Beyond business

Prestonwood Landscape Services developed relationships while the big players focused on numbers.

April 18, 2013
Lindsey Getz

In 1999, a lot of the industry’s “national players” were rolling up regional operations across the country and beginning to dominate the marketplace. It would seem like a bad time for a small landscape company to get its start. But Jeremy Saylor found a way to use those national roll ups to his advantage. He has built his company on personal relationships from day one.

As many of the big players began taking over accounts in the area, it was all about business,” Saylor says. “Some companies liked that – but many missed the personal relationship. So that created a big opportunity for us. I tried to capitalize on that by stepping in where those relationships were lacking.”

Customer relationships and word of mouth is how Prestonwood Landscape Services in Dallas-Fort Worth was built and grown. In fact, it wasn’t until 2010 that the company even had a sales staff. “It’s been fantastic having a sales staff now but that was never part of our original plan,” says Saylor, who is the company founder and president.

“Our focus was on organic growth and we are proud that’s worked so well all this time. Now as we continue to expand our reach, a sales team has become a vital part of our business. They really help get our message out to people that have never known us.”

Saylor says that like any decision to start a business from scratch he felt he “rolled the dice” and has had to take plenty of risks over the years to achieve growth. But he attributes much of his success to the help of key employees. The company’s vice president of sales (Tavis Macduff) and the vice president of operations (Mike Poen) have also played a large role in the company’s growth. “Both were long-time employees of the company that really treated the business and approached their roles as though they were owners themselves,” Saylor says.

“So after several years of service, I extended partnership opportunities to both of them. This has been a wonderful dynamic for our organization and one that I’d recommend to others. The partnership interest was not given or earned through bonuses – each had to write a check and effectively roll the dice like any other entrepreneur would do.”

One-stop shop.
From the start, Prestonwood has been a full-service company with a focus on being able to meet any of their clients’ needs. But, like many companies, they have had to sub certain services until they could grow them large enough to bring in house. While most of the work is now in-house, the company does still sub their tree work.

“We do some basic work ourselves but we do sub out a lot of the tree care and that’s largely because it’s such a specialized service,” Saylor says. “We have a really wonderful partnership with our sub and haven’t had to bring that service in house – however it is something we’d like to do down the road.”

The irrigation division also began as subbed work, due to its specialized nature. “We had an excellent sub that we were really happy with but one of the best decisions we’ve made as a company was to bring the irrigation in house,” Saylor says. “The biggest reason is having full control. Even with a great sub, you really can’t fully protect your brand unless you’re controlling the service from top to bottom. Bringing irrigation in house gave us that ability.”

It also allowed Prestonwood to become more competitive in pricing. Saylor says it also allowed management to get a good grasp on training – and encouraged them to stay on top of the latest irrigation trends in regards to laws, water use and where technology is headed. “And staying on top of that ourselves, enabled us to go out and better educate the customer as well.”

As the irrigation division grew, an irrigation manager was brought in to oversee the entire department. Saylor says his best advice to other business owners would be to look long and hard to find the right person to manage any division you’re looking to bring in house. “Hire someone with a good grasp of irrigation and excellent communication skills if you’re looking to bring that division under your own roof,” Saylor says. “That’s an incredibly important investment.”

Irrigation growth. Since hiring a division manager, the irrigation portion of Prestonwood has seen rapid growth. “When I started, there were five trucks, each with one crew member but now there are six trucks, each with a crew member and a helper,” says Jesse Congleton, the irrigation manager. “That’s really allowed us to increase our productivity.”

Every month, each technician does inspections on approximately 60 to 80 properties. “It’s so important that we’re keeping up with them,” Congleton says. “Without those inspections, you can’t keep the system adjusted for seasonal requirements such as wind, rain, plant growth, water rationing, and more. Checking our properties monthly is built into the maintenance contract. We ensure that the systems are running properly and doing their job. With temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees and very little rainfall, you need to make sure those systems are running efficiently – especially during periods of water rationing.”

With the large stretch of area that the team covers, one of the biggest challenges they face is keeping up with those increasingly restrictive watering laws that can vary from district to district. “Depending where the property is located how much you can water – and when you can water – may vary drastically,” Congleton says.

“You could be in a town that borders another and the restrictions may be totally different. So keeping up with the exact regulations isn’t easy but we’ve done a great job by showing the days we can water on our irrigation schedule as well as our weekly maintenance schedule. It’s not just the irrigation division that needs to stay informed, but our maintenance crews as well so that they’re not showing up to a property that we’ve just watered and mowing it wet. We keep everything very well-scheduled.”

Congleton admits that the restrictions have been challenging but in the same way that the company found opportunity during a time when national players were dominating the market, they’ve also found opportunity within the restrictions. “We’ve tried to look at what opportunities it can present,” Congleton says. “For one, it differentiates us from the competition because we do such a good job scheduling watering and staying on top of regulations that our clients aren’t getting fined by the city or making local citizens angry.”

Congleton says the restrictions have also given the company the opportunity to help customers to better understand conversions from spray to drip – and other retrofits that conserve water and save money in the long run. “While the restrictions have been a challenge, they’ve also really driven our drip conversions and in the past three years we’ve done quite a few,” Congleton says. “It’s created the opportunity for us to talk to our customers about smart irrigation.”

One of the ways that the company has done their education is through “lunch and learns.” Congleton will go through a slide show that discusses long-term cost savings for smart irrigation retrofits. “We like to try and do these for larger group settings so that we can educate a large group at once,” Congleton says. “Even if it’s a company that’s not currently working with us, we like the opportunity to get in front of them and display our expertise. We’ll cater the lunch, give our presentation, and go through a Q and A.”

Since the company got its start, the movement toward conservation as a whole has probably been the biggest game changer. “That’s the direction the entire industry has moved,” Saylor says.

“We’ve made it a priority to stay on top of the latest technology. Water restrictions have made it a necessity that we stay ahead of the curve in our area.”
With a focus on adapting to adversity and finding opportunity in challenges, Prestonwood is positioning itself to continue to evolve with the times. And their focus on the latest technology and their move toward smart irrigation will no doubt be a continuing force driving their success.