Cut out the middle man

Features - 2010 Breakthrough

An in-house nursery and precise property measurement increased efficiencies for Villa Park Landscape.

August 13, 2010
Tom Crain

Javier Reyes Sr. (left) and Javier Reyes Jr. started a nursery to increase efficiency.
Photo: Villa Park Landscape
In 2005, Villa Park Landscape, Anaheim, Calif., started a nursery to increase efficiencies and satisfy customer demand. The ten-acre site, located in Riverside, was established to grow mostly common ornamentals that Villa Park knew customers would purchase outright.

The nursery now carries 120 varieties of ornamentals including the top six hardy sellers: Raphiolepis Springtime, Variegated Pittosporum, Ligustrum Texanum, Acacia Desert Carpet, Pyracanthus and Agapanthus. Average orders ring up at about $450 with purchases ranging anywhere from $200-$2,000.

“It was something my dad (Javier Reyes Sr., founder and president) and I always talked about doing,” says Javier Reyes Jr., the company’s district manager. Previously, Villa Park purchased all of its plant material from a wholesale nursery. Now, it has cut out the middle man, securing the profit that its wholesaler used to make.

“After searching for a long time, we finally came across a site in the central valley that was ideal for it,” he says. The property offered ample acreage (enough to incorporate parking for a fleet of trucks and growing space), was priced right and far removed from any residential areas.

Villa Park rarely has problems with stagnant inventory, selling most of what it grows. It will only stock the most common varieties of shrubs and groundcover for easy turnover to existing customers. Excess inventory is rare, but for the last two years, Villa Park hasn’t added any trees. “We know our market perfectly and have the benefit of being able to make recommendations to our customers,” says Reyes Jr. “We only grow what we know we will use. We have a pretty good handle on what our existing and new customers will want. It’s been great for our business because it saves us a lot of money when doing plant installs and replacements.”

With nursery stock, there are no marketing costs involved. “We don’t have to do any marketing to sell plants,” says Reyes Jr. “Our customers do not order plant material themselves. We charge them once for the cost of the plant material and installation. They usually don’t care where we get it from as long as it looks good. Also, they know our inventory is priced competitively.”

Still, there are some challenges with operating a landscape nursery. “Our biggest challenge is maintaining a consistent inventory that involves planning and planting ahead,” explains Reyes Jr. “For example, you have to know how long it will take for a five-gallon shrub to reach an acceptable height and ensure that you have nice shrubs all year-round.”

Expanding Family Business
Villa Park Landscape is a family-owned-and-operated company providing landscape services throughout Southern California for nearly 25 years. Reyes Sr. and a business partner started the company in 1986 offering lawn maintenance and tree trimming services. He soon bought his partner out, and grew the company to current revenues of nearly $17 million and 400 employees with additional services including irrigation and water management; fertilization; weed and pest control; seasonal color design; installation; landscape renovation and design; and specialized tree care.

Since the age of 18, Reyes Jr. has worked at the company at least part-time, earning his stripes. Now, armed with a degree in Plant Science from Cal Poly Pomona, Reyes Jr., at age 23, he has been elevated to District Manager, bringing in several innovative processes and procedures, especially in the area of sustainability.

“I learned a lot at Cal Poly about how to incorporate sustainable practices into an existing business, and upcoming trends in sustainable landscaping,” says Reyes Jr. “Certainly one of the major focuses in the industry right now is water conservation where Cal Poly leads here in research and education. Villa Park is dealing with this every day, mainly because more and more of our cities in Southern California are adopting water conservation programs and imposing stiffer penalties for irrigation offenses.”

In addition to its main office in Anaheim, Valley Park operates a center in Irvine and Palm Desert, the nursery in Riverside, and maintains seven service yards throughout Southern California.

Villa Park’s customer base consists of more than 250 clients, including HOAs, corporate businesses, industrial buildings, retail centers and community parks. HOAs account for 75 to 80 percent of its business. “The HOA market is a great segment for us with economies of scale and a good match for our services,” says Reyes Jr. In order to really grow, the company is expanding to Palm Springs and San Diego. 

Other Efficiencies
Supplying its own nursery stock is just one change Villa Park has made in the last few years to increase efficiencies. The company has started recycling its green waste and measuring precisely the landscapes it services to save on chemical costs.

Since Reyes Jr. introduced green waste recycling to Villa Park, it has generated significant cost savings. It is currently recycling 70 percent of its green waste and converting it into mulch. “We had to invest in a specialized machine to grind the waste and we dedicate one worker to managing the mulching and picking up recycled green waste from worksites,” says Reyes Jr. The company is able to re-sell all the compost it makes directly to its customers. “It’s quite an efficient process,” he says. “We have a good reserve of material to use and don’t have any large stockpiles that we don’t know what to do with.”

A key program that Reyes Sr. introduced to the company last year was incorporating precise measurement of exact square footage for every job in order to accurately apply fertilizer and reduce waste.

“When the cost of lawn fertilizer skyrocketed a few years ago, we realized we needed to apply it more efficiently,” he says. “We decided to make some changes, and this seemed like the best way to do it. Now we have in our system the square footage and amount of corresponding fertilizer needed in our computer system.” That means no more guesswork involved in how much fertilizer to use.

During the past 18 months, Villa Park has had one full-time worker measure and analyze every customer’s landscape via an online measuring software tool using Google Earth.

“We started using Google Earth to determine exact square footage of the turf and planting areas for each job site,” says Reyes Sr. The information is then stored in the company’s files. When it’s time to fertilize, rather than give its foremen and supervisors whatever they ask for, it is now able to provide the exact number of bags needed based on pounds per 1,000 square feet as recommended by the manufacturer.

“Doing this we realized that on some areas we had previously been using double or even triple the amount of needed fertilizer,” he says.

The author is a freelance writer based in Akron, Ohio.