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Growing against the grain

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While other companies downsized or disappeared, Moscarino Outdoor Creations gunned ahead, attracting key talent and building a new facility.

Kristen Hampshire | May 3, 2012

Clients who visit Moscarino Outdoor Creation’s 36-acre home base get a real sense for how the design/build process works and can essentially see before they spend. The grounds include several mini landscapes that showcase water features, hardscape materials, annuals and perennials. Each year, the company adds to its on-site landscape theatre – it’s just enough to give clients a taste of what the firm offers.

“I love challenging projects, and I love working with clients who have a vision, and we can help bring that to life,” says Chas Moscarino, who started in the business cutting grass to help pay for college. When he graduated, he couldn’t ignore the success of his company, so he and brother Chris focused on growing and expanding its services, incorporating in 2003.

“I talked to my brother and we said, ‘We can make this thing as big as we want – let’s go for it,’” Moscarino says, telling the short version of their conversation about growing the business. “We decided to start trying to find key people that were talented enough to help us grow in design-build and maintenance, and we brought on a consultant who we’ve been with for four years.”

Every year, Moscarino Outdoor Creations has grown about 30-40 percent, which garnered the firm a prestigious Weatherhead 100 Award showcasing the fastest growing companies in northeast Ohio.

“In a down economy, people were cutting back, but we kept our game out in front of everyone,” Moscarino says. The company maintained its marketing budget, doubled its staff from 2009 to 2012 – the firm now employs 90 people – and moved into a brand-new facility in Columbia Station, Ohio, two years ago. This move helped solidify Moscarino’s position as an industry leader in the region, poising the company for further growth.

“We have grown into the facility, and that was the goal,” Moscarino says, noting that the business has come a long way since he started it out of his home.

Selling on site.  The show-and-tell power of selling a landscape design is real. When clients can see the material, touch it, choose among living plants they can see and smell, they can make decisions more easily. And this saves a lot of headaches during the design process.

Plus, visiting the facility helps build a comfort level, which is the foundation for a long-term relationship that can result in multi-phase projects for Moscarino.

“Once we get our clients here, they can meet our team, they meet our designers – we have them in the conference room and make sure they are comfortable with us, our process,” Moscarino relates.
    
Then, everyone can walk outside the door onto the expansive property and stroll through the landscape settings arranged to help clients visualize how plans actually materialize. “They can point out what they like -- ‘I love that plant material,’ or, ‘That’s not going to work,’” Moscarino says. “They can pick materials out of a catalogue, but when they come here and see it they say, ‘I didn’t think it was going to look like that, I like this better.’ Having clients visit us here saves time.”

On the property, clients see 15 different stones laid out, pallets of material on display and a collection of boulders used or natural rock outcroppings. They can walk among rows of annuals and perennials. The display isn’t huge. “It’s a glorified area with different products laid out,” Moscarino says. But it’s enough to give clients a clear picture, and every year the company adds to its on-site displays.
    
“It’s a work in progress,” Moscarino says. “Every years we create a new addition.”
    
The million-dollar project was a big risk for the company. “We did that in the middle of the recession, and it was a scary move for us,” Moscarino admits. “But we do a lot of consulting with our CPA to make sure it was the right decision.”
    
When Moscarino crunched the numbers, the lease paid on its facility in a nearby suburb vs. the cost of building and owning property made the choice clear. “Interest rates were low at the time, as they still are, so that was a nice incentive for us to do this project, as well,” Moscarino says. The company did 25 percent of the construction itself, managing the overall project. Today, Moscarino leases a portion of the land to another vendor, and its facility is at full capacity.
    
Ramping up for growth. Building a facility during an economic downturn wasn’t the only risky decision the company made. While other businesses in the industry were downsizing or going away completely, Moscarino did the opposite: It ramped up its workforce, attracted talent from other firms and continued marketing full-force.   
    
The biggest challenge in the last few years has been controlling the growth, Moscarino says. “You need the equipment, the manpower,” he says. And costs like overtime can stress the budget. That’s why Moscarino made the decision this year to move to four 10-hour workdays. “We bought extra trucks and trailers, and I put that money upfront,” he says. “We figured that it’s cheaper for us to make those capital investments than it is to run overtime…we’ll see if it works.”

The numbers make sense. Moscarino calculates savings $7,000 in shop time each month by running 4/10s. “So we cut that number back, and with our bidding, we are getting more accounts,” he says. If a project will require overtime, that cost is billed into the cost. “Only the strong survive,” Moscarino says of playing in a competitive market. His firm is up against national companies.
    
Why the surge in business when other firms have fallen by the wayside? Moscarino points to referrals and continued marketing. “Over the past two years, our referrals have really increased and that’s because we branded ourselves in the area with the marketing we did,” he says.     
    
Moscarino and his brother come from marketing backgrounds, so this element of the business has been a focus since day one. “We really keep our name out there with stories, testimonials, direct mail, and we track every one of those pieces,” he says. The stories Moscarino speaks of include articles the company writes for local publications, helping homeowners solve outdoor problems or explaining the value of services. Plus,  their sharp, red trailers with bright logos draw attention.
    
Meanwhile, as Moscarino saw fewer $100,000-plus jobs in the last couple of years, it focused on margins not the price tag. “If we can make a profit on a job, we don’t turn it away,” he says. “If we could hit the margins and keep our guys busy through the recession, that is what we were working for.”
    
Today, those larger jobs are coming around again. “I feel like the economy is turning and people are spending money,” Moscarino says. “People who have been waiting on the sidelines are calling us now.”
    
And now, the company has a top-notch team, a robust facility and the resources to continue its growth. Back to the initial conversation the Moscarinos had about the potential of this business: They can make it as big as they want.  
 

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