Roots of labor

Features - Lawn Care

While diversifying, customer service and plant health care have remained the core of Phil Mastroianni Corp.’s culture.

October 11, 2012
Lee Chilcote
Phil Mastroianni (left) and Nick Mastroianni have joined their father, Phil Mastroianni Jr., at the family business.

The story of Phil Mastroianni Corp. is one of a decades-old, Boston-area lawn and landscape company that has grown like an old, venerable tree by wrapping new services around a solid core of attentive maintenance and superb service.

Yet behind the proud, public face of this successful family-owned business lies another, closely held narrative. If you sit down with second generation owner Phil Mastroianni Jr., he’ll quietly share with you how the business that his Italian-born father started has not only stayed strong, but also welcomed new, younger family members into the fold.

Call it a classic immigrant story with a twist. As each Mastroianni generation came of age, their elders encouraged them to get an education and pursue a field that didn’t involve working with their hands. Yet they ended up in the family business anyway, defying their parents’ initial wishes and becoming a part of the industry they loved.

“My father was old school. He came from Italy and wanted me to have more of an education,” Phil Mastroianni, Jr. says. “I went straight from high school into the business. He wasn’t too happy with me at that time, but I know he’s happy with me now.”

“It’s a business that I actually really love,” he adds. “Maintenance is in my heart and I’ll never get rid of it.”

Rise and shine

The secret to Phil Mastroianni’s success is long hours and dedication to his work.

For Phil Mastroianni Jr., owning his own business for nearly 40 years has meant long hours, hard work and few extended vacations. However, he wouldn’t trade it for anything – he truly loves the industry and working outdoors with customers.

“Whether you’re planting or building walls, if your heart’s into it, it’s a great business,” he says.

Nonetheless, the second generation business owner freely admits that finding work-life balance is often a struggle – especially for someone who arrives at work each day promptly at 4:30 a.m. and doesn’t leave until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. His demanding schedule also has him working six days a week, with Sunday his only day off. “To be honest with you, I have a very supportive wife and we’ve been married for 30 years,” Mastroianni Jr. says.

“She raised three wonderful children and did a great job. That makes it a lot easier, knowing that I’ve always had her support.”

Part of the reason Mastroianni has become so successful is because he is fiercely dedicated to his work and customers and also well-regarded by his employees.

“My father has always done a good job of getting to the office early to get things set up, then working with the guys side by side,” says Phil R. Mastroianni, his son and an estimator in the family business. “The crew respects him greatly.” Mastroianni does occasionally take time off during the winter and for long weekend summer vacations.

When business is a bit slower during the winter months, he also enjoys traveling to Maine with a group of other landscapers to go snowmobiling.

“We have a good time,” he says with a laugh. “It kind of works out well, because we’re all in the same business and we all plow snow. Usually, after a snowstorm and everything’s been completed and cleaned up, we’ll go up there for three to four days.”

Mastroianni Corp. has certainly changed a lot since Phil Jr. began working alongside his father 37 years ago. Business then was focused on lawn, plant and tree care as well as maintenance for higher-end Boston customers. As he began taking the helm, however, he gradually added light and heavy construction, to the point where installation now comprises about half of the company’s overall business.

“The core of our business now is landscape construction, but maintenance is still the core of the culture of our company,” he says. “When we do the builds, our intention is to have them as long-term customers, doing plant health care and ornamental pruning.”

Family Affair.
Today, both of Phil Jr.’s sons also work in the business. Phil R. Mastroianni attended college and obtained an accounting degree; after working at public accounting firm KPMG, he joined the company in 2009. Younger son Nicholas Mastroianni is a licensed landscape architect, and he now helps the company design its landscapes in-house.

In short, Mastroianni Corp. is still very much a family affair. Yet Phil R. chuckles as he recalls how his father refused to let him work there when he was growing up. “He didn’t want me to get caught up too early in working outside; he wanted me to stay in school. Yet I knew that he’d always wanted me to be part of the family business. So when a position opened up to do estimating, I figured it was the right time to give it a try.”

Today, Phil R. not only handles project estimating, but he is also helping to market the company to the next generation of customers. He still gets flak for not spending more time in the field each day, as his father has done for so many years, and he knows that being at his dad’s beck and call is a somewhat inevitable part of working in the family business. Nonetheless, he enjoys the culture and admires his father’s work ethic.

Although Mastroianni Corp. continues to evolve now that the youngest generation has gotten involved, the core of the firm remains the same. Phil Jr. and his crew members enjoy creating beautiful, dramatic landscapes for their customers, yet the elements which keep customers coming back are customer service and plant health care.

“We take a lot of care in working with our clients,” says Phil Jr. “We take care of problems right away, and we generate lots of referrals through customers. The business is very competitive without a doubt, but our client base is very important to us.”

Lawn Care Lessons. Phil R. breaks down Mastroianni’s successful approach towards plant and tree health care into three components. First, the company ensures that staff does a good job on the initial inspection. Second, they are proactive in monitoring the situation, including conducting periodic reviews and using a note card system to identify new issues. Finally, the firm instills a maintenance culture into all staff, thus ensuring that salespeople and applicators are keenly focused on close, attentive care.

Over the years, the company has also developed a system for treating plants and trees with a targeted, customized approach, rather than using blanket spraying techniques. “Especially with the newer accounts, if they have kids, we push more organics,” says Phil Jr. “We have a four-to five-step program that we go through with customers.”

Close monitoring of properties not only helps Mastroianni Corp. to provide great service, it also helps them to make sales. “The applicator has an index card, and they keep their eyes open and leave a copy with the customer if they notice something,” says Phil R. “That helps in a couple ways. It shows that the guys on the ground have their eyes open and ensures clients don’t have any holes. It’s also a good way for us to sell services.”

Although maintenance remains at the center of Mastroianni’s business, the company has done plenty of landscape installations and hardscapes even in a recession. “We saw stronger demand last year in landscape construction, and we think that area is really coming back,” says Phil R.

“With Boston being big in high tech and higher education, we felt the recession less than some other parts of the country.”

Service spread. How the company markets itself depends upon which service you’re talking about, adds Phil R.

“For tree and plant health care, we’re seeing more and more go online. People realize they need this service, and they research who can help me now. Landscape construction really has more to do with getting a good name out there.”

Although Phil Jr. never would have anticipated that he’d be engaged in “all four corners of the landscaping industry” when he first started out, the company’s diversified focus has helped it to remain profitable and competitive over the years. “Even if a customer doesn’t do a big expansion project, they still have a big yard,” he says. “So we’ll do mulching, flowers, maybe an expansion of a wall to take care of the property and keep it up.”

Perhaps the biggest secret to Mastroianni Corp.’s continued success goes back to the family’s hardworking, immigrant roots.

Workers tend to stay with the company because they earn respect through hard work and are treated like team members. Career development is also a focus at the company.

“A lot of people started here with no experience in the industry, and 10-15 years later they have accreditations and certifications,” Phil R. says. “My father always put a lot of emphasis on people bettering their own lives. I think the company benefited from that.”

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