Building the backyard dream

Woodfield Landscaping's Peter Curro is delivering on clients' wishes for properties that feel like a great escape.

The conference room at Woodfield Landscaping in Fallston, Maryland, is where clients experience their first “wow” and realize the potential of their properties if they move forward with a new landscape plan. There’s a sizeable table and it’s a comfortable space at the headquarters. But the most compelling part is the flat-screen television mounted to the wall. The lights dim and clients look up. They see pictures of their yard as it is. One after the next, President Peter Curro moves through a deck of images that he and his crew collect before the meeting.

“When they come in to our office and see their backyard up on the screen, that makes a world of difference,” says Curro, who started the business in 1990 after nearly two decades growing a career at a local nursery. “I always wanted to be in design/build landscape. It’s what I always had in the back of my mind.”

Clients can see this passion when they begin flipping through the project idea book, which is the next step after their property photos are displayed on the big screen. “We have a book of projects that are a range of prices,” Curro says. “Going through those pictures helps us talk about the budget so we can get a good idea of what they have in mind.”

 So, there’s the big-screen picture show of before pictures – the property as it is. And the inspiration book of Woodfield Landscaping’s completed projects, tagged with price points so clients can see what it costs to develop some of their backyard dreams. 

 This in-house experience does a couple of things. For one, it saves Curro and his team the time and resources required to meet clients at their home. And, he says, “It eliminates the tire kickers.” Those who make the effort to go to Woodfield Landscaping’s office are serious about moving forward with some sort of plan. 

 Also, this sets the tone for the approach Woodfield Landscaping takes on projects – and that’s an in-house way of doing business. The company is a full-service design/build firm with a robust pool division. Crews complete projects from breaking ground to building pavilions and poolside outdoor kitchens. These days, poolscapes make up 75 percent of the company’s revenue, Curro says.

 “We have a niche,” Curro relates. “There’s really no direct competition because we can do the whole project,” he says. 

An in-house approach.
When Curro started the company nearly two decades ago, the installation projects were fairly basic –“junipers on hillsides,” he says. But more complex and larger-scale jobs began landing on his desk as the years progressed, a product of consistent advertising, word of mouth and branding. From the beginning, Curro drove a red truck emblazoned with the company logo and crews still drive red trucks (his favorite color). “So people can see my trucks driving around and they automatically know it’s Woodfield,” he says. 

Creating a professional image has always been important. And advertising is also a priority. Curro credits his nursery retail background for this. “We have always advertised,” he says. Today, his advertising is focused online. He has a website marketing pro who manages the company’s site along with Google ad words. Curro spends an estimated $5,000 per month on advertising through the web from mid-January through November. “People who want pools start shopping after Christmas,” he says.

The market Woodfield Landscape operates in surrounding Washington D.C. has also been economically stable with high-end residential clients who are interested in investing in their outdoors. “The high-end residential client is really who we focus on,” Curro says. Many jobs are in the $100,000-plus range, though his team also designs and installs landscapes that are $50,000 or less. But more work is focused on those complete outdoor room concepts that include swimming pools. “We’re doing the pool, its travertine decking, the pavilion, the outdoor lighting, the landscaping – everything that goes around the pool,” Curro says. 

And this work is completed by the in-house team. “We have subbed a few things out in the past, and it was always a problem. The sub didn’t show up or there was some sort of issue,” Curro says. “That was not good for our customer relations because our focus is making sure they’re happy at pretty much any cost. That’s our referral base.”

Of course, completing jobs in-house means having a trusted team that can do all of the work. For Curro, that skilled labor team is largely his loyal H-2B staff who have been with him for 17 years. As Woodfield added services to the business, he trained his crews in the field. “I’m always on the jobs overseeing progress,” he says. “So, over the years the team has learned exactly how to do things and what is expected.” 

Most of that dedicated team has been with Curro since 2001. “We needed employees at the time, and one day we were laying sod and some Mexicans showed up and were looking for work,” he says. “I said, O.K., but then realized they were not legal. So, they went home and I found out about H-2B and got them all legal. They came back the following year and have been with us ever since.”

H-2B has been critical to keeping services in-house at Woodfield Landscaping, he says. “You need a very good crew, and a crew that is going to show up every day,” he says.

Breaking into pools.
The pool goes in first, then comes the landscaping. The problem was, Curro’s clients who were having pools installed were dealing with contractors that strung out projects and weren’t reliable. A pool project that should have taken weeks would be a work in progress for six months, holding up Woodfield Landscaping’s schedule and frustrating its clients.

So in 2006, Curro decided to do something about that. 

“I said, ‘We can do this,’” he says. “I called up San Juan pools, and they had a dealer nearby who wasn’t doing so well. I bought out his license and he worked with me for a short time. I learned how to put in those (fiberglass) pools, and learned how to do concrete and vinyl liner pools on my own.”

By bringing pool installation in house, Curro could better control the quality and job schedule. Plus, he could present that true, complete outdoor room to clients. 

He quickly realized that building pools would be a revenue-generator for the business. 

“One day, I sold three pool projects, and collected $250,000 in deposits because we sold the patios, retaining walls and everything else included that we can do in house,” he says. 

Two years ago, Curro hired someone to provide pool maintenance to clients. “Now, we can open the pools and close them at the end of the season,” he says. “For some clients, we visit them on a weekly basis to clean the pools and test the water.”

Basically, as clients’ needs arise over the years, Woodfield Landscaping expands its capabilities to take care of them, while staying within his design/build niche. The company does not do landscape maintenance. However, Curro says that his crew will perform trimming and mulching for a select few.

“Our average crew wage is just too high to be competitive to go out there and try to sell mulch jobs, and it’s not what I want to do,” he says. Maintaining a design/build focus and expanding capabilities in that market has been a successful model for Woodfield Landscaping. In 2015, revenue was approximately $2 million and this year they’re looking at $3.5 million.
Planning for the future. 
Along with adding a pool division in 2006, Curro made another important decision: hiring a consultant to help the business solidify operational processes and plan more strategically. Marcus vandeVliet, MV Consulting, began working with Curro, who met him at a seminar. The company was growing quickly and Curro was looking to develop systems and adopt an estimating system.

They reviewed how a job goes from sale to completion and now there is a defined process in place. “What I’m looking forward to now is developing an exit strategy to implement over the next 10 years,” Curro says. Project Manager Aust Albrecht will eventually take over the company, he says. Putting systems in place now will smooth the transition of ownership when the time comes.

“I have worked so hard at this company – my heart, soul, blood and sweat are in it, and I just don’t want it to go away,” Curro says. “Plus, it makes me feel good to know that Austin will be able to support his family, as will our designer Jonathan Christ. The doors are wide open for them. And, we have our guys from Mexico who have been with us for 17 years. We contribute to making their lives better, and they’re supporting their families.” 

Woodfield Landscaping continues to grow, taking on more complex jobs that completely transform backyard spaces into personal resort environments. Because of the comprehensive nature of the business these days, Curro is considering changing the company name, trading Landscaping for Outdoor Living. He is aware that some potential clients might not realize they’re in the pool business if the name implies landscaping only.

“I just love going into someone’s backyard and there’s nothing there, and then walking away when we are done with a job and the customers are so happy that they have a little piece of paradise,” Curro says. “I love what I do. And it’s all working.”