Building a full-service firm

March 17, 2011
Kristen Hampshire
Industry News

Nick Orsillo founded Wyoming Landscape Contractors in 2001.


Nick Orsillo never looks back. He’s focused on what’s next, and for the last eight years, the owner of Wyoming Landscape Contractors in Jackson, Wyo., has steadily expanded his business from a three-man, $380,000 outfit to a 75-person company working toward the $20 million milestone.

Of course, this is not going to happen tomorrow (the full-service design/build firm hit $5 million last year). But Orsillo can see the bigger picture. “Every day we have grown,” Orsillo says. “And every day we have become a better company. We never go backwards.”

That’s why in the last year, Orsillo has hunkered down with his advisers – key managers, a CPA, attorney, banker and industry consultant. “When you hit the $5-million mark in the landscape industry, you need to make a decision whether you are going to go to the next level or step back and fine-tune your operation,” Orsillo says.

Everything changes for a business this size, he says. “All of a sudden, your QuickBooks isn’t good enough. Your managers need managers above them. You need HR people – you switch banks. I’ve talked to my lawyer more in the past year than I have in my entire life.”

Basically, the web that is Orsillo’s business structure has grown more complex, and he is spinning new layers of personnel and building systems – and all the while, instilling his customer-centric philosophy and honest work ethic into every crewmember, and every manager, at every level of the company. “When you get praise from the competition, you know you are doing something right,” he says.

Meanwhile, as business ramps up, Orsillo has shifted away from his original business model to do it all and hire subcontractors. Now the company’s in-house service offerings include just about everything but holiday lighting and hot tub service. “Anything outside of your home, we cover,” Orsillo sums up.

Orsillo is not spreading his talent thin with this approach because he focuses on hiring experts to run these service sectors of his business. Also, the company is committed to providing quality customer service. “We make sure our quality is high so we can get quality contracts,” he says.

Here, Orsillo shares four principles for growing strong in any market.
Quality is job one. Orsillo was the new guy in town when his family moved from New Jersey where he grew up to Jackson, Wyo., where his wife’s family lives. Starting a business on a single referral, he could only afford to deliver top-notch results. Otherwise, who else would hire him? Word spread and Orsillo’s reputation for quality landed him more work. While the company is exponentially larger today, the same basic rule of giving quality service and getting referral business applies.

“Our contacts are built off of quality – when you do a super job, you land quality projects,” Orsillo says. “Also, customers sense the passion we have for our work. I love landscaping. And they see that. If you love what you do, the contacts will come.”

Now that Orsillo has stepped out of daily field operations, the responsibility of ensuring quality has trickled down to managers. By hiring people who share his high standards, he can rest assure that job No. 1 is to deliver quality.

Focus on people. As Orsillo grew his company, putting the right people in place to drive the operation forward helped his success. In 2004 when he stepped out of everyday operations, he relied on key crew leaders to manage in the field. Orsillo’s role is more visionary now, and he guides open communication that integrates the teams.    

“We have daily meetings with team members, and our guys are constantly communicating via e-mail and face to face,” Orsillo says. At the beginning of each week, the teams gather to discuss what projects are on the schedule.

“You have to give team members freedom and accountability – there have to be rules, you have to outline their duties,” he says, adding that his job is quality control.

Building teams has been an integral part of Wyoming Landscape Contractors’ structure. In the beginning, Orsillo subbed out services he could not offer in-house, such as irrigation or lighting. As more customers demanded these services – and Orsillo grew frustrated with subcontractors’ mediocre performance – he gradually reeled in services by hiring professionals to head up new departments.

“You can’t offer a service unless you have the right person in place (to manage the service),” Orsillo says. Orsillo’s system is to hire “service managers,” train them on company core values and, once they are comfortable, turn them loose to sell the service to clients. “You want that professional in place from the first job you accept so you can do a perfect job,” he says.

Cut toxic clients. While the golden rule of service is that the customer is always right, Orsillo begs to differ. Sometimes, the customer is wrong – as in, a wrong match for Wyoming Landscape Contractors. You’ve got to know when to walk away. “Very seldom do we feel the customer is wrong – 99 percent of the time, the customer is right; but when a situation comes up where we are unable to please that customer despite our best efforts, it may be best not to work with them,” Orsillo says.

When customer issues arise, they are always discussed at staff meetings. If there is a case where Orsillo feels one of his team members is getting beat up by a client – and this is very rare – he works on coming up with a plan to please the client. But that’s not always possible. “When morale is low, that affects the quality of the service,” Orsillo says, relating how a toxic client can bleed a team of its ability to excel on the job.

Sometimes, owners have to make tough decisions about serving clients, and Orsillo always trusts his employees to do their best. So when a customer is acting “not right,” he has found the best solution is sometimes to bow out while you’re ahead. (Some people are never happy.) Of course, the key to avoiding situations like this is to manage client expectations. Help them understand what the service includes, how it will be performed, and who they can talk to if they have questions or concerns.

“We always try to work through any issues before we stick a shovel in the ground.”

Grow up, step back. Orsillo recounts managerial milestones: one of the most significant was when he finally hired a full-time office administrator in 2005. “Once I did, it was incredible – I thought, ‘I should have done this long before,’” he says. Since then, he has brought on an operations manager and human resources manager. “It’s hard for me to not jump in and grab a shovel,” Orsillo admits. “But I had to pull myself out of the daily execution of jobs.”

By doing so, Orsillo has gained more time to focus on building systems that will facilitate growth to the next level. “The best advice is to hire people smarter than you,” he says of his advisers and service managers. “As much as I feel like I know, there are always others to learn from who can bring their perspective to the table. And we grow stronger as a business for it.”

This story is one of three that appeared in Lawn & Landscape’s Business Builder e-newsletter. To continue reading about Nick Orsillo and Wyoming Landscape Contractors:

At your service: How do you decide what services to add and when? Listen to customers.
Breaking in as the ‘new guy’: Relocating to a different market halfway across the country challenged this landscape entrepreneur to work for referrals.