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Natural expansion

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Snow Creek Landscaping’s focus on innovative, sustainable design necessitated the creation of a sister business: a landscape architecture firm that will help the company deliver soup-to-nuts service.

Kristen Hampshire | December 5, 2011

Business can be like a batwing mower. In good times, the operational machine extends to meet market demand; and during lulls, those decks can fold right in so the core can work efficiently and manage tight spots. “That is exactly what we are doing and have done to stay strong,” says Tim Boone, president of Snow Creek Landscaping and its newly formed sister company, Snow Creek Landscape Architecture in Arden, N.C.

Snow Creek’s infrastructure was designed to be flexible. “Our organization is set up to be able to expand and contract as the economy allows us to,” Boone says, hinting that after several years of revenue lows in the $3.5 million range (compared to $7 million during high times), the company is poised to capture new business and deliver on its sustainable landscape mission: excellence naturally.

“We provide a full-circle approach that starts with design and ends with gardening,” Boone says of being involved in a project’s infant stages: the initial site planning. “We never leave the site, and we grow as clients grow.”

While the Western North Carolina market had enjoyed development riches for some time, attracting people who want mountainside resort homes in this neck of the woods, the downturn prompted a shift in focus at Snow Creek. After mostly focusing on high-end residential design/build projects, the firm began to grow its gardening division. These days, Snow Creek is spreading its bat wings into landscape architecture and site planning to bring these tasks in-house and further grow the business. 

Meanwhile, a continued focus on employee development has solidified a dedicated team of individuals who are helping Snow Creek carry out its goals. “Getting employee buy-in has helped our development – we couldn’t grow without our employees,” Boone says.
   
Great expectations

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 Chasers, 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.

By maintaining the landscapes Snow Creek once built, the company continues long-term relationships with valuable clients, who then refer the firm to others who might be building.

By offering multiple services, Snow Creek can accommodate most any request: design/consultation, natural resource management, installation/construction and gardening/landscape management. At the same time, by focusing on the sustainable landscaping niche, the company has grown a respected reputation in this arena with builders and other landscape firms.
   
Planting new seeds

There are traditional landscapes, and there’s the natural fare Snow Creek provides. There’s typical roadside seed mix plantings that prevent erosion and cover soil-bare slopes. And there’s the Snow Creek way: a natural seed mix developed based on local plant ecology – not just some bag mix from who-knows-where. “We identify plants that are in the area and plant those back into the environment,” Boone says. “That way, the area ends up naturalizing and requires little to no maintenance over a number of years.”

There are standard issue steep-slope plantings that consist of rows of mass unit stock like juniper. Those have a life expectancy of about 10-15 years, Boone points out. That’s why he prefers to handle that scenario the Snow Creek way: “We come in with a diversification of primarily native plants that sustain themselves,” he says. “Our key catchphrase is ‘excellence naturally,’ so we do take a more natural approach and we have been in business long enough to know what (plants) work in our area.”

For this reason, Snow Creek is involved in the initial site planning of new properties, and the reconfiguration of landscapes that clients want to overhaul. The company completes site drainage plans, and usually the properties the firm consults/designs for are at least one acre in size. Because state regulations dictate that a landscape architect is needed for such jobs, Boone saw an opportunity to form a sister company and reel this work in-house, while offering the services a la carte to builders and other prospects seeking complex site design.

Snow Creek Landscape Architecture is headed up by Snow Creek’s certified landscape architect Rob Dull. The firm is housed in the same location as Snow Creek in Arden, so the two companies actually work like divisions under an umbrella. “We are able to control the quality, and our landscape architect has access to all of our managers, our plans, the landscape crews,” Boone says. “That allows us to provide our clients a more economical rate.”

Snow Creek Landscape Architecture offers services such as drainage design, natural resource management and botanical assessments. “We do the drainage plan before a house is even started – clients want us to be engaged in the (building) process from a very early stage.”

And, clients can engage Snow Creek in as much or as little of the process (the batwing business model works here, too). “We can cater to a building architect that just wants us to put together a site drainage landscape plan, and they can elect to bid that out or we can provide a full design/build package that allows us to work with builders and homeowners full-circle on the entire plan,” Boone says.

Running a tandem architectural firm will help Snow Creek capture more growth in 2012 and beyond as the company focuses on marketing these services, Boone says. And telling its sustainable innovation story will help do that. “Our landscape architect, Rob Dull, creates very innovative designs, especially around drainage and use of native plants,” Boone says. “Our techniques promote lower cost for clients and provide a more sustainable approach.”

And because designers are within arm’s reach of the gardening crews, employees are sharing feedback that can drive better results for each service Snow Creek and Snow Creek Landscape Architecture offers. “Because we can go from design to implementation on a landscape, we can monitor that site and see what works and what doesn’t work,” Boone says. “With that feedback, we can lower costs. We are constantly monitoring and measuring results.”

 


This is one of three stories that appeared in Lawn & Landscape's Business Builder. To continue reading about Snow Creek Landscaping:

Design and build – a smooth operation: Constant communication plays a big role in pulling off projects.

Pass the Kool-Aid: A commitment to training helped Snow Creek Landscaping build and maintain a strong company culture.
 

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