Partners Paul Fraynd, left, and Hugh Morton merged companies in 2012 to become Sun Valley Landscaping.
Photos courtesy of Sun Valley landscaping

All hardscape companies start somewhere, and for Sun Valley Landscaping, it was a stone yard.

Hugh Morton and his late partner, Don Schrack, met in 1994 when Morton went to an empty lot to dump grass clippings and found Schrack sitting in a construction trailer with 50 pine tree seedlings and 20 perennials in pots, ready to sell.

“Hugh asked Don what he was doing and Don said, ‘I’m not really sure yet,’” says Paul Fraynd, CEO and partner of the company. When a job of Morton’s didn’t work out 10 months later, he went back to the trailer, found Schrack, and the two got together to sell natural stone to landscape suppliers on the same lot where they met.

Eventually, the operation grew to include two installation crews and in 2012, Fraynd’s maintenance company merged with Morton’s to become Sun Valley.

The reason for the merger was a shared passion for the industry. Fraynd and Morton had known each other for 10 years before combining companies. Sun Valley was a supplier of Fraynd’s company, and Fraynd remembers his first trip to the supply yard vividly. “I was young and didn’t know much,” he says.

He stopped in to buy soil and Morton came out to ask what he was working on. “We started to talk and, next thing I knew, Hugh spent 20 minutes with me, teaching me how to estimate jobs, how to do the work properly and how to manage my newfound employees. He was a great mentor and spent so much time to teach me how to do things right.”

Sun Valley’s average job is $8,000 to $10,000, but the company doesn’t have a minimum.

The two stayed close, with Morton acting as a snow subcontractor for Fraynd’s accounts.

“He was my best contractor. He had my trust and always did what he said he would do,” Fraynd says. “When Hugh asked me if I would consider joining forces a few years later, I knew it would be a great partnership.

“We had some big goals about creating a very unique company that people could thrive in as far as our employees go, but it could be considered something special in Omaha,” Fraynd says. “The nice thing is it worked. We’ve doubled in size and now we’re like a full-service company.”

Bumpy road.

Unfortunately, the merger didn’t go as smoothly as they thought it would. “We didn’t know where the guys were going to park. They all had different T-shirts,” Fraynd says. “We were two different companies that shared one roof, so we had to rebrand it to something that was new.”

To do this, the entire company sat down and finished the statement “In 12 years, this is what the company’s going to look like …” They wrote a magazine article from the future, describing the company and filling in that blank.

The article, along with funny team photos and other memorabilia from that year, were put in a time capsule that the team buried in the employee garden. Fraynd describes it as a bonding experience for the group. The plan is to dig up the capsule in 2024 and hope that the magazine article is relevant to how much the company has grown.

“Now it’s kind of like a battle cry,” he says. “It’s this shared goal that we all work after, so we refer to it often.”

Baby steps.

In an attempt to prevent being overenthusiastic and falling short, smaller goals are set each year with the eventual goal being the end result.

“One of our big strengths is we dream big, but we also have a good strategic process,” Fraynd says. “Every year is different because you make strides each year. We’ve made it a process of continual improvement.”

He says this plan is important because it’s easy to feel like you’re not going anywhere, but if you sit back and look at where you were a year ago, you’re able to recognize the steps you’ve taken.

“I think a lot of that comes from this big far-off dream,” he says. “It’s one thing to have annual goals, but it’s nice to have somewhere you want to go in 10 years that seems almost impossible, but it keeps motivating you every day.”

Building fresh.

Prior to that day in 1995 when he approached Schrack, Morton had been working for a large local competitor. He was a landscape architect fresh out of college and after a year, he decided the company wasn’t for him. He wanted to be in charge of his own company. Seventeen years later, Fraynd signed on.

“He’d kind of gotten to the max of what he could do,” he says. “So that’s why he wanted me to come along and make it into something bigger.”

The company now has five crews and a lot of the work they do has to do with Morton. “The type of leads and clients we get are mainly from Hugh’s reputation and a lot from his designs,” Fraynd says.

While other companies are busy using up-to-date technology and computer programs to create a design the client wants, Morton does it the old fashioned way with a piece of paper, something Fraynd says makes the designs unique. They stand out from the competition.

All in a day’s work.

While the company does like to focus on the unique projects, the crews at Sun Valley Landscaping do all kinds of jobs, ranging in cost and size.

Fraynd says the average job is $8,000 to $10,000, but the company doesn’t have a minimum, especially for current clients. In 2016, the company even completed a handful of jobs in the $150,000 to $175,000 range.

The company does primarily residential projects, giving Morton a chance to make each project unique to the homeowners.

“His style is simple,” Fraynd says. “It’s more about what you take out than what you put in. He always talks about letting a design breath – letting the elements shine.”

The company’s designs take open areas, such as large stone patios, and balances them against big, powerful statements, like waterfalls, a bulk planting area or a natural stone wall. The elements are there, but the design isn’t layered and there’s no feeling of every inch being covered and designed.

“It tends to make them feel bigger than they are, more grand than they are, and you appreciate each piece more when you keep it simple,” Fraynd says.

Because of the company’s location in rural Nebraska, Fraynd says they’re about five years behind other parts of the country when it comes to design trends. Outdoor living is big and right now Fraynd says having outdoor kitchens as an extension of the home is what a lot of customers want, although he says that’s a pretty common request across the country.

Bio-retention and rain gardens are also a current trend in the area. “It’s a very hot topic right now on what to do with ground runoff,” he says.

They’re also seeing a lot of customers wanting to return to natural landscaping. “We’re doing a lot more native planting and things like prairies,” Fraynd says. “People are wanting to bring that back to what it used to be, what the landscape used to be here locally.”

He’s also seeing a lot of natural stone, as opposed to precast. “Using natural elements is pretty hot right now,” he says.

The third most common trend allows Morton is create one-of-a-kind designs with the client’s existing art. “Hugh will find a unique element and stick it somewhere and let it shine,” Fraynd says. “It’s another way to make a garden your own.”