Best Practices

Departments - Business Management

September 11, 2012
Lawn & Landscape Staff

At your service

Rising Sun Maintenance applies a jack-of-all trades’ mentality to its maintenance business.

The other day, a customer called Dave Lawrence, owner of Rising Sun Maintenance in Dorset, Vt., and said, “I can’t get my car started.”

You’re thinking: This client obviously called the wrong number – surely, she meant to call a car repair shop.

“I joked with her and said, ‘Why don’t you just call AAA?’” says Lawrence, who handles requests from clients, many of whom own vacation homes in the town, that range from package delivery to opening the front door to let a plumber inside. So, no, the client did not mean to call AAA. “She said, ‘They’ll take hours to get here and you can be here in five minutes,’” Lawrence says.

Lawrence grabbed his starter bag and off he went to jump the client’s car.

This is part of the total service Rising Sun promises its customers. Aside from landscape maintenance like mowing, snow plowing and gardening, the 30-year old company coordinates a concierge service for customers. “We handle everything from boiler cleaning to pest control, alarm response – basically everything you can think of that has to do with the property, we handle,” he says.

That doesn’t mean Rising Sun staff does everything. But the company serves as the point of contact, expediting other service providers to a home if staff can’t handle the request. Most of the time, Lawrence or one of his 15 employees can manage the situation. Rising Sun offers pool and spa maintenance, for example. But if a pool has a more serious issue, like it needs a heater, he’ll call a pro to get the part.

Rising Sun takes full-service seriously – and owners who say, “You can’t be everything to everyone,” might balk at the company’s do-it-all mentality. But it makes sense to Lawrence, and it’s the only way to be in his region, where the population between the two villages he serves is less than 10,000.

Rising Sun’s high-end and everyday clients respect and trust him to such a degree that they call on his company to take care of things – everything having to do with property maintenance. It has always been that way. “We cover all the bases,” he says.

Read more how Rising Sun succeeds at being a full-service company.

Kristen Hampshire


A ‘good’ sign

Dave Lawrence uses Rising Sun to help enrich the community and raise money for local charities.

The sign hanging at Rising Sun Maintenance’s entrance, located on prime property on a thoroughfare most everyone drives coming and going, is a real eye-catcher in the community. The green, wooden post-sign with the company’s green and yellow colors is surrounded by landscape and lit at night.

It’s not the Rising Sun sign that’s unique, rather the message board that hangs below it. Anyone can donate $5 to Rising Sun’s charity (currently the Community Sharing fund through a local church) and have their say on the message board – birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions.

The sign has been up for decades, says founder Dave Lawrence. The charity changes from time to time. This is just one way that Rising Sun gives back to its community. “We do a lot of community pro bono work, as well,” Lawrence says.

Lawrence, who serves on the local planning commission, volunteers Rising Sun to maintain the village green at the town historical society, for example. “We give back to our community as much as we can.”

To find out how Rising Sun diversifies its service mix, turn to pg. 84.


Business bliss

A husband-and-wife duo drives success with a strong marketing program and goal setting.

Marty DeNinno grew up in the landscaping industry. Following in the footsteps of his father, he became part of his dad’s family-owned business. But there came a point where DeNinno and his wife, Liz, who also became involved in the DeNinno family business, started recognizing things they’d do differently if the company was their own. Those ideas ultimately prompted the husband-and-wife team to go out on their own and start something brand new. More than four years ago, the DeNinnos launched Pinnacle Irrigation & Nightlighting and in that short amount of time have grown it to more than a half-million-dollar business.

They say their success has a lot to do with a strong focus on marketing and their partnership as a husband-and-wife team. After deciding to leave the family business, the couple had some very specific ideas about how they wanted to run their own company.

Liz, who now serves as vice president of the Haddonfield, N.J.-based company (with Marty serving as president), says they believe strongly that you cannot work on your business if you’re in it, and that was something that wasn’t previously happening. “Marty was constantly in the truck and on the job with everyone else,” Liz says. “We’ve built our business in a much different way. We’re basically a marketing company that sells irrigation and night lighting.

“We really put a lot of focus on marketing and promoting our business and to do that, you have to spend time in the office. Marty goes out to the job site when he has to, but he also recognizes the importance of building the business and driving new sales.”

Still, it’s not always easy being the “new guy.” Even though Marty had 25 years of industry experience, Pinnacle was a brand new name to customers.

But Marty and Liz were unwilling to come in as lowballers just to get jobs. “We have always had a high service standard, and we didn’t want to be the cheapest guy out there, even though we were a new business,” Marty says. “We wanted to focus on high quality service as a company philosophy.

“We decided to keep our service standards high and not try to compete with everyone out there.

“Our goal was to establish a strong reputation in the industry. I’ll admit we saw some jobs slipping by us simply because we hadn’t built a long-term relationship with customers or didn’t have a well-known name.”

But we still saw growth as word began to pick up that we did a high quality job.”

Read how Pinnacle sets and meets goals and sign up for the Water Works e-newsletter at

Lindsey Getz

Good as gold

Marty and Liz DeNinno, president and vice president, respectively, of southern New Jersey-based Pinnacle Irrigation & Nightlighting, say that their two referral programs have been highly successful in driving new business. Existing customers are encouraged to refer both brand new installation customers and service customers and, in return, are rewarded for their help.

As part of the company’s customer referral program, if an existing customer refers a new installation, they’ll get their next service for free – such as the winterization of their sprinkler system. If an existing customer refers someone for service, they’ll get their next service at a discount. And those referrals can be accumulated. “We have one customer that lived in a development and referred three of his neighbors,” Liz says. “He ended up getting 30 percent off his next service charge because we gave him 10 percent each time he referred someone.”

Liz says that if a particular customer really goes above and beyond in referrals, they’ll sometimes throw in extra rewards. “We had a new installation client that ended up referring us to two other customers and helped us get those jobs,” Liz says. “He was already a new customer himself so on top of giving him a future free service, we also sent him a restaurant gift certificate. When warranted, we’ll send out gift cards as thank-yous.”

Some clients get really motivated by the incentive, says Marty. “We have one customer that has never had to pay for a winterization yet,” he says. “To us it’s a win-win. It’s keeping that long-time customer happy and he’s continuing to bring us new work.”


A smooth operation

Constant communication plays a big role in pulling off design/build projects.

Communication is the key to running a smooth landscape and design/build operation where architects and crews work in harmony. Equally important is defining processes, keeping promises and meeting deadlines. 

At Snow Creek Landscape Architecture – the sister company of Snow Creek Landscaping – housing the two firms in the same building ensures that everyone involved in a project is within arm’s reach.

“With our landscape architect at our main office, we are able to make contact with him on a daily basis,” says Tim Boone, president of Snow Creek Landscaping and co-partner of Snow Creek Architecture in Arden, N.C. 

Here are some ways that Snow Creek keeps its design/build projects running efficiently and effectively. 

Meet early, meet often. Every design/build project starts with a pre-construction meeting, and weekly production meetings held on Fridays ensure that the job stays on track. Prior to breaking ground, the landscape designer works with the client to determine the design intent. After the operations manager prices out the project, everyone meets and confirms that they’re on the same page.

“Our designer is at that pre-construction meeting along with our operations managers and the crew leader, and we go over the expectations for the job and the amount of time that is contracted,” Boone says. Discussing these details early and often ensures that expectations are met from the very beginning, and along the way.

Track hours. Snow Creek knows where each project stands in terms of production hours, so there are no surprises when billing time arrives. Production hours are tracked daily, Boone says. “Those hours are reviewed at Friday production meetings, and the designer and operations manager are present.

“We know if there are any issues that arise on the job and if there are any times that need to be scheduled out, such as a designer choosing hardscape materials or if design changes are required,” he says. 

Run an open house. When designers, operations managers and crews “live” under the same roof, they work better together, if you ask Boone. Employees in Snow Creek’s gardening division share feedback from client properties with designers, and vice-versa. “That’s what we call the full-circle approach,” Boone says.

Continue reading how Boone run design/build projects and sign up for the Business Builder e-newsletter, visit

Kristen Hampshire

Great expectations

Customer service is a top priority at Snow Creek.

Snow Creek works to exceed clients’ expectations, and since the firm’s high-end clients are accustomed to premium service and they commission the type of destination landscapes desired in a vacation home, customer service is first priority. 

Sometimes, that means creating a satellite office. “What would happen is we would have key clients who wanted us to do their landscaping, and it would be a considerable-sized landscape,” Boone says, noting that the company has expanded “as clients invite us.”

For example, when a project site was more than 45 minutes away from Snow Creek’s home office in Arden, Boone crunched the numbers to determine whether setting up a satellite made sense. “The key is to have a project that is large enough in that new area – and to have a multitude of projects that are higher-end, not just a small, $10,000 job,” he says. 

If enough duty calls, Snow Creek will consider planting an operation in that new location. Currently, the company’s only satellite office is in Cashiers, N.C., about an hour and a half drive from its Arden headquarters. 

But clients today aren’t investing quite as heavily in brand-new projects as they once were, and Boone says the gardening division of landscape management crews is getting more business lately. “Our jobs are a lot smaller now, and we are really focused on existing clients who may not be building a house, but they want to add landscaping to their current home,” he says.


A systematic approach

Streamlined processes have helped this lawn care company grow.

Jonathan Rigsbee of GrowinGreen in Kernersville, N.C., prides himself on having cutting-edge knowledge of the latest products and treatments in his industry. Since launching his turf care business in 1999 with a sole employee out of a 10-by-10 office, he has grown the small start-up into a $1.75 million powerhouse that services Greensboro, Winston-Salem and points beyond out of a large, sophisticated headquarters.

Given such growth, it seems a bit ironic that one of Rigsbee’s most heated arguments with a former business partner occurred over whether to buy a computer. “I was actually against it and my partner was for it,” he says with a laugh. “We were running systems on hard cards and ledgers back then. I had more of a technical background and thought that we needed other stuff; he worked in the office.”

Needless to say, times have changed a bit since then. Today, Rigsbee has outfitted all of his trucks with computers. He’s also rolling out a program to give salespeople tablets and printers so they can write estimates in the field without ever coming into the office.

“Technology is probably one of the biggest things we now look at to be more efficient,” he says. “It’s a way to get more out of the trucks, people and assets we already have.”

These two anecdotes illustrate well what Rigsbee has learned over the course of more than two decades in the industry. His passion for turf care is evident in his constant quest to service his customers with the latest treatments. He’s also a savvy, analytic business owner who knows when to step back to gain a more complete, aerial view.

“The key, really, is to develop systems to run the business,” says Rigsbee, who also balances his intense work life with being an active family man. The North Carolina native has four children and is actively involved with coaching their sports teams. “You’ve got to work on systems and not always in the business, and that’s hard.”

In the past 12 years, balancing day-to-day growth with effective systems has propelled GrowinGreen to new heights.

Three years ago, the company moved to a larger headquarters midway between Winston-Salem and Greensboro, and that has allowed it to expand its market share while making forays into fresh, new territories.

It has also introduced a new green biological program and developed a successful employee training program.

GrowinGreen invested in a $26,000 state-of-the art application mixing system. Read about it and sign up for the newsletter at

Lee Chilcote

Investment package

GrowinGreen started wrapping its vehicles with its logo, phone number, website and other graphics several years ago, Rigsbee says the marketing technique is among the best investments in branding his company has ever made.

“It stood out and everyone noticed,” he says. “Our cars and trucks had a NASCAR theme, and that helped because NASCAR is very strong here. Being a smaller company, it helped us with branding. I would get constant comments on it.”

Wrapping vehicles is definitely not cheap, yet Rigsbee calls it a longer-term investment that more than pays for itself over time. Wrapping one car costs about $2,800, while wrapping a truck costs $2,000. The wrap lasts about four years, yet the graphics take a beating through constant use of the vehicles. Owners can address wear and tear by hiring someone to make periodic repairs to the wraps. “We have a contract to have all of the vehicle wraps touched up for $1,000, and they patch them,” Rigsbee says. “All of the damage to our trucks is on the same spot, right on the passenger side where there’s low-hanging branches. It turns out that it’s a lot easier to throw some more wrap on it than it is to have it painted every year.”

Wrapping vehicles is among 12 different advertising methods Rigsbee invests in each year; others include radio, Internet advertising and Groupon. Though it’s often difficult to determine where leads come from and distinguish between marketing and branding, vehicle wrapping definitely falls into the latter category, he says.

“Radio ads and wrapped vehicles are the two biggest things that create brand recognition.”