Change of plans

Change of plans

Features - Cover Story: Top 100

Garden Design recently altered its name and converted to an ESOP, all while keeping it business as usual.

June 3, 2014
Hilary Daninhirsch
Industry News

Garden Design | No. 37

You won’t find any employees at Garden Design. The 41-person firm, headquartered in Dallas, has stricken the word “employee” from the company vernacular and replaced it with “associate.” It’s all part of a rebranding initiative launched this year in which Garden Design has given its workers ownership rights in the company.

Converting over to an employee stock ownership plan was the owners’ way of giving back to their workers and rewarding them for their efforts.

“It was a way to say, ‘You are truly a part of our team,’ and to make sure that they are being taken care of,” says Courtney Plaeger, director of business development and marketing. Employees/associates were given a valuation of the company, which was connected with their retirement plans. And the change in company ownership is not all that’s different.

The company formerly known as Metroplex Garden Design Landscaping formally deleted the words “Metroplex” and “Landscaping” from its name. New logos on letterhead, trucks and clothing also reflect the change, which kicked off 2014 for this $30 million company.

The name was changed in part to acknowledge the widespread area where the company does business.

Metroplex refers to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but the company has offices in Houston and San Antonio. The old name left those areas out.

Not only did Garden Design shed its old name, it moved into new headquarters in Farmers Branch, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. The new location is a sprawling 20,000-square-foot space in a converted warehouse situated on 18 acres, with its own nursery and a full-scale design studio.

Other tenants in the building, known as the Garden District, are independently-owned companies that partner directly with Garden Design on various projects. Garden Design created the Garden District concept and built the building and partnerships for years before finally moving in.

“We bought the land and building for the Garden District about two years ago and formulated the design and invited tenants/partners at that point,” she says.

“Most partners have done business with us for years and this was a collaborative idea that we came together (on) and brought to life.”

Along with Garden Design, the building also houses landscape architects, an irrigation company, a custom pool and water feature company, two landscape maintenance companies, a general contractor and an outdoor living company that provides outdoor grills, accessories and furniture. “It’s a one-stop shop for all of your landscaping needs,” Plaeger says.

For example, while Garden Design does not have any pool experts on staff, one of the vendors in the building does have that expertise. The partnering vendors can also make use of Garden Design’s crews for projects.

A team concept.

Garden Design Landscaping has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1993. Founders Andrew Haynes and Ken Coggins saw their company as a traditional landscape operation. As the industry grew, so did the owners’ vision for the direction of the company.

More than 20 years and 40 employees later, the business has morphed into a full-scale residential and commercial landscape firm, with a large focus on outdoor living design and construction. Haynes, who heads up the design team, is focused on the residential side of the business, while Coggins manages the commercial side.

To accomplish its goals, the company has implemented the team concept approach to its business.

“You can call Garden Design, and we will take care of everything for you, from an initial consultation all the way to install, design and sometimes maintenance,” Plaeger says.

Garden Design accomplishes this by partnering with those smaller, independently-owned and operated contractors who operate out of the Garden District and work exclusively with Garden Design.

Plaeger estimates that this includes approximately 200 contractors, representing more than two-dozen smaller companies. Garden Design provides support for these other companies, including licensing and uniforms.

In-house employees also work as a team on a specific project. Everyone from the landscape architect to the sales consultant to the account manager to the project manager knows what everyone else is doing.

Corporate culture.

Though Garden Design strives to keep its customers happy, it never forgets the people who keep everything running smoothly.

Plaeger says it’s important for Haynes and Coggins that their associates feel part of a team, or even part of a family. Transforming to a company-owned model was part of that process, but even smaller gestures are meaningful to the associates. Monthly birthday and work anniversary celebrations are part of the culture, Plaeger says, and special recognition, including a bonus, lunch and a plaque, is given for milestone work anniversaries. “Outside of work, we are all friends. That helps us get through the difficult seasons,” Plaeger says.

Best practices.

Plaeger says one of the keys to Garden Design’s continued success and growth has been its internal and external communication.

“I know that’s said a lot of times, but (it’s) truly understanding what that means, from internal meetings, making sure everyone is on the same page and having the same goal,” she says.

Not only should the customer be kept in the loop, but following up with customers post-project is an essential part of the company philosophy, as well as making sure that they know that they have a voice.

“The core of the business is to treat customers right and to make sure that associates know that they are valued,” Plaeger says. “In the end, that is how we grow our business. That will always be the core, no matter what the company evolves to be.”