When he was 13 years old, Dan Kindergan caught the entrepreneurial bug. He rode his bike around his hometown of Bergenfield, N.J., a mower trailing behind him, and serviced locals’ lawns. He was too young to drive, so he often had a high-school friend help out, and his business steadily grew. At 18, he incorporated the business and has worked on growing the firm for the last 25 years. “I used to cut school to mow lawns,” he says.
Today, Kindergan Landscaping is a significant player in the competitive New Jersey market, and the firm has continued to expand in spite of tough economic times. During the recession, Kindergan added staff each year, growing his team to 34 members. He purchased equipment – even real estate, recently shifting the headquarters office in Bergenfield to a 2,500 square-foot office space to accommodate growth.
“It has been a tough battle, but the good guys will always survive, and I consider myself one of the good companies because we have never changed our focus,” says Kindergan, relating the importance of client contact, nurturing relationships and hiring the best people.
With Kindergan, there are no compromises on quality and service – and he won’t risk margins on a job just to keep on working. “We stick to our guns, and we won’t undersell ourselves,” he says. Sure, it’s tempting. “One side of your brain is saying, ‘Go get the next job,’ and the other side of your brain is saying, ‘If you take that job, we still have risk and if something doesn’t go right we are working for nothing.’”
Kindergan has always chosen the higher road. “I’m proud that during these really rough times, we have maintained an expansion mindset and survived through all of this,” he says, adding that he’s watched smaller competitors who used to bid for the same work go out of business. But staying on the map and winning jobs in cutthroat New Jersey has required investing resources into the business. Kindergan has answered the call, in part, by opening a design center in Wyckoff, about 20 miles from Bergenfield and where Kindergan has lived for the last 13 years.
So far, the design center is building brand awareness and will eventually lead to closing more referrals in this area of town, Kindergan says. “I live in the town, I’m active in the town, I volunteer a lot – we really needed to have a larger presence,” he says.
Kindergan Landscaping’s outdoor showcase includes a decked-out kitchen and dining area.
The lot is 50 by 120 feet in size – no larger than the yard of an average home in the area. But every bit of that space has been transformed into a live show for Kindergan Landscaping. It contains displays as simple as perennial gardens and pergolas, and as complex as intricate brick and paver work and a decked-out outdoor kitchen and dining area. Low-voltage landscape lighting shoots high up into the trees, and at night the property is aglow.
In the middle of the property is a building the size of a pool house, and that’s the new design headquarters for Kindergan Landscaping. “It’s a small space, but it has a lot of punch,” Kindergan says. The company restored what was essentially an oversized shed into a little boutique retreat. This is where the firm holds client meetings.
“We designed it to make people feel as if they were actually in a back yard,” Kindergan says. “The office doesn’t overpower what we are trying to show off outside, which is our work.”
The design center has really taken off and is grabbing the attention of the community. “We are hearing, ‘Oh, you’re the guy with the little design studio over there,’” Kindergan says. “They’ll say, ‘You’re there next to Wyckoff Florist (which has been there for 30 years) and we walked around there after going to Dairy Queen.’
“People just want to know you are for real and not Johnny-bought-a-truck and you’re in business one week and the next you’re doing something else,” Kindergan says of the value his company will gain from the design center’s visibility.
And the reality is, people in the area have certainly heard of Kindergan Landscaping because of the owner’s roots and the company’s reputation. Kindergan was getting referrals in the area, but the competition had a stronger appearance. “We needed to have more of a home base in this area because we have less of the market share here and the larger competitors we are up against had put in design or display centers,” Kindergan says. “We needed to put Kindergan Landscaping on the map here.”
Wyckoff and surrounding towns are home to an affluent client base suitable for Kindergan’s high-end residential design/build work. “In a semi-recession market and especially during an election year when consume confidence is probably not where it should be, it helps for us to grow in an area where people are a little more well off,” he says.
And besides, the Wyckoff expansion was a natural way to grow because of Kindergan’s allegiance to his town. With the headquarters still based in nearby Bergenfield, the company is grabbing a larger radius of business now. “We are in the process of hiring more employees, buying more equipment and building additional services,” Kindergan says.
Steady growth has been possible because of a strong team that Kindergan continues to hone. Interestingly, more than half of the staff once owned a business. For some owners, bringing on personnel with entrepreneurial stripes could cause friction. But Kindergan sees great benefit in hiring enterprising folks.
“I allow people to bring their expertise to the table,” Kindergan says. “Rather than saying, ‘Here is your rule book,’ we give people guidelines and we let them be themselves a little bit. I have found in some cases you still need to train them, but in some cases you find people who have a lot of good qualities that they develop on their own, so I let them blossom and give them a chance to really show their expertise.” L&L
Attracting new business in a dicey economic climate requires some creativity.
While Kindergan Landscaping’s new design center and expanded territory will help reel in clients, the firm is revisiting its book of business to reconnect with satisfied customers from years past.
“We have a client from 2005, we did her front foundation planting and some lighting and a small patio,” Kindergan says. “Since then, she has heard from us maybe once or twice.”
That will change with renewed marketing efforts.
Through e-newsletters and more client contact, Kindergan is reaching out to this base of people to share what else the business can offer them.
“They were happy clients,” he says of the customer list. “And we are banking on the fact that they remember who we are and so we’re going back at it with additional marketing.”
It’s easier and less costly to sell services to existing clients than to romance and close new customers.
And certainly, Kindergan Landscaping is focused on introducing its services to fresh faces. But Kindergan recognizes that popping back on the radars of people who hired his company for work even eight years ago could spark their interest.
Photos courtesy of Kindergan Landscaping