Everything Under The Sun

When Steve Wheatcroft and Ross Rayment “mowed” their way through university in the late 1980s, little did they dream their small company would be as big and successful at it is today. Rocky View, Alberta-based ULS Maintenance & Landscaping has become one of the premier fullservice landscape management companies in the Calgary area. From employing 20 people and grossing $1 million in sales in the mid 1990s, ULS has grown exponentially in both its sales and service offering. The company also has a second location in Saskatoon.


“We are kind of a unique animal,” explains company director of sales and marketing, Paul Atkinson. “We have a broad array of clients and offer them virtually any service under the sun, and what cannot be done in house is serviced with our subcontracting network.”

During the peak growing season, ULS employs closed to 150 people. A robust snow removal operation allows the company to retain approximately 100 of them year-round, while keeping between 100 and 200 subcontracted employees busy, as well.

Boom Market

Thanks to an economy fueled by the oil and gas industry, Calgary managed to dodge most of the economic malaise that has plagued municipalities throughout the U.S. The housing market continues to be strong, as is the demand for landscaping services. “We are down a bit from where we were a few years ago,” Atkinson admits, referring to the city’s overall economic picture. “But we never experienced the kind of recession they did in the States.”

Atkinson started with ULS on a mowing crew in 1995. When asked to describe the company’s diverse service offering, he talks about the company’s ability to manage virtually any size property or project from design and installation through maintenance. ULS also installs decorative asphalt, and through its subcontracting network can offer painting, power washing, line painting, parking lot sweeping and site signage, among other services.

Subcontractors follow strict guidelines and are supervised by ULS area managers and field supervisors. Depending on the service, they may even lease some of their equipment, including snow removal equipment, from ULS.


“Snow is big up here,” says Atkinson. “We have more than 100 snow plows, several truck loaders, a couple of specialized belly-mounted plows, along with two snow melters. The snow season can be long, too, which, in turn, can shorten an already short growing season.”

Managing Turf

ULS mows upwards of 2,000 acres of turf 21 times a year. That figure includes clients like the City of Calgary, several residential communities and large commercial properties, as well as smaller single-family homes. Atkinson caught up to one of the company’s four Walker Mowers while driving around the New Discovery residential community.

“I’m on a Walker Mower at least 40 hours every week,” says mower operator Brian Peters, a seasonal employee who just started working for ULS this past spring. “I enjoy the machine. It’s fun to operate and perfect for the small, more heavily landscaped yards like the ones here.”

Atkinson shares a common bond with Peters noting that he, too, started with the company on a Walker Mower. “I don’t know how long we’ve had the Walker Mowers, but they were here when I came on board. They are the perfect mowers for many of the properties we maintain such as New Discovery that has 2,200 residents and 40 acres of turfgrass. We don’t equip the mowers with attachments since they get more than a full ration of use during the short yet very intense growing season.

“This has been an exceptionally crazy summer for mowing,” the director of sales and marketing adds. “The winter was long and then it rained for nearly three weeks straight.” Atkinson moves his hands a foot apart to indicate just how fast and tall the grass grew before crews could get to it. In addition to the Walker Mowers, ULS operates John Deere wide-area mowers, a few other zero-turn brands such as Exmark and Gravely, and several trim mowers, all of which are maintained by technicians in the company’s service shop.

Growth Spurts

Under_womanTraining can be especially challenging for fast-growing companies. Just last year, ULS retained full-time HR and safety manager Tanna Duncan to oversee the company’s ever-expanding training needs. “New employees receive a safety-training orientation and our goal is to have all employees certified in both safe driving and first aid,” Duncan relates. “We also offer training and certification in tree climbing and loader operation, have certified snow professionals on board, and send team members for pesticide training and certification.”

Creating a sound management structure has helped the company handle the challenges posed by going from a very small company to a very large one. Atkinson and his counterpart in operations, Frank Swanberg, report directly to company president Ken Ruddock who, in turn, answers to the two owners. Atkinson has eight direct reports, including area and regional managers responsible for tree care, construction, design and property management. “The managers do most of the hands-on selling and interacting with customers, which gives me more time for implementing new marketing strategies,” he explains.

The Big Three

For Calgary businesses and homeowners, snow, water and sustainability are among top issues. ULS operates its own brine plant, the product of which helps minimize the use of salt on roads. “Salt sticks to the brine, which keeps it on the road where it belongs and reduces the need to broadcast excessive quantities,” Atkinson notes. “We apply only a bare minimum of pesticides by spot spraying and practicing Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Installing water capture systems and smart controllers help customers conserve water.

“We’ve also purchased some hybrid vehicles. The technology for these vehicles varies, however, so it’s important to shop around before buying something that sends a sustainable message to customers yet may actually increase operating costs rather than reduce them.”

The Walker Mowers, however, don’t fall into the latter category, and neither do other key pieces of maintenance and construction equipment that help the ULS team members provide nearly every service under the sun. 

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