Today, Cornerstone Solutions Group is a big business with a well-known name. Headquartered just north of Tampa, Fla., the company has four additional branch offices which allow it to cover the entire state. But it all started with a young man, a pickup truck, a chainsaw and an apartment complex. It was from these humble beginnings that Cornerstone has grown to be a company that “does it all.”
“It all began when John (Faulkner) was living in an apartment complex and the landlord asked him to put an ad in the paper for a stump removal,” says Julie Kirik, sales and marketing coordinator. “John decided it was something he could do himself. That’s essentially how Faulkner & Son was born.”
But Faulkner & Son was only the beginning. As the landscaping business grew, it became Faulkner Landscaping. Eventually, Faulkner purchased a 117-acre farm and renamed the business Cornerstone Tree Farm. But in 2008, the name changed once more. “The name of the business changed as it grew to reflect all of the services and divisions that John was adding,” says Peter Klinkenberg, director of business development. “The company was offering comprehensive services and ‘Tree Farm’ seemed to imply it was only one-dimensional. Today’s name reflects all of the services that we offer.”
And those services are no doubt comprehensive, offering everything from commercial construction to landscaping and irrigation, among other services. On the irrigation side, the business has a full spectrum of offerings from the design to the consulting and the installation. Though irrigation has become a major part of the company, representing 20 percent of the entire business, it was actually launched to help better service the landscape clientele.
“The irrigation business basically spawned out of necessity,” says Klinkenberg. “As John’s business grew, he was finding that he and his clients didn’t want to rely on subcontractors for everything because it slowed business down. So John started his own irrigation division just to be able to keep up with his landscape business. From there, the irrigation division took off. The rapid growth of the irrigation business is a key reason for the name change. We wanted clients to know we were the solution for all of their needs.”
Cornerstone, which had 2010 revenue of $20.4 million and 300 employees, according to Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 list, has found that being a one-stop shop has a lot of benefits. It doesn’t mean having to rely on or wait for subcontractors to finish their part of the project. For clients, that means one-stop-shopping. “Clients like to work with us,” adds Klinkenberg. “It’s an easy phone call.”
But Klinkenberg admits there’s a lot of accountability involved in keeping so much of the work in-house. “We definitely take on a lot of responsibility and it’s a lot of work to be a company that does it all,” he says. “There’s no finger pointing when you’re the designer, builder and maintainer. It all comes back to you. But it’s that risk that makes you better at what you do. The responsibility has helped us become even better.”
And as a company with its finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the industry, Klinkenberg has some positive news. He believes that things are starting to look up.
“Despite what you read in the newspaper, there is some more construction activity happening and we’re starting to see increases almost every month,” he says. “We’ve also seen a stabilization of pricing – that goes for both irrigation and landscape materials. The margins are finally getting healthier. We’ve also found that some of the smaller suppliers and contractors who emerged suddenly in the market and drove down prices are starting to disappear. I think we’re finally starting to see some stability in the industry, at least in this region.”
Though Cornerstone has had a lot of in-house success, they are a company that believes in sharing the wealth and in giving back. Julie Faulkner, wife of Cornerstone’s founder as well as the company’s culture developer (see Fostering a company culture) says that Cornerstone believes one of the responsibilities of success is community leadership. That’s why they started Cornerstone Cares, a mission that focuses on taking the financial success of the company and translating it into employee-driven actions and projects. “We generally choose charities and causes that our employees can become engaged in,” Faulkner says. “We don’t just throw money at a situation but we take it as an opportunity to serve. It’s a wonderful thing to make a donation, but we also donate our time, effort, and services and get involved. In the past, we’ve done everything from help paint buildings to fixing up properties and landscapes.” John and Julie Faulkner
Some of the organizations that Cornerstone has helped support include Habitat for Humanity, the American Cancer Society, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Operation Christmas Child, among many others. “Our community involvement is something our employees have really embraced,” she says.
But it’s also within the company’s own community that random acts of kindness and caring are valued. The company uses a “Caught in the Act of Caring” card program to reward team members who are “caught” providing exceptional customer service or acts of caring within the workplace or community. Any employee can fill out a nomination form and send it to a committee member for review. Once the nomination is authenticated, it’s added to a monthly drawing. Each month a different employee receives a small award for their desk and a photo is taken and sent out through email to the whole company.
Klinkenberg says that efforts like these make Cornerstone a positive place to work. “It’s a lot of little things that help build culture,” he says. “We call it a culture of victory. Anytime something good happens – either personal or business-related – we send out an email that goes out companywide to congratulate the team or the individual. It’s celebrating both the big and the small victories – those moments when someone has done the right thing. It could be winning a nice contract, having a baby, or getting married. It doesn’t have to be something that impacts the company’s financials. We want to make sure our employees always understand how much they are valued.”
In the end, it comes down to a positive working culture. Cornerstone has created a place where employees love to work. And everyone knows that happy employees make for happy customers. But for John Faulkner it’s much more than that because for him, it’s not just the bottom line that matters. After his first few years in business, John realized he wanted a business that produced good people – not things. That’s when he started changing the way he did things and really focusing on his core beliefs. “He wanted to produce happy people who knew how to do good business that not only benefited us and the clients, but the whole community,” says his wife. “In the end, a successful business comes down to its people.”