Break bottlenecks

Break bottlenecks

With the right equipment and materials, you can make short work of big hardscape projects.

February 13, 2015
Kate Spirgen

Now in its 15th year of business, Masseo Landscape has seen all kinds of difficult project conditions from bad drainage to clay to bedrock ridges. On one site in their service area of Ulster County, N.Y., there can be rock, sand and clay all within 100 feet of each other says President Mark Masseo. That’s where his team comes in. “We’re kind of known for being the problem-solvers,” he says. Many projects, whether it’s a retaining wall or paver install, are on tight deadlines, so the process needs to be efficient all the way from excavation to cleanup. Often homeowners are renovating for big occasions like weddings or graduations, so hitting the finish date is a must.

“They say, ‘We know you can get it done because you’ve done it for five other people we know,’ and it’s good that we’re known for that,” Masseo says. “Ultimately, they end up sometimes paying a premium to rush things to get it to fit because as much as we want to make your landscape nice for a graduation party, it has to last.”

Develop a strategy.

Most successful companies carefully plan their attack both before and during construction. Jim Eccleton, president of Country Club Turf in Jackson, Mich., says his company calls well ahead of time for utilities marking.

“That always seemed to be a big problem in the past to have to wait for utilities to be marked,” he says. “Once utilities are marked, we go out and draw a detailed map because we may not be on the job right away and markings get removed by mowers and landscapers,” he says.

Sam Walker, landscape designer/coordinator at DeClark’s Landscaping in Romeo, Mich., says knowing the existing site conditions is vital when estimating the amount of excavated and base materials. “If the site is soft, recently disturbed soil, you are going to need to excavate and install a deeper base,” he says.

Once you are on a site, employees should have a plan on how materials will be moved.

“A common mistake we see other companies' crews make is they will have one designated crewmember moving the material to the area of the installation while another crewmember stands in the back of the truck waiting for the other crew member’s return with their empty wheelbarrow,” says Timothy Trimmer, vice president of landscape at Professional Grounds in Washington, D.C.

His company keeps things moving by adding another wheelbarrow so that the crewmember at the truck can load materials while the other worker runs across the property. That way, there are no wasted man-hours during unloading.

Know your products.

Often, customers will rip a page out of a magazine and ask Masseo for a replica in their own backyard.

Lean on the experts

The best knowledge comes from experience, and even with years of experience under his belt, Mark Masseo, president of Masseo Landscape, doesn’t hesitate to call his local product manufacturer. If he has a tough job or sees a potential pitfall, he’ll find a technical or sales representative to come out to the site, noting that product specialists usually have installation backgrounds so they know the challenges of a site.

He’ll do the same if he’s in line with one or two other contractors in order to show his expertise to the property owner, which isn’t too common among hardscapers, he says. Or, if he’s working with a new product, like permeable pavers, he’ll ask someone to come out and consult to make the homeowner more comfortable hiring him.

“They have to trust that I know and I’m experienced and I know the product inside and out,” Masseo says. “Most likely, you’re going to get the same answer from us but I’d rather you get it right from the horse’s mouth and I’ve done that.”

With all of the trade shows and education outlets available, Masseo says there’s no excuse for staying in the dark about all of the products and techniques out there. “This is what people are hiring you to do,” he says. “You need to be as educated, proficient and up to speed about everything in your industry to help a homeowner when they call. They are not doing their job if they don’t invest the time and energy to learn about it.”

Masseo says that actually makes his job easier since he’ll know the scale, feel, colors, texture and all of the design elements. Then, he starts thinking about the right materials. “An experienced person like myself – you get very knowledgeable about your products. You’re going to know when you look at a job and say ‘Oh, I have the perfect product for you.’”

A customer can have a laundry list of requirements, and within about half a minute, Masseo says he can think of the two or three products that will work best.

Finding a good line of larger blocks and pavers from his supplier was a big win for him and his team. “It was a game-changer for me to see how fast we can build the same exact square footage of the wall and how quickly,” he says.

Product knowledge also helps when it comes to budgeting for paver installation jobs in the initial appointment with a client, says Philip Carlson, landscape division manager at Carrington Lawn & Landscape in Middleton, Wis.

In that initial appointment, he tries to get a sense of the desired style and makes sure that the scope of work fits the customer’s budget. Then, he’ll suggest paver types and combinations to establish a budget and make adjustments from there.

He has the same approach for retaining walls. “I'll select a suggested product based on functionality first, and then style,” Carlson says. Clients can then ask to see alternatives. “Function of the wall is critical to its design so I'll establish if things like terracing, steps, etc., will benefit the finished product very early on in the planning phases,” he says.

In Masseo’s area, customers want a natural look, but they also want large retaining walls. Throw in a big conglomerate stone ridge, a lot of shale and a tight deadline, and you’ve got a difficult project. But with the right material, problems can be solved, even on difficult sites.

Masseo says he always leans toward a larger scale product, which means fewer seam joints for walls, fewer cuts and faster installation for patios.

“I can build a tall wall and a long wall relatively quickly,” he says. “It has tight seams so we don’t have snakes and mice and ants and environmental issues, and … it’s reinforced already. We can backfill a deeper section with drain stone and we can compact it with a larger piece of equipment. So overall, the economy of scale is great.”

Although the product is more expensive than Masseo’s other options, he makes up the cost in fewer man-hours. Plus, the staff has fun with larger stones.

“It’s just so exciting to see the pieces coming together. It looks like a big boulder wall that was there for years,” he says. “That’s what’s really exciting for us for how we got more efficient.”

When purchasing new materials, keeping team members informed of things like installation techniques and laying patterns can prevent lost man-hours.

“You can lose precious hours if you are lacking product knowledge or improperly install a product,” Walker says.

Rightsize the equipment.

Excavation is the hardest part of the project, so Masseo Landscape purchased its second excavator last year to accommodate larger-scale projects with deeper cuts and excavation, and to split up some of the more complex projects. The new excavator also comes with two sets of hydraulics, so there’s no need to get out of the machine and change the plumb lines to put on a new attachment.

“The bigger excavator can handle more difficult terrain more safely, more easily and you can be more efficient about it,” Masseo says. “But in my company, bigger is not always better. I think matching your equipment to a good majority of your calls is the best answer.”

He buys the right vehicles for the jobs he has now, not the ones he thinks he might need in a few years, noting that rental equipment is always an option for larger jobs. For example, Masseo says he can use his Dingo pretty much anywhere and use it for all kinds of jobs. He has a power rake for final grading, a post hole digger, a snowblower and forks to move small palettes.

“That’s a perfect example of a small piece of equipment that does a tremendous amount of work,” he says.


Hit the pavement

Pavers come in many different styles, so take a look at these before you make a decision.

Techo-Bloc Antika Pavers

The pitch: Antika pavers have seen a rise in popularity with the recent custom mosaic and banding design trends in the industry.

  • Can be use for framing a dining area, contouring a pool or creating custom mosaic artwork. It can also stand alone to give walkways and patios the allure of ancient cobblestone courtyards.
  • The paver was designed to be used in areas with pedestrian or light vehicular traffic, residential driveways, patios and swimming pool decks.
  • They are designed so that no two pieces are exactly alike.

For more information:


AZEK Resurfacing Pavers

The pitch: AZEK Resurfacing Pavers can revitalize your home by transforming an old concrete patio, walkway or deck into a low-maintenance, durable and premium aesthetic.

  • AZEK Pavers are made from up to 95 percent recycled materials.
  • Using a grid system that dramatically reduces installation time, AZEK Pavers are desitned to minimize frustration and difficulty out of manually setting and aligning heavy concrete pavers.
  • The pavers are available in five colors and are for commercial and residential resurfacing applications: flat roof, concrete patio, concrete walkway, deck.

For more information:



The pitch: As a paver edge restraint system designed to match the durability of the pavers, PAVE EDGE maintains the perimeter interlock.

  • It’s also designed to work for sidewalks, patios and driveways.
  • PAVE EDGE Industrial is recommended for commercial applications with pavers 8 cm or thicker for heavy vehicle traffic and permeable applications.
  • The lip on the product keeps the bedding sand from migrating out from under the edging. It also ensures that the paver edging will not move separately from the pavement (heave) during freeze/thaw cycles.

For more information: