It’s an accomplishment when any type of business hits various milestones – 25 years in business, 50 years in business and so on – particularly in the green industry.
Hillenmeyer, a landscape contractor in central Kentucky, just achieved an almost unbelievable milestone a couple of years ago: the contractor celebrated its 175th anniversary. And, as a family business, it has fifth- and sixth-generation owners running the business today.
“One of the questions we get asked a lot is, how do we survive?” says Stephen Hillenmeyer, the company’s fifth-generation owner and president. “It was through diversification. There were areas that we saw we needed to move into, and we moved out of some of the original areas we offered, like retail.”
He says the company was founded in 1841 by Francis Xavier Hillenmeyer, who immigrated from France as a horticulturalist. What started as a fruit tree nursery gradually diversified into landscaping services, then a retail garden center, a greenhouse operation, and later maintenance services and horse farms. Now they offer lawn care and mosquito services.
The company achieves about $14 million in annual revenue, providing primarily landscape design and commercial maintenance out of three offices in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Chase Hillenmeyer, one of the sixth-generation owners and vice president in the family business, says the company has stayed afloat so long thanks to its ability to adapt yet stick true to its roots. Both father Stephen and son Chase say the company has never left its main base in the Lexington, Kentucky, area.
“It’s been a balance of staying true to who we are as a company and reinventing ourselves,” Chase says. “It’s the reason we’re still here 177 years later.”
Regularly adding on.
Assessing the company’s service offerings over 175-plus years has attributed to Hillenmeyer’s longevity. Stephen says the company often looks for new business segments to launch and focus on.
“That’s key to being in business as long as us,” he says. “We’ve reinvented ourselves and we’ve continued to do so.”
For instance, the landscaping company delved into lawn care and pest control services in the past decade. However, instead of adding their own departments for those services, Stephen says the company opted to become a franchisee in both those areas.
For a long time, Hillenmeyer has specialized in landscaping work, and it occasionally performed some lawn care jobs. Stephen says people didn’t think of “lawn care” when they thought of Hillenmeyer, though.
“When they thought of Hillenmeyer, they thought of our landscaping or retail store,” he says. “They certainly weren’t going to think of us for our lawn care.”
So, the company decided to become a Weed Man franchisee in 2003. Stephen says it tied Hillenmeyer to a brand that was recognized for lawn care, and the company added new revenues to their business. When first starting, Hillenmeyer had about 200 Weed Man customers. Today, Stephen says it has more than 8,000 Weed Man customers.
Most recently, Hillenmeyer branched off into pest control. Stephen says it seemed like pest control would be a good tie-in business with its existing customer base. After doing research, Hillenmeyer became a Mosquito Authority franchisee about six years ago, and Stephen says it’s grown steadily each year.
Hillenmeyer doesn’t have solidified plans to add any other services currently, but Chase says they’re always on the lookout for what’s next.
“We don’t know where that may be, but we’re always looking for the next thing while maintaining and growing the businesses we have,” he says.
Reinvent with a rebrand.
Another key to keeping a business around a long time is keeping the look fresh.
When the company turned 175, Chase and his brother, Seth Hillenmeyer, also a sixth-generation owner in the business, determined the company needed a rebrand. Stephen agreed with his sons and was on board.
“My brother and I were getting more involved in the business,” Chase says. “But at the time, the business was called ‘Stephen Hillenmeyer’s Landscaping Services.’”
Although Stephen was and still is very involved in the business, Chase says he wanted to consider tweaking the name, so business won’t be lost once his father retires.
Also, Chase says he wanted to reconsider the “landscaping services” part of the name.
“We had bought into (two) franchises, and the term ‘landscape services’ wasn’t quite as consistent with those offerings,” he says. “So, we wanted something that made sense with our offerings and also give us some flexibility to expand either our franchises or other businesses into the future.”
So, in May 2017, the company hired Bullhorn Creative, a branding agency, to help them determine a way to rebrand the business. Stephen says only four employees, including himself and Chase, were involved in the rebranding process, which took about six months.
After as series of 90-minute sessions and researching the company’s long history, the agency came back to Hillenmeyer with a few concepts the business could adopt.
The new look is clean and simple, which as Stephen says, defines the Hillenmeyer brand well.
Rolling out a new look.
Once all was set, the three owners decided to present the updated brand to its team at the year-end party in December.
They painted the new logo on trucks and trailers, and they purchased uniforms and stationery that featured their new logo. To roll it out to employees, they gathered everyone at the party.
“When we rolled it out it was a big shock to everyone,” Stephen says. “We did the presentation inside our shop – we had all the doors and windows covered up so they couldn’t see out. We introduced what we were doing, why we were doing it. Then, we rolled up the big garage doors and outside they saw our new look. We handed out new shirts and hats to everybody, and everyone was whoopin’ and hollerin’ – it was really cool.”
Looking back at the rebrand process, Chase says he advises companies considering updating their look to call in experts if they don’t have someone in-house to help. Also, make sure everyone who is in a decision-making role needs to be on the same page about goals and expectations for the rebrand.
“That could be a big hurdle,” Chase says.
He says timing is also important and recommends companies rebrand around the same time they need to replace trucks or trailers. Even though Hillenmeyer wanted to rebrand the same year as its 175th anniversary, Chase says they decided to wait one year in order to align the rebrand with the purchase of new equipment.
“We really wanted to do this around the 175th anniversary, but we weren’t ready to cycle our trucks and trailers,” he says. “One of the things Bullhorn said to us that made a lot of sense is the durability of the good drives the decision. You’re always replacing paper and cotton – that is T-shirts and business cards – but metal trailers and signs, that’s expensive, so that decides the timing of the decision.”
Trucks and trailers also serve as a main avenue of marketing for Hillenmeyer since they act as moving billboards. Chase says giving them a fresh, new look has been beneficial in reaching out to customers and prospective customers.
Although the six-month investment in rebranding the company was time-consuming and costly, Stephen says it has paid off and the new look has helped Hillenmeyer stand out. He notes that even a handful of competitors have complimented him on the company’s new look.
“I’ve had probably six competitors call and say, ‘Man, your logo is awesome,’” he says. “That’s unusual for people, so it really makes a statement.”