August 1, 2008
Recent acquisition plants seeds for what lies ahead
Baker expands horizons of its landscaping business
JENKINTOWN - Brad Baker and Dina Baker may have just leaped tall buildings in a single bound.
This summer their Montgomery County landscape business, Baker Creative, made a bold move, buying the $220,000-a-year Green Team Gardeners. The acquisition could boost by 25 percent or more Baker Creative's present revenue of around $800,000 per annum.
It's a big move, but it is also just one more home run in a winning streak that has run steadily since 1988 when the husband and wife team (president and vice president respectively) first started beautifying local lawns.
The acquisition "is going to allow us to continue to grow, and I think the cross-selling is crucial. They haven't done lighting, they haven't done drainage work, all of which we do, so all those selling opportunities are going to be available," Brad said.
Cross-selling has been the emerging strategy for the Bakers' firm in recent years. To garner share in their market, the Bakers looked beyond traditional product offers to embrace a range of new capabilities. A dozen years ago the company added landscape maintenance to its more general services. More recently the Bakers have begun doing drainage work, an area intimately tied to the soil and yet typically handed off to local contractors outside the landscape realm. Finally, they have lately begun to design and install outside illumination. as a one-stop shop, under the product branding "Carefree Maintenance."
"It used to be a phone call to get the lights changed, a phone call to mow the lawn, a phone call to deal with the gutters. There are 30 different things that happen outside your home," Brad said. "What we are able to do is to manage your entire outdoor investment."
It helps the business, too, that the Bakers can bring what they believe is a better product to the marketplace, a landscape approach driven by the best in modern horticultural technology.
"For the longest time, most of what has been taught in the best horticulture schools has been 'tradition,' while the science has only started to be done in the past five years," Dina said. Instead of merely fertilizing, today's growers work at the molecular level to understand precisely how nutrients are absorbed by the roots.
As a result, "we know that we are planting the right plant in the right spot, so that it can grow and thrive," Dina said.
That meticulous approach has made a believer out of Greg Dillett, a Meadowbrook resident who has been using Baker Creative for about a decade. To his way of thinking, landscape design is a vital piece of domestic life.
"It's like artwork on the walls. When I go into a house and they don't have artwork on the walls, it's like it has never been finished," Dillett said.
Same is true for the shrubbery, except that vegetative decoration also has tangible payback.
"They certainly have added significant value to both of the houses they have done for me," Dillett said. "The curb appeal makes a big difference in the value you can get. With good landscaping, people fall in love with it before they even see the inside."
Bundled offerings are good, technical competence even better. All this firm needs now is a bit of clever strategy, and they have that too. Specifically, they deliberately avoid the trap many landscapers fall into, of deriving the bulk of their business from new homes.
With new-home sales way off, the Bakers continue to water and prune thanks to a strategic decision to work primarily with owners of existing homes.
While Brad manages the pruning-and-water side of things, Dina has been busy drumming up new business, something she has honed to a fine point.
The company does search-engine marketing through Google. It prints up high-end brochures, distributes coupons and literature through Welcome Wagon and advertises in high-end consumer magazines.
Even more important than the placements, though, is the follow-through.
Dina keeps meticulous records of when and where and how her advertising dollars either produce or flop.
"If someone says to me, 'I found you through the Web site,' that to me is not an acceptable answer. I want to know how you got to the Web site," she said. "It helps us decide year to year what our marketing tools are going to be. It costs money to market, it hits our bottom line and if
Meanwhile, the Bakers will likely have all the business they can handle in the coming months, thanks to the acquisition of Green Team. They plan to add that firm's five employees to the payroll, and they'll need to increase scheduling by 30 percent. But Brad predicts it will be worth the effort.
Looking at Green Team's client base, "these folks have the disposable income," he said, "and they are used to having their gardens being taken care of and looking good all the time."
That's what the Bakers do best.