PHOTOs COURTESY OF chase mullin

During the summer of 2006, after Hurricane Katrina hit Chase Mullin’s hometown, he began working for a small landscaping company in town.

At the same time, a friend of his mother’s had returned from Harvard University with a degree in landscape architecture. “She helped rebuild the city mostly via residential landscape, so she recruited me and a couple of friends and we helped do different installations for her,” Mullin says.

Following that summer, Mullin began taking on side jobs, too. In February 2007, Mullin went off on his own and started Mullin Landscape Associates in Harahan, Louisiana.

“I realized that I had 12 weeks of side work built up while I was trying to work fulltime for the landscaper,” he says.

Growing his own.

Being young in the business when the economy took a monumental hit from Katrina and the rest of the country was on the cusp of the Great Recession might seem like a recipe for business failure. But not for Mullin.

“While the rest of the country was suffering, we still had hurricane money coming in to help,” Mullin says of the initial economic downturn and the eight years that followed.

Earlier on in the business, when things were really bad in the rest of the country, Mullin says his outfit was small and lean. “We didn’t have multiple trucks and crews,” he says. “We didn’t have to lay off employees and liquidate equipment to keep the doors open.”

Actually, Mullin Landscape Associates grew faster than its founder ever imagined possible.

In his first year in business, 2007, Mullin partnered with a local landscape architect who referred all of his installation business. And three years into it, Mullin was prepared to hire an operations manager, realizing that he needed more time to dedicate to sales. “I try to forecast ahead and make sure we have the right people in the right positions to manage growth,” Mullin says.

After hiring that operations manager in the third year, Mullin reeled in $2 million in revenue. At the time, he was running two maintenance crews and two installation crews. He began to systemize operations, too. “We adopted check-out sheets for every job so we could make sure no matter what crew was there, they ‘checked out’ with the same quality,” he says.

While Mullin initially wanted to focus on installation when he started his business, but added maintenance after customers requested the service.

Checkpoints on the sheet include things like ensuring that hard surfaces are blown off after maintenance work, irrigation nozzles are intact and not spraying water on sidewalks, the mulch is patted down and looks neat.

Sales procedures are reviewed every Monday afternoon with staff. “We remind our sales people about what we want to accomplish and make sure every client is getting the same service,” Mullin says.

And in the last year, Mullin Landscape Associates has implemented industry-specific software that merges customer relationship management (CRM), accounting and scheduling. “As the company grew, there were too many different moving parts under one umbrella,” Mullin says. “I feel like the software glues everything together.”

Maintaining momentum.

When Mullin started out, he decided his focus would be installation.

But, clients started asking him to mow the property after the design/build project was complete. Pretty soon afterward, Mullin Landscaping was dedicating two days a week to maintenance and the rest of the time was focused on landscaping, irrigation, lighting and drainage work.

Today, 25 percent of Mullin’s business is maintenance, and that work is divided between commercial and residential clients.

“Maintenance is a way to give customers the best experience you can,” Mullin says. “By maintaining the properties, you can make sure the landscapes grow and turn into what you intended them to be.”

Of course, growing a division and a business means recruiting reliable, skilled staff that can deliver that quality. And that’s not easy, Mullin says.

To help, Mullin offers his staff referral bonuses. “One of the best ways to bring in people is through referrals from our current employees, and we also advertise on social media,” he says.

Craigslist advertisements sometimes work for field positions, he says. “And if we are out and about and we meet people who might be interested in a job, we tell them that we have jobs available. Anything we can do to bring in good people is worth a shot,” he says.

Because of a hiring and training process in place at Mullin Landscaping, prospective employees do not need landscaping experience. “We have a buddy system in place where they work alongside an experienced team member before they go out on their own,” Mullin says.

Meanwhile, he sees opportunity to grow the firm’s commercial business in the installation and maintenance divisions. “There is a lot of building now, and a lot of federal dollars still coming in for commercial construction,” he says.

With eight years of growth and a solid reputation to present to prospects, Mullin says the company now is better positioned to earn commercial business.

So rather than opening a new branch and expanding the service area, Mullin’s growth strategy is to get more business close to home. “We have a good reputation and we are visible,” he says. “Some commercial accounts that might not have given us a second look before, now when we go after them, they know who we are.”

L&L