One man’s trash

Features - Irrigation

Treasure Coast Irrigation & Landscape was about to go bankrupt until Scott Fay got his hands on it.

January 9, 2014
Lindsey Getz

Scott Fay has a knack for taking failing companies and transforming them. In 1996, that’s how his success story with Treasure Coast Irrigation & Landscape, in Hobe Sound, Fla., began. It was just a tiny service company going bankrupt when Fay began to work his magic. He transformed it into a business that did more than $13 million in revenue last year. Today, Fay has formed a business that compiles 13 other distressed companies that were all going out of business.

“I tell people that I’m not gifted enough to take a good company and make it great – but I know how to take a broken company and fix it,” says Fay, who runs the company with his partner Tom Balling.

“I have worked out a formula that allows me to take a failing company and fix it. We have an infrastructure already in place so the first thing we do is get rid of the senior level people at the company. That’s the expensive part. But I already have a fantastic leadership team in place. From there, we go to work on rolling that business into the main company. There are a number of philosophies and strategies that come into play for that.”

Separate brands

When Treasure Coast began in 1996, it started as an irrigation company. But more than five years ago, Scott Fay had the opportunity to purchase Rood Landscape, a well-known brand in Fla.

“Rood already had such a big and wholesome brand that we wanted to keep it separate,” Fay says of purchasing the company but not morphing it into the Treasure Coast brand. “Rood is an old and unbelievable brand here in Florida and Roy Rood, who passed away at age 92, has become a legend in this region. That’s not something we wanted to change.”

Adding Rood Landscape did change the brand lineup. In addition to Treasure Coast Irrigation, Fay made Rood Landscape an affiliate company that retained its landscape identity. For clients that needed both landscaping and irrigation, Fay formed a third brand – TCI Rood.

Having the separate brands has also worked well in continuing some of the subcontracted work Treasure Coast has received over the years. “Treasure Coast works for other landscape companies,” Fay says. “They know we’re connected to Rood Landscape.”

Since adding Rood to the lineup of 12 other companies Fay has bought (he calls Rood “lucky number 13), he says it has been a unique opportunity. “We can cross market and it’s very symbiotic,” Fay says. “Each company has its own leadership but we’re all in the same building and very much work together. We’ve enjoyed blending the brands while also keeping them individualized.”

In fact, Fay has a variety of core philosophies that he operates his entire business on. His belief in the importance of operating under business principles also led to a book, “Discover Your Sweet Spot.” Fay says it’s these philosophies and strategies that have set his company apart and he recently shared some of the ones that have helped him grow his business from the ground up.

Developing leadership.

A lot of people build a company based on trade, Fay says. There’s no doubt trade is important. In irrigation, contractors need to be skilled at installing systems and troubleshooting maintenance problems.

But Fay says that the real key to success is leadership. “We drilled down on trade only after the leadership was already in place,” Fay says.

“I want leadership that has the same underlying business beliefs as me but bring different perspectives to the table. That includes what we focus on as the four posts of business: Top, Bottom, Inside, and Out.”

Fay breaks them down:

  • Top. “Sales is the top line. It’s your income. Everyone has to believe in the importance of sales to be on my team.”
  • Bottom. “The bottom is profit. I have to surround myself with people that believe in profit. There are people who are put off by profit; who say they’re uncomfortable with a focus on making money. I don’t want people who are put off by profit.”
  • Inside. “My inside customer is my team. We believe that everyone is a customer and that includes the team. It’s just as important for my inside customer to have a great experience as my outside customer and I need leadership that believes in that too.”
  • Outside. “Leadership also has to believe in the importance of a great experience for the outside customer.”

The company keeps an eye on these four posts to ensure they always work in harmony. Fay feels focusing on leadership first is key in setting his company apart.

“There are a lot of really good irrigation contractors out there who are quite good at what they do,” Fay says. “But they haven’t taken the time to develop their business and they certainly haven’t developed their team.”

Extensive training.

Training is actually one of the most important ways Fay says employees are prepared for the job. The company has a 30-step in-house training program that happens in three components: a lab, a ride-along field experience, and classroom/lecture-based training.

“It’s definitely over the top – but by intent. If we have an average program, we’re going to be an average company.”

Fay says philosophy and business models are a huge part of the training. “Part of being trained means listening to me lecture on the philosophies of our business,” he said. “If I get an irrigation tech who really doesn’t want to talk about philosophy and resists the training, then that person isn’t right for us.”

Treasure Coast also offers a unique training experience with an actual lab. “We take equipment that was either broken in the field or we’ve purposely broken it for teaching purposes,” Fay said.

“It’s a great training opportunity. I use non-functioning valves or clocks – especially electrical and mechanical components that aren’t working – and demonstrate how to repair and diagnose. There’s nothing more fun than taking a new guy who thinks he knows everything and putting some broken equipment in front of him. I say ‘Don’t tell me how to fix it – show me.’”

A maintenance focus.

Like every other company, Treasure Coast was faced with determining how to continue thriving despite the recession. For Fay, maintenance was an obvious answer.

“Maintenance is a backbone,” Fay says. “It may not be sexy, high gloss or even technical – but it’s steady. It’s constant revenue and that’s what has helped us build a fantastic clientele list that becomes loyal to the other services we offer as well.”

In his training, Fay teaches about the value of maintenance by using Olympic sites as prime examples. “Olympic site designs were built in a magnificent way and were truly incredible designs,” Fay says.

“But now that nobody maintains them, they look absolutely terrible...They’ve lost that magnificence...I have a passion for maintenance and really believe in its importance.”

Photos courtesy of Treasure Coast Irrigation & Landscape