Dan Eichenlaub’s landscape contracting business has doubled in the past five years, and, barring an economic meltdown, he expects to grow that much again in the next five.
“When I was starting out 40 years ago, I never would have dreamed of this kind of success,” the president of Eichenlaub Inc. said. “Growing is a lot harder than I thought it would be, but it’s a lot more fun than just existing.”
The business began with neighbors calling on the family of six brothers to help with yardwork, especially when Hurricane Agnes blew through the Pittsburgh region in 1972. But a defining moment was when the boys, who wanted to earn money for college, realized that by working together they could be more successful, Eichenlaub said. Eichenlaub Brothers was formed.
Dan Eichenlaub earned a degree in architectural engineering and set off to build buildings, but came back to the family business a few years later. In 1980, he took over leadership of the company, incorporated it and began pursuing projects that would utilize his engineering skills.
“We began to hone our niche in residential design,” he said. “But, as a small business, one of my challenges was that I couldn’t afford getting the business systems that would help us grow.”
Eichenlaub Inc. joined LandOpt, a network of independently owned landscape contractors, in 2005. LandOpt provides a proven business operating system including sales and marketing, human resources, operations management and business management. Support is provided by coaches who guide contractors through the process.
“We had a lot of successes, but LandOpt helped us define how we operate,” Eichenlaub said. “I know my customer profile, so even though there are hundreds of other landscapers in my region, I’m not competing with them. I know where we fit in. We have a very focused attention to our customers. To put it in car terms, we’re building the Mercedes landscapes, not the Volkswagens,” he said.
The company offers a full range of landscaping services, including design, construction, maintenance, irrigation and lighting. About 80 percent of the business is residential, while the rest is commercial, institutional and governmental, he said. In 2016, the company employed 65 people, but expects to add to that number this year.
Earlier this year, Eichenlaub Inc. opened The Outdoor Living Studio, a second business office about a 15-minute drive away from the original 12-acre location that features office and maintenance buildings as well as holding areas for materials. The new location is essentially an outdoor living space built indoors by Eichenlaub’s craftsmen so that customers can experience it firsthand. Sales have since doubled from the same time last year.
“After 9/11, people started thinking more about home, which really sparked interest in outdoor living spaces,” Eichenlaub said. “It was a new addition to home, like living and dining rooms were replaced by great rooms in home building.”
Determining the customer’s desires for the outdoor space is key to creating satisfied customers, who then also hire the company for ongoing services, including lawn care, spring and fall cleanup and pond maintenance.
“If we can give a customer the right solution through our work, we have a customer for life,” Eichenlaub said. “For instance, if we build a space that is a magnet for teens, then the parents get to know their children’s friends and feel more connected. Or, if we know you like to entertain in heels rather than in sneakers, we can adjust our flooring materials.”
Technology also allows the spaces to be used for longer times of the year, especially in a northern location like Pittsburgh. Lighting systems turn on when it gets dark earlier, and fire pits and fireplaces provide warmth in spring and fall.
“When you give customers an experience that exceeds their expectations, they tell people about it,” Eichenlaub said. “That’s why we can have the growth that we have year after year.”
Eichenlaub Inc. has grown an average of 15 percent a year each year during the last five years, he reported, with about $7 million in sales now. In part, the growth is driven by a thriving local economy. But by pursuing carefully identified customers and charging the right price, as LandOpt preaches, the company’s profits are four times greater than the industry average, he noted.
Although he is nearing retirement age, Eichenlaub isn’t thinking about retiring yet.
“I’m having a lot of fun now, so why would I quit?” he said. “What’s driving me now is taking this team of people and helping them to flourish. It’s a lot of fun to watch the next generation. We’re focused on getting those customers, and everyone knows their roles. But without LandOpt, we wouldn’t have understood any of this.”