Tuesday, February 22, 2011

These firms are serious about taking it to "The Next Level"

DALLAS – If you want to know where the landscape industry is going – or at least where some of its most progressive companies think it should be going – you need to be paying attention to The Next Level Network (NLN), which is a tiny organization of progressive landscape companies that network and collaborate to energize their staffs and bring innovation into their operations.

Today the NLN - founded and facilitated by industry business consultant Bruce Wilson - consists of just seven companies: HighGrove Partners, Atlanta; CoCal Landscape, Denver; Heads Up, Albuquerque; Mariani Landscape, Lake Bluff, IL; Vila & Son, Homestead, FL; Pacific Landscape Management, Portland, OR; and Lamberts Landscape Company, Dallas. Owners and management of the companies get together three times a year. They’ve been doing so since 2005.

As I write this, key managers of the companies, including most of the owners, are meeting here in the Next Level Network University. Lamberts Landscape Company is hosting the University. To kick off the event, key personnel (including several owners) of the seven companies dined together in a Marriott Hotel ballroom here Monday evening (about 130 people, including guests) and shared brief overviews of their companies. Several broad themes emerged.

1. Each company is adamant about building the skill levels (technical, sales, operational and financial/business expertise) of its employees. And, in spite of several of the companies being among the largest in the country (Florida’s Vila&Son and Mariani in Chicagoland) each company views itself as a “family” of like-minded individuals working cooperatively.

2. Each company is intensely customer-focused. Vila&Son, for example sports a WIT emblem on each one of its service vehicles. WIT stands for “Whatever It Takes,” the slogan it promotes to its clients in achieving their satisfaction.

3. The owners of these companies are still totally engaged in the success of their employees, and by extension, their companies.

4. Green is not just a color. Without exception these companies are implementing best practices when it comes to environmentally responsible landscape design, construction and maintenance. Lamberts, the host company, has been practicing “organic” landscape care since the late 1980s. Companies such as CoCal and Heads Up, located in arid regions of the United States, are strong into Xeric landscaping; High-Grove Partners instituted its innovative “WaterKnow” services several years ago; but Pacific Landscape Management is taking environmental landscape practices farthest of all, even to the installation of solar panels on its headquarters.

Stay tuned and I’ll continue to report on the NLN University. This small group of entrepreneurial operations, especially as the managers of its member companies start trading experiences and observations, is going to generate some great ideas the next couple of days. – Ron Hall

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