally told him: “Quite frankly, we need someone like you.” Kyle says he and his brother complement each other. “We shore up each other’s weaknesses,” he says. Kyle’s insurance, investment and financial background is balanced by Brian’s industry expertise and green industry training.

“The family wasn’t necessarily ready to just hand me the job,” Maurer says, relating how the national search helped his brother, dad and senior management identify the type of talent they needed to fulfill this promising commercial maintenance position.

Of course, Kyle had always been working behind the scenes in the business. “I always had the intention of perhaps joining the business at some point in my life, but the timing was right,” he says. “And, it was driven by the fact that when you can match your personal belief system to your career, it doesn’t feel like work anymore. To me, that was joining the family firm.”
Since that time, the company has been working through a five-year strategic plan to shift the operating model from a traditional family business to a more structured leadership team with outside managers.

“At the end of the day, all of us realize that we have roles to play in the business, and we are all in the right positions that are suited for our skills and personalities,” Maurer says, adding that leadership participated in a DISC personality test to learn more about each other.

What the family has learned about the business is that there is opportunity to grow commercial maintenance – and to expand its fertilization services. Brian-Kyles has separate commercial and residential maintenance crews that hone in their client bases’ priorities. “We realized that because these clients have different needs, we needed a culture in place that better catered to those clients,” Maurer says of separating the commercial maintenance division.

The firm will focus on capturing business from large property management companies, homeowners associations and government contracts like schools and parks.

Meanwhile, Brian-Kyles just relocated its Avon office to its Lorain operations facility. Having the entire staff under one roof will strengthen the firm and create efficiencies. “We can meet clients at our facility, hold open houses and really showcase our work,” Maurer says.