For some companies, things like slogans and mission statements are nothing more than words on a business card. But for brothers Juan and Alex Rodriguez, the catch phrase plastered on their trailers represents much more than that. In fact, “Mowing Kings, Tulare and Fresno Counties One Property at a Time” has been the guiding principle that has allowed Rising Green to blossom into a highly respected commercial landscaping company over the past 10 years.
“To tell you the truth, it has been a pretty smooth ride so far,” Juan says. “The way my brother and I work, it’s like we have tunnel vision. We don’t look to the sides — we just go straight. Some landscapers tend to focus their time on noticing what the next guy has.
I hear them saying, ‘I want to be like that guy, or this guy.’ But Alex and I have one focus in mind and that’s it.”
That focus has always revolved around the concept of “one property at a time.” Rising Green now services a variety of properties throughout the San Joaquin Valley in Central California. Roughly 85% of sales comes from commercial accounts such as HOAs, shopping centers, churches, and dairy farms. The other 15% comes from residential accounts which are serviced by a lone crew that is dedicated to residential.
When the Rodriguez brothers were first starting the company in 2011, all their focus was on residential. That started to gradually change as the company’s reputation grew. However, Juan says they have never wavered from that original philosophy of “one property at a time.” That is the one thing that helps Rising Green rise above many of the competitors they bid against.
“We have a rule where a crew cannot leave a property until they do a whole walkaround to make sure nothing got missed or left behind,” Juan says. “We also rake flower beds. We just incorporate a lot of residential-type work into our commercial properties, which a lot of landscapers don’t do because they are just mow-and-blow. But we don’t want to leave clippings, leaves or messes all over the place. Weeds and overgrown shrubs really drive me crazy. We tell our guys over and over that we don’t want to see any of that.”
FROM TRACTOR-TRAILER TO TRUCK-AND-TRAILER
Juan and Alex were taught the value of fine gardening at a young age. Their father and his brothers started their own landscaping company in 1994. Juan and Alex helped regularly, pushing 21-inch walk mowers when their heads were still below the handlebars. Once they got a little older, they were allowed to hop on the Walker Mower, which Juan says they affectionately referred to as “the yellow machine.”
When they reached adulthood, the Rodriguez brothers started to think about an alternative career. They each tried their hand at driving truck. But earning a living from the seat of a tractor-trailer just didn’t compare to the seat of a Walker Mower. So, after a few years, a big decision was made.
“My brother and I got this crazy idea to start doing our own thing,” Juan says. “We decided to go back to our roots and start gardening again. The first months were hard. We were knocking on doors and people were like, ‘Stop bugging me; I don’t want your services.’ But Alex and I both said to each other, ‘We can’t stop now.’ So, we just kept knocking. Finally, we got three clients in a cul-de-sac. Those clients referred us to a few others, and things started taking off little by little.”
LEADING BY EXAMPLE AND REWARDING HARD WORK
Rising Green provides a range of services. Juan oversees maintenance, lawn care and tree care while Alex oversees irrigation and landscape installation. They each spend a lot of time in the field “micro-managing”, as Juan puts it.
“We aren’t the type of micro-managers who are always hounding our employees, though,” Juan is quick to point out. “We just like being out there helping do the work, while also keeping an eye on things to make sure the quality stays high.”
Juan says employees are motivated when they see the owners of the company willing to venture into the blistering Central Valley heat to work alongside them. Hard work and big rewards have been at the core of Rising Green’s recent success.
“My brother and I got this crazy idea to start doing our own thing. We decided to go back to our roots and start gardening again.”
“A few years ago, we made a decision to offer employees plenty of overtime,” Juan says. “For several years, we did what a lot of landscape companies do: pay a little more than minimum wage and keep every day to eight hours. But we ran into problems with employee turnover. We decided to pay our guys more and let them work lots of hours. It’s hard and it’s hot, but our guys love it — especially when they get that paycheck. Now our employees are staying with us, and the quality of our work is excellent. So, for us, paying more for labor has been a really good investment.”
Case in point, Rising Green has been servicing a certain HOA for seven years now. Prior to taking over that property, Juan says the HOA had churned through half a dozen landscape contractors in just a few years. “I guess we are doing something right,” Juan humbly says with a shrug of the shoulders.
It sure looks that way. Whether it’s frantically searching for a two-inch weed, slightly overgrown shrub, or fistful of clippings on a lawn, the Rising Green staff knows what it means to get it right. Just to be sure, Juan says he and his brother are constantly checking in with clients to see how things are going. They also send customer satisfaction surveys in the mail every few months. “Feedback is what helps us continue doing a great job,” Juan says.
Speaking of feedback, Juan had an interesting conversation with the pastor of a church they service. The crew mows the higher-profile areas with a Walker Mower to catch the clippings and leave things clean as a whistle for when worshippers arrive. One week this past summer, the pastor decided to hold an outdoor service. That prompted Juan to deploy all seven of his Walker Mowers to mow not only the high-visibility areas, but also the huge field that is normally mowed with a 96-inch mower.
As Juan recalls, “The pastor said, ‘Whoa, you didn’t mow this field with the mower you usually use, right? Can you use these ‘new’ mowers all of the time?’ Of course, we can’t always put all seven of our Walkers on the same property at once. But we’ll always use them wherever we can because there really is nothing like them. More than anything, I like driving away from a property and seeing that nice clean cut with no clippings anywhere.”
That is yet another part of the “one property at a time” mindset where a residential touch is applied to big commercial properties. For Rising Green, it’s a mindset that continues to pay off.