After more than 15 years in the commercial landscaping business, Donnie Garritano found his work was drying up. The recession had strangled most of the valley's new construction and the few jobs that were left turned out to be money losers.
Garritano's story could have ended with his D&K Landscaping folding. But it didn't. Instead, the company co-founder diversified his customer base and is developing an iPhone software application that lets customers choose their landscaping.
MyScape is an application that lets users get self-help advice for saving trees, shrubs and other plants and helps them decide what landscaping best suits their buildings or yards. MyScape, which could be on the market in the spring, also lets property managers and residents keep tabs on their landscaper's work, Garritano said.
The new iPhone application, which is being developed with the help of locally based Raster Media, is an offshoot of Garritano's website LandscapeCreative.com. The site included a Web-based program that offers several different functions for companies and individuals planning their landscaping.
"Its main function is that it acts as an industry hub," Garritano said. "One side is for industry professionals, and the other side is for consumers or individuals. The (LandscapeCreative) site allows people to design their own applications, find resources and check out if their contractor is licensed and bonded."
The website and the MyScape application could become particularly popular as buyers of foreclosed homes look for ways to rebuild decimated yards.
"They can find people they are looking for on the screen," Garritano said. "Consumers, homeowners, facility managers, property managers – they can all use this."
The iPhone application, which will soon be sent to Apple for licensing, lets people pull up charts and examples of whatever vegetation they are seeking. Users can get an idea of what one type of plant would look like in a given spot, or learn how to restore or trim a palm tree after years of neglect.
"We started developing the patented design software (for LandscapeCreative). That's where the consumers and contractors find each other," Garritano said.
Garritano hopes the iPhone application will eventually bring in enough revenue to cover the costs of further development. The profits for iPhone apps are typically split 80-20 between the developer and Apple.
D&K also ventured into playground development; jungle gyms and monkey bars have joined commercial landscapes in the company's portfolio. That move, which came at the invitation of a Minneapolis-based playground company, fits with his company's overall strategy, Garritano said.
"We do a playground and then the client discovers their landscaping is very old and needs to be refurbished," he said.
D&K also launched its Seasonal Gardener service, which includes quarterly residential garden manicure services. That service alone had brought in $100,000 to $200,000 in revenue as of September, Garritano said.
D&K has still suffered during the recession. Revenue has slid to $6 million this year from about $9 million the year before, but the outlook could have been much worse.
Garritano's landscaping business still, on average, employs about 85 people. That's down from a prerecession peak of 110. Garritano has learned not to underbid jobs just for the sake of having work and revenue.
"We were stuck with a few of those jobs from last year, where they cost us money," Garritano recalled. "It was like, 'Let's just get this done, take our beating and move on.'"
But with continued diversification and technological innovations, Garritano is confident D&K will weather the sour economy and come out stronger in the long term.
"The hard times give you a chance to reinvent yourself," he said. "You learn things about yourself that you didn't know."