The Moore Landscapes team, from left, Victor Moore, Joel Korte, Eric Moore and Andrew Brennan, at the Crystal Gardens on Navy Pier in Chicago.
Photo courtesy of Moore Landscapes

CHICAGO – Two former ValleyCrest and Brickman executives have joined forces to acquire Moore Landscapes, a second-generation commercial landscape company in the Chicago market.

Andrew Brennan, who spent 11 years with ValleyCrest and left as executive vice president and chief operating officer, joined ClearLight Partners in late 2015 and will serve on Moore’s board. Joel Korte, a former senior vice president for Brickman’s Midwest operations, takes over as Moore's CEO.

This is the first landscape industry investment by ClearLight, a $900 million firm based in Newport Beach, California.

“Joel and I have looked at a few businesses together since last summer. We have very similar things we’re looking for – a great culture, great work for great customers. You walk into this business and you feel that immediately,” Brennan said.

The company was founded in 1948 by Floyd Moore, and operated by his two sons, Eric, CEO, and Victor, president. They will remain with the company as minority equity holders, Brennan said.

Moore operates four main divisions: commercial maintenance, commercial construction, snow and ice management, and interiorscaping.

Brennan said Moore’s management team averages 20 years of tenure. “When you find a group of talented people who have been together that long, it says something very positive about the organization and the culture and what the company is doing,” Brennan said.

Moore Landscapes employs 200 people in peak season, Korte said, and has two offices: one in Chicago and its headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois.

Neither Brennan nor Korte would disclose the terms of the acquisition, or Moore’s 2016 revenue.

The acquisition is the latest in an already active mergers and acquisition market.

Lawn & Landscape has reported on eight major acquisitions by landscape companies in just the first five months of 2017, including purchases by The Grounds Guys, Monarch Landscape, Yellowstone, Rentokil Steritech, Gothic Landscape, SavaTree, Rotolo Consultants, Senske and BrightView.

“Investors like the recurring revenue profile of the business, and what they perceive as its relative resilience in the face of economic headwinds,” Brennan said.

Moore Landscapes was advised by CCG Advisors, led by Brian Corbett.

Kawasaki consolidates engine division

In an effort to push innovation, the company has moved its R&D team to its Grand Rapids, Michigan, location. By Katie Tuttle

GRAND RAPID, MICHIGAN – In an effort to have a closer relationship with the rest of the company's groups, Kawasaki Engines Division relocated its research and development division from Marysville, Missouri, to Grand Rapids, Michigan. The consolidation into the newly renovated building was recognized with a grand reopening celebration of the location.

“Grand Rapids is close to our OEM (original equipment manufacturer) customers, so we're able to have a quicker relationship with those customers, have better direct communication with them between OEM sales, application engineering and R&D, so we’re able to have a quicker response to our OEMs request for OEM sales and R&D working together in the same place,” said Dave Sugden, newly named director of research and development for the company.

Being able to work together with all the groups in the same building will allow Kawasaki to utilize all of its resources in creating engines customers want. The 200,000-square-foot facility includes 66,500 square feet of renovated offices and an R&D lab.

“I talk a lot about outside in and inside out development,” said Kurt Forrest, director of OEM sales. “I think that’s where the best product development happens – our team, the OEM sales team – we’re that primary conduits if you will, or funnel, through which that information flows, so it’s our job to ensure that our OEM customers needs in the market are brought into this building.”

Despite the windy weather, top executives from Kawasaki Engines lined up outside for an official ribbon cutting to mark the grand re-opening of the Grand Rapids location.
Photo by Katie Tuttle

Forrest said being located in the same building will change team interactions from deliberate, via the phone, to serendipitous, perhaps at a vending machine, creating unique opportunities for conversation and innovation with other employees.

“You can’t overstate the benefit of those interactions," he said. "We’re bumping and colliding all the time in this building now, and creativity happens that way. Great work gets done and great products get produced.”

Another benefit to location is its proximity to Detroit and Chicago, making it a good location for recruiting. “It’s allowing us to recruit good, experienced engineers with automotive skills and education,” Sugden said. “Also, electrical engineers with experience, and EFI calibration engineers which is very important to us going forward with our new EFI systems.”

On May 18, Kawasaki held a grand reopening celebration, which included speeches from top executives, traditional Japanese musical entertainment, a ribbon cutting and a sake toast.

“You’re a very strong team here in Grand Rapids – a team that works in harmony with each other,” said Kazuo Ota, president of Kawasaki Motorcycle and Engine Company in Japan.

He said the company founders would be honored to see their pictures on the location’s Heritage Wall, which highlights the history of Kawasaki, back to its beginning in the 1850s.

The company’s first engine for the global general purpose division, the KF-4, is also on display in the building. It was manufactured in Akashi, Japan in 1957.

The R&D move involved the relocation of 12 staff members and Kawasaki executives acknowledged that the decision to ask people to make such a change wasn’t made lightly.

“It was the right thing for our team and for our customers,” Forrester said.

Ask the Experts: Cannabis, past pay & background checks

Q: The legalization of marijuana in some states makes it confusing for our company to deal with drug testing and related issues. We aren’t sure how to amend our rules to deal with it.

A: The marijuana issue has become more complicated. Typically, employers have been able to approach marijuana the same as alcohol – test positive and you’re not hired or you’re disciplined or fired. Generally, even if marijuana is legal, an employer may refuse to hire applicants who test positive for marijuana and terminate employees who also test positive. There are nuances to this generality which can be problematic. First, a positive test result does not mean impairment; it means the employee tested positive. Because marijuana may be detected several days after use, unlike alcohol, there is a developing issue around employer conclusions that testing positive means impairment.

Also, consider state and federal laws, which prohibit discrimination based on a disability. What if in a state where medical marijuana is permitted, an employee has a valid prescription for marijuana to treat a condition which qualifies as a disability? The employer is required to consider reasonable accommodation of an employee’s disability, including the treatment plan.

While I do not believe that means the employer must permit the employee to consume marijuana during the employee’s work day, a prescription for medical marijuana needs to be evaluated seriously. In the green industry, employees drive vehicles, operate equipment, work on private property and apply regulated products. The decision may be which claim does the employer want to risk – the employment claim or the claim from a third party over an accident involving an employee who tested positive for marijuana?

Q: We often look at what a potential employee has been paid in the past, when considering his salary. Am I still able to do that?

A: This has become prohibited in some states. The national focus on pay equity involves gender, race and national origin. The issue is that if individuals in those protected classes are historically paid less based on their protected class status, a subsequent employer should not benefit from prior discrimination in pay which may have occurred. There are cities and some states which prohibit employers from asking that question. Be sure you know the rules in your state.

Q: For some commercial contracts, we need to run background checks on employees. Are there any rules about how and what can be asked?

A: No, but there are limitations to follow. In most state jurisdictions, generally an employer may ask if an applicant has an arrest pending. An employer may not ask for prior arrests. Several jurisdictions and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have guidelines or restrictions regarding criminal background questions on the application (“ban the box”). The employer needs to determine what’s permitted/prohibited in the jurisdictions regarding the application process.

Even if permitted, the employer should consider with convictions how recent, how severe, what the applicant did post-conviction and the relationship of the crime to the employee’s job. If asking about a conviction record is permitted on the application, the employer should include a statement that answering “yes” does not necessarily disqualify the applicant from employment. The EEOC’s position is that if the employer wants to consider that answer as a hiring factor, it should ask the applicant to explain what occurred. Note that if you want to conduct a background check, the Fair Credit Reporting Act is quite particular in how this must be done.

For example, an authorization for the background check must be on a stand-alone form, not part of a general authorization or combined with other questions/disclosures on that page of the application.

Richard Lehr, J.D., Lehr Middlebrooks Vreeland & Thompson, P.C. NALP Legal & Human Resources Advisor

Ask the Experts is brought to you in partnership with NALP, the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Questions are fielded through NALP’s Trailblazers, the industry’s leading company mentoring program. For more questions visit Landscapeprofessionals.org.

Senske Lawn & Tree Care acquires Turf’s Up!

KENNEWICK, Wash. – Senske Lawn & Tree Care has announced the acquisition of assets of Turf’s Up!, a lawn and tree care provider based in Lake Stevens, Washington. Turf’s Up! manager and owner Dave Zimmerman established the company in 1987.

“Senske’s reputation precedes itself as an outstanding company that prides itself in professionalism and the work that it does. I believe that the acquisition of Turf’s Up! by Senske will prove to be mutually beneficial for all parties involved,” Zimmerman said. “Both companies share a ‘customer first’ culture that make Senske and their Washington Tree and Lawn Care division a good fit for this acquisition.”

When asked about the deal, Senske President Chris Senske said, “We anticipate a seamless transition for Turf’s Up! customers and they should expect to receive service as usual. We continuously look to merge with high-quality companies who share our goals, principles and culture and I believe we found the perfect fit with Turf’s Up!”

RCI acquires Greenscape Grounds Management

Rotolo Consultants said the acquisition is in line with the company’s goal of expanding through both organic growth and acquisitions.

SLIDELL, La. – Rotolo Consultants (“RCI”) has announced that they have acquired Greenscape Grounds Management, a commercial landscape maintenance company with operations in Lafayette and Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Keith Rotolo, president and CEO of RCI, said, “The acquisition of Greenscape is in line with our goal of expanding RCI via not only organic growth but also through the selective acquisition of quality companies. We are impressed by Greenscape’s management team, employees and high quality of service, and we are confident that Greenscape will make a great addition to our company.”

Greenscape Grounds Management owner, Brad Breaux, and his brother, Ross Breaux, will continue in management roles with RCI. “We are thrilled to join RCI for our next chapter of growth,” Brad Breaux said. RCI brings additional expertise and resources to help us expand our scope of services to new and existing clients in Lafayette and Lake Charles.”

To learn more, visit http://www.RotoloConsultants.com.

SavaTree gets PE backing; makes more acquisitions

CI Capital Partners acquired a majority interest in the company, which also expanded in Colorado.

BEDFORD HILLS, NY, and NEW YORK, NY – CI Capital Partners a New York-based private equity firm, acquired a majority interest in SavATree.

The management team of SavATree has a significant equity ownership in the company, according to a press release.

“We are excited to form this partnership with CI Capital, whose experience executing buy and build strategies will help us accelerate the pace of our acquisitions.

“We look forward to working with CI Capital to further expand SavATree’s business while providing the same high level of service our customers expect,” said Daniel van Starrenburg, who will remain CEO.

“We are excited to form this partnership with CI Capital, whose experience executing buy and build strategies will help us accelerate the pace of our acquisitions.”

SavATree also acquired Thrive, Plant Health Care Solutions, further expanding SavATree's presence in Virginia. Thrive, which is located in Sterling, Virginia, employs 26 people.

The company also acquired Mountain High Tree, Lawn & Landscape. Mountain High is headquartered in Lakewood, Colorado and employs 85 people.

The Mountain High deal was facilitated by W.G. Nielsen & Co., an investment banking firm in Denver.

Denison Landscaping founder dies at 61

FORT WASHINGTON, Md. – John Denison, founder and president of Denison Landscaping, passed away May 25 from complications due to diabetes. He was 61.

From his obituary: “After 44 years in business, John continued to interact daily with employees from every division of the company, including new hires doing landscape installations. He could be found in the ‘yard’ every morning from Monday to Saturday where the landscape crews loaded and prepared to leave for their jobsites. He spent the rest of his day among the other Denison offices and tree farms. John’s office door was open to anyone. He cared deeply for his employees and made sure they knew how much they were appreciated. Above all else, John loved his family. John’s wife, Donna, his children and grandchildren were the center of his life. John was happiest when his family surrounded him at home and at work. He was a loving husband and father, a self-made man and a pillar of the community. John Denison will be deeply missed by his family, friends and all those who knew him.”

Photo courtesy of Denison Landsdcaping

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions be made to one of the following:

  • Christmas in April-Prince George’s County, 7915 Malcolm Rd., Clinton, Maryland 20735
  • Prince George’s County Police Foundation, Inc.- K-9 Unit Account, c/o Prince George’s County Police Headquarters, Office of the Chief, 7600 Barlowe Rd., Landover, Maryland 20785
  • Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department, 11 Town Street, Indian Head, Maryland 20640
  • Religious Sisters of Mercy, 6100 Wolverton Lane, Clinton, Maryland, 20735

Denison Landscaping was ranked 23rd on our 2017 Top 100 list. Visit http://bit.ly/lldenison to read an interview with Denison from our August 2016 issue.