Pete and Dave Lucadano, owners of RedTree Landscape Systems, are no strangers to the green industry. Having both been in the business for nearly 40 years, they’ve learned a thing or two from their multiple business ventures.
“We started as kids in high school and started our first business,” says Pete Lucadano. “We built up the company and then in 2004 we partnered with a publicly traded equity firm. I worked for them for quite some time and then eventually as that company changed their leadership time after time, the world they had us living in became too corporate and not centered on the client or employees at all.”
Over time, both brothers went on to leave the company they started, which has since gone under. Six years ago, they started RedTree knowing that this time, things would be different and their “people first” motto would stay at the heart of all they do.
“It was those experiences that helped us shape what we wanted RedTree to be,” Pete says. “It gave us examples of things we needed to do right and things we did not want to repeat.”
Assisting with the unexpected
Serving the Tampa Bay area with 120 employees, RedTree is dedicated to every person on its staff, and it shows through the company’s growth. Revenue reached almost $8.2 million in 2022.
Pete says anyone can talk the talk when it comes to prioritizing employees, something he saw firsthand after selling his former business.
“The term ‘people-centered’ is so overused,” he says. “A lot of people say that but having worked in that publicly traded company where they said all those things, but they behaved the exact opposite of that behind the scenes. They had all the nice promotional materials, but what’s really important is the grassroots, behind-the-scenes involvement and focusing on our people and our team first.”
Whether it’s coordinating after-school childcare or eldercare for an employee in need, transportation assistance to appointments or providing financial literacy resources and counseling support, RedTree knows it’s about more than cashing in a paycheck.
“There’s a whole level of needs that people have that go beyond the basic, sterile employee/employer relationship,” Pete says. “These folks have family needs. We try to maintain a very open mindset toward assisting and aiding our employees. We try to have a platform where we can do that.”
Client Care Specialist Benjamin Garland says his RedTree family was there for him during the hardest time in his life.
“In 2019, my fiancée died in her sleep. She had epilepsy and wasn’t feeling well,” he says. “They helped pay for her cremation and the cost of that. They didn’t have to do that. They also helped counsel me through it. It was a part of my life that really could’ve went haywire, but they kept inspiring me.”
Pete says RedTree is always willing to lend a hand if it’s possible.
“If an employee has vehicle problems, we’ll assist in getting the car towed to our shop and we’ll allow them to work on and repair our vehicles in our equipment shop. It saves them money and lets them use all our tools and air compressors and those things,” he says.
But RedTree isn’t just there for its employees during the tough times. Pete says the company is big on celebrations as well and holds quite a few employee appreciation events throughout the year.
“We’re big on celebrations and celebrating their commitment to the company,” he says. “We try to do different things. One Friday they’ll come in and we’ll have a big ice cream truck set up making them all custom ice creams. We tell them to bring their families by, too. It’s the little things.”
Senior Landscape Designer, Kevin Smith, says the culture at RedTree is palpable and the energized mentality is something everyone feeds off.
“The culture is the best I’ve ever been involved in,” he says. “Everybody comes to work and they’re happy. A lot of it has to do with how we’re treated by the owners. They are really receptive on people making suggestions anywhere from ground guys to upper management — that’s just huge.”
Seeking out assessments
Having leadership throughout the company strive for an open-door policy and make such an effort to listen to everyone at every level is one of the most appreciated things at RedTree.
“There’s things that us guys who aren’t out in the field day-to-day anymore don’t see,” Smith says. “You can lose track of that. You have to be able to listen to the ground guys who are out there and if they have a suggestion on how to make something better, you definitely need to listen to them.”
Pete says constant communication from top to bottom has always been a priority and a way to get the most out of RedTree’s employees.
“Beyond that, we wanted to have a very personal approach with our people and empower our leaders,” he says. “Empowerment of leadership is the things that’s most often missed… ours is down to the supervisor level. We involve our supervisors on everything from job planning to people planning. They help craft and pick their crews, they help decide pay rates and they help decide bonuses and merit increases.
“It allows them to take ownership and pride in how the company’s run, and on our end, it allows us to have supervisors who are truly invested in the crew they roll out the gates with every day,” Pete adds.
Garland, who has been in the industry for over 35 years, says he really appreciates the open dialogue at RedTree. He adds it helps foster a united front as well when employees know their voices are being heard.
“I’ve worked for companies where you pull over to the side to take a drink of water, and the next thing you know, you have an account manager watching you and you’re just not trusted,” he says. “That’s not the situation at RedTree. That trust level makes for a better workplace and makes for a better work ethic in our employees.”
Pete says this high level of communication starts from the very beginning — the interview process.
“No one is hired at this company, at any level, without a personal interview with the owners,” he says. “I really want to develop an understanding of people as individuals.”
Garland adds he’s learned from the Lucadano brothers over the years, and this has helped him serve his crews better.
“I try to approach the guys with kindness and love because that’s how Dave and Pete have taught me,” he says. “They are literally my role models and mentors.”
Pete says he believes it’s that insistence to check in and have regular conversations with everyone at all levels of the company that contributes to a business’ success or failure.
“Without that team, especially in the green industry, the equipment will just sit, and the trucks will stay parked,” he says. “You can have all the resources in the world, but if you don’t have people that are very good at what they do and have the right attitude, mindset and commitment to the company, it doesn’t matter.”
Providing the right tools
Investing in good, quality equipment is another reason RedTree earns employees’ loyalty.
In fact, Smith says it was a driving factor for him when he chose to join the team.
“They were really my style,” he says. “I’ve always been big on quality and keeping equipment up and trucks up and keeping that image alive. There’s a lot of landscape companies that fall short with that.”
Garland agrees, saying before RedTree, he witnessed companies giving their crews subpar equipment and expecting miraculous work.
“I’ve worked for companies who had stuff held together with duct tape and glue,” he says. “They’d never fix anything. RedTree is constantly putting money back into the business.”
Pete admits the company spends a lot on upgrading to the newest equipment and even maintaining older equipment.
“Each day we are meeting with our supervisors morning and evening to hear how the equipment performed, what needs to be taken offline and fixed, and all that,” he says.
Pete adds the reason behind the investment is to ensure employees have what they need to make their jobs easier and more enjoyable.
“Equipment support is a huge factor in the green industry in terms of employee satisfaction,” he says. “When you’re working out in 100-degree heat on long days and you have equipment that won’t run and you need certain tools and don’t have them, and then go in at the end of the day and tell your employer and nothing changes — that’s demoralizing.”
Inspiring positive interactions
Just as Pete says he hoped when starting RedTree, the support of employees has translated into satisfied customers, who appreciate the company’s workforce and positive interactions with them.
“The key to growth in the green industry is happy clients,” he says. “Profits will come if you do all the right things first. If you do right by your people and invest in your equipment to give your people the tools to succeed, the profits will come. It’s like ‘Field of Dreams.’ You have to build it and then they will come. It’s not the other way around.”
One of those happy clients is Tish Dobson, the district manager of Vesta Property Services.
Dobson says there’s been countless times she’s called RedTree for assistance outside of their routine property maintenance and they’ve always been eager to help.
“I could have a tree go down or you name it, and they were there to help me,” she says. “The professionalism is amazing from the crews all the way on up. They’re very respectful, very resourceful and very responsive.”
Dobson, who manages dozens of HOAs and communities, says RedTree is great because they treat each client as an individual and seek to provide a specialized service.
“They roll out the red carpet for all of their communities,” she says. “They understand the needs of every community and they work with you and within your budget.
“They modify each contract so they’re unique to each community — it’s not a boilerplate contract,” Dobson adds. “Every community is not the same, so all the agreements have to be built around the uniqueness of them all.”
Still, Dobson says some of her favorite interactions with the RedTree team have been off the clock, like when they volunteer to parade Santa around the communities during the holiday season.
She explains it all started when the firetruck she rented one year canceled last minute.
“We were two weeks out from Santa driving down the boulevard waving to kids and now I don’t have a firetruck,” she recalls.
Dobson says she called Pete in a panic thinking RedTree could escort Santa in a truck or something. But lo and behold, the brothers actually had a firetruck of their own they could use for the festivities.
The best part? Dobson says the RedTree team volunteered for free.
“I know what fuel costs to run a firetruck,” she adds. “Since then, all the other communities want that, too. All these years, RedTree has been parading Santa around.”
The annual event is a big deal for employees, too, who gladly volunteer their time to help out.
“Their community spirit is unmatched,” Garland says of RedTree. “We have the privilege of doing those Christmas hayrides and parades with Santa…I enjoy doing that stuff and look forward to it all year. To see the kids have so much fun is amazing.”
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