The landscape business is not what it used to be. The construction and housing boom has created an increasingly competitive business environment where companies must find ways to differentiate their work from that of competitors.
Realty Landscaping Corp., located in Newtown, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia, is a landscape contractor that has successfully distinguished itself. Realty Landscaping started in business in September 1985 with five employees.
Cliff Greer, president of Realty, estimated that in the first year of business the company brought in $250,000. Today, the company employs 250 people including landscape designers, horticulturalists, equipment operators, and maintenance personnel. Realty is predicting revenues to be approximately $15 million in 2003.
The company specializes in what Greer called a “niche market” in the landscaping business and over the years has built a diverse customer base of more than 900 clients. It is capable of full “design and build” landscaping as well as continued care for completed projects. Realty works for some of the largest commercial and residential builders in the Metro-Philadelphia area.
Design/build landscape projects are some of the most challenging aspects in all of construction. Typically, Realty is one of the last subcontractors on the job site, providing the finishing touch to the modern construction project. All site and utility work, paving and sidewalks need to be completed. This means that Realty has to do a lot of work in a small space. It also has to be careful not to disturb any other aspects of the construction.
To accomplish work that requires some excavation as well as moving materials used for prep and backfill, Realty has a fleet of skid steer loaders. Their size and versatility make them well-suited for the landscaper’s demanding work.
In the past year, the company has purchased six Caterpillar 262 vertical-lift skid steer loaders. The machines were purchased from Giles & Ransome Inc. (G&R), a Bensalem, PA-based Caterpillar dealer for southeastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, and southern New Jersey. Greer said, “I needed the best equipment and our guys need tools to get the job done.”
In addition to toughness, Greer explained his choice of Caterpillar.
“There are two kinds of investments I make in equipment, disposable and long-term. A chain saw is something that is disposable. For that type of investment, I will find something that is cheap and can get the job done. When I have used it up, I will replace it,” said Greer. “A skid steer loader is a long-term investment. I will pay more up front to have a machine that is reliable and that will outlast the competition. Caterpillar is that kind of machine. You know that the equipment is reliable and that the company will be there to support you in five years.”
A big factor in Realty’s decision to go with Caterpillar is the product support capability of G&R. Its first 262 was purchased with a complete three-year/3,000-hour Total Maintenance and Repair Agreement (TM&R). The next five were purchased with a variety of Preventive Maintenance (PM) Agreements.
Realty also equipped all six machines with Caterpillar Product Link. Product Link is a GPS system that allows the customer to log onto G&R’s Web site and see exact locations of its machines. This system is ideal for a company such as Realty that works throughout a large geographic area, and has a large equipment fleet. Product Link also can be set up to page the owner of the equipment if the machine is moved after a certain time of day. “It is a great security feature,” said Greer.
In addition, Product Link allows G&R’s service personnel to see where the machines are located and receive readings from the machines’ hour meters. When they see that a unit is due for routine service, they can find the location and schedule a road mechanic to perform the service. This ensures that Realty’s new Cats will be up and running when they are needed.
Greer also liked G&R’s scheduled oil sampling (SOS) and the in-house fluid analysis laboratory. He said this is just one more thing that solidifies G&R’s commitment to the customer.
The flexibility of the different service agreements allowed Realty to experiment as it purchased additional Cat machines. The goal is to find out what maintenance agreement best meets its needs.
Greer pointed out that “versatility” is one of the keys to maintaining a competitive edge in today’s landscape market. G&R provides “very good support,” said Greer. “They are focused on building relationships and standing behind their products, which sets them apart from other machine manufacturers.”
Greer continued, “Caterpillar technology is better and the people at Giles & Ransome look at the equipment the same way we do — as a long-term asset. Giles & Ransome is a local business that I was happy to give the business to.” Greer described the situation as the “best of both worlds” — getting the quality of a local business with the support of a world leader.
In addition to investing in quality equipment, Realty invests in its employees. When it purchased the Cat skid steers, they were much different than the equipment it operators were accustomed to operating. In keeping with the philosophy of efficiency above all else, the company provided training for more than 50 operators who in turn would train the other employees.
Training is just another example of Realty’s progressive thinking that drives the company. It continually makes investments in its employees, and the employees in turn, work hard to keep Realty on top of the competition.
Realty still holds the same values that got it this far, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to its Newtown location, Realty has two branches, one in Oaks, PA, and the other in Burlington, NJ.