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Backstage Pass - Backstage Pass with the Harvesters

From onboarding to quality control, Park West fills us in on what makes this West Coast commercial company a landscaping giant.

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August 2, 2019


The Harvesters huddle with Park West Companies in California.
Photo courtesy of Brian Horn


Park West Companies is an almost $200-million company with multiple locations throughout California and one in Las Vegas, Nevada. What started out as CEO Jim Tracy and his brother installing an irrigation system more than 40 years ago has now grown to 1,600 employees. Here’s some lessons we learned when we went backstage with Park West.

1. Name game

Tracy says one way to form a relationship with employees is to get to know them by name. “If you remember people’s names, it’s a big deal, especially when it comes to their family and their kids.” Tracy writes names down to help remember them. “The odds of remembering their names is so much better if you write it down,” he says.

2. One thing at a time

Tracy says early on in the company’s existence, one mistake was asking employees to take on too many tasks or tasks that are vastly different from each other. “Let’s talk about maintenance – you’ve got a guy doing post-construction maintenance and you also ask him to do long-term maintenance. They are very different things and you’re going to fail probably at both of them,” he says. “Get them focused on one thing and get them really good at that.”

3. Make the grade

Park West has a quality manager who visits sites with the site’s account manager quarterly and grades properties on a sale of 1-100. But Park West has added another layer, where they pick one item that they want to see incrementally improved. “It could be a job that’s a 95,” says Brian Chinnery, executive vice president of operations, “but still, what could we do better?” Chinnery says when you are grading a property, the important thing is not to focus on too many items to improve. “The last thing an account manager needs is another to-do list,” he says. Bonuses and other rewards are given out for top scores as well as most improved property.

4. Walk with a purpose

Because Park West crews start the work day early to avoid traffic and hotter weather, workers can’t start equipment when they arrive. So, they started a program called “patrolling.” For the first hour of the day, every crew member is assigned an area of their property. It could be the same property or section of property every day or it could be broken up through the week, Chinnery says. Patrolling includes looking for hazards, trash, low-hanging branches – what Chinnery calls “low-hanging fruit.” “Some roses that are starting to go out of bloom, just clip the first two, but keep moving. The real goal of the patrolling is to walk with a purpose,” he says. “It’s not intense maintenance. It’s the basic maintenance and it really makes a big difference to our customers.”

5. Off to a good start

Tracy and other key executives are part of the onboarding process for new employees. It includes introductions and meetings across every area of the organization for which the new hire will interact with, says Bryan Schneider, vice president of Talent Development. At the 90-day mark, the employee receives a survey regarding how they felt about the recruiting, hiring, onboarding process and if their experience at the company is lined up with how it was presented to them. One key takeaway from the survey is how valuable it is to have someone from the leadership team meet with new employees. “It demonstrates right away that we value our people,” he says. The survey also helped fix holes in how sometimes responsibilities were not communicated accurately. “We can ask (the manager) why did you paint a picture like this that we know is not going to be a reality,” he says. “It’s few and far between and we hope that would never happen, but, nonetheless, the nature of hiring a large number of people is that occasionally we are going to fall short of painting a picture that is accurate for a new hire.”

6. Meeting expectations

A few years ago, the sales team won a very large job. They handed the job off to the operations team and everyone thought things would run smoothly. (“Operations) starts doing what they think is the right thing to do,” says Joely Mazzotti, vice president of Customer Experience. “They get there and the job is overgrown, walkways you can’t go down, so we just start cleaning everything up.” About 60 days into the job, the company received a termination notice. It turns out the sales team sold the customer on an irrigation focus, which the operations team hadn’t even gotten to yet. Over the next few years, the company developed a customer experience process that makes sure expectations are communicated properly.

7. Time for renewals

Mazzotti says it’s important to be ahead of schedule when it comes to renewals and price increases. For a December 31 fiscal, Park West is sending out renewal proposals in August, even if they haven’t received a request from the property manager. “They all have fiscal year-end budgets they are dealing with, and they have to prepare those budgets several months before for approval.”

For commercial properties, it’s also important to remember the property manager could be working on a different fiscal year. “One of the things we do during our launch process and we have a new account is find out when their fiscal year is and we track that in our system with our administration staff.”