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One Company's Take on Landscape Maintenance
Firm's Volume Increases About 7 Percent Each Year

By Michael Miyamoto, LC/DBM
Photos: John Algozzini, K & D Enterprise Landscape Management Inc.
(except where noted)


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On many occasions, Kevin Manning, owner and founder of Joliet, Ill.-based K & D Enterprise Landscape Management Inc., completes installation projects that later become maintenance jobs. The home in this photo is one of those, as are many of the projects in this article. The backyard is maintained on a weekly basis. In the spring Manning's crew picks up winter debris, aerates the turf, and applies an early pre-emergent to the turf to control crabgrass and other weeds. They also fertilize it four times a year, and give it a broadleaf control liquid application twice a year. Fungicide treatments and plant health care are on an as-needed basis. The irrigation system is taken care of by another company but workers will repair minor head issues. Photo: Mike Crews Photography


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The landscape crew also rotates the plants in the pots according to the season: early spring annuals, summer annuals, autumn mums, and a holiday-themed display. An outside service maintains the large oak trees surrounding the yard but the K & D crew is constantly picking up the debris that the trees leave.


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Manning considers this home high maintenance, mainly because the plantings consist entirely of perennials, and the yard requires very intensive trimming and pruning throughout the year. This is especially true of the lilac shrubs, which have bulbous canopies because they have been grafted into tree form. According to Manning, if they weren't consistently pruned, they would have to be removed in 3-5 years. K & D maintains the yard weekly, mowing the turf, trimming ground cover and plants, and pruning small trees. Directly behind the turf is a row of stonecrop sedum ground cover, and in back of it is a line of boxwood shrubs. Up against the house and entryway is ornamental grass. The maintenance crew trims the grass to the ground in November and then it grows back up in the spring. Caring for this property made Manning change techniques on all his properties: trimming every visit instead of just periodically.


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K & D installed the hardscape and softscape at the Marriott Hotel in Naperville, Ill., and maintained it for one year since they warrantied the plants, including hundreds of day lilies and many shade tolerant varieties, for that length of time. Manning likes to write this into all commercial installation contracts. The maintenance mainly consisted of light trimming, and fertilization in spring and fall to help safeguard the new young plants from possible damage from the company that took over the maintenance, which has the contract for several of the area's Marriotts but had no experience with installations. The river birch trees in the background were already there when the project began.


K & D Enterprise Landscape Management Inc. was established in Joliet, Ill., in 1999, and specializes in landscape design and installation, plant health care, commercial landscapes and snow and ice management.

Owner and horticulturalist Kevin Manning oversees both the residential and commercial divisions of the company.

John Algozzini, K & D's director of design, has been with the company since 2012 and has won multiple state and national awards for his landscape designs.

Matt Watters is the construction manager and has years of experience in the landscape and construction fields. Stephaine Pardy runs the office.

Manning maintains eight crews -- five for maintenance and three for installation -- and each one has a foreman. He has about 48 employees altogether, and they put in nine to 10 hours a day during the peak season. K & D is about 60 percent construction and 40 percent maintenance. Five of his employees work in the office, and the rest work at installation and maintenance job sites.

Running the maintenance side of his business is fairly simple, he said, mostly because his crews are sent to the same sites every week and K & D has an established client base. Manning said he doesn't use scheduling, mobile tracking or other software programs to help him manage his business. He used a vehicle-tracking program about three years ago, but did not renew the five-year contract.


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At the Hollywood Casino and Hotel in Joliet, just a few minutes from the company's headquarters, much of the duties are the result of soil compaction and turf wear from customer foot traffic. This includes aeration of turf, overseeding the trampled lawn areas and roping those areas off. The landscaped portion of the property is between 14-16 acres, which requires the continuous collection of garbage and debris. Every spring, 475 yards of mulch is installed. Manning's workers apply deep-root fertilizers to the small trees twice a year, and broad spectrum fungus and insect control applications three times annually. Their trunks are wrapped before winter to protect their smooth-skinned bark, which may also help with deer control, as does deer netting placed over the smaller plant material in the fall. Plants in pots throughout the property are rotated seasonally. Responsibility for all irrigation is in this contract.


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The white pines, Austrian pines and blue Colorado spruce trees at the Hollywood Casino are fertilized in spring and fall. Dormant oil is applied to them in the fall, which seals the trees to preserve water in the plant material over the winter. Manning's workers also maintain the knockout roses by spraying for fungus and insect control every 8 weeks during the season, and then cutting them down to 12" in height at the end of the season.


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One of the maintenance tasks that is commonly written into K & D's contracts is caring for the outdoor lighting. Twice a year, lenses of all the fixtures are cleaned, bulbs are replaced on an as-needed basis, and fixtures are realigned to adjust for plant growth. At this property, the crew only visits a few times a year: a spring cleanup, a fall cleanup, and 2 or 3 other times for corrective pruning, mulching and rotation of the pottery. Photo: Bridget Clauson


"I did not see the value in it," he said. "I understand why the bigger companies use it, but it was not practical for us."

Instead, Manning said he utilizes a system involving daily log sheets for each crew. Those contain a list of the projects that need to be completed on any given day. Each log sheet typically has three jobs per day.

The foremen and workers sign in on the log sheet at the start of each working day, and then sign out at the end of the day. The log sheets also inform Manning when crews arrive at each job site, how long it took to get to those workplaces and when they finish and leave.


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Another installation job that turned into a maintenance contract, this one includes preventing weed growth in the paver joints. The evergreen trees, some transplanted and some brought in new during the recent construction, are not being pruned yet because the owner wants them to grow out for screening and privacy. K & D does monitor them closely though and applies a deep-root fertilizer two to three times a year. Other tasks include trimming perennials and boxwoods, and changing mulch every year.


Manning said it helps to have low turnover among his employees, especially his foremen. One foreman has been with K & D since Manning opened his business, and two others have been with the company about eight to 10 years.

Manning said his company owns 18 vehicles, and all sorts of equipment, ranging from John Deere walk-behind and wide-area mowers to Stihl and Echo bush and string trimmers. K & D also has several chain saws on hand, but only for "small scale stuff," he added.

How does Manning measure customer satisfaction? K & D's customer retention rate is between 97-99 percent.

"We're pretty lucky in that regard," Manning said. "The only time we've lost a customer is when there is a change in management or a change in a homeowner's association."

K & D hasn't expanded too much since it opened. Manning said he beefed up his personnel about five years earlier, mainly to reduce his own workload.

"Major expansion is not our goal each year," Manning said, although he estimates that K & D's volume has gone up as much as seven percent per year since he upgraded his employee base.

On the other hand, Manning upgrades his equipment line practically every year. Smaller items like walk-behind mowers are replaced after three years of individual use, and each of K & D's large rider mowers are replaced every 5-7 years.

Everything he gets rid of is sold on the used market. It's not uncommon for Manning to recover, on average, 60 percent of what he originally paid for each item.

Manning has become accustomed to facing challenges that crop up on a regular basis. A big one is weather. He recalled one time when he had to deal with a storm that dumped six inches of snow on his crews in November. The near constant fluctuation of prices for products ranging from fuel to fertilizers is yet another challenge.

"Every day, its labor, competition, weather," he said. "There's a different challenge every day."






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