One Client at a Time
BCLS Landscape Services, LLC builds unique business partnerships
When Steven Cohen and his wife, Melannie Huber-Cohen, took over a 23-year-old landscaping company in 2016, they wanted to up the game from good to extraordinary. They purchased BCLS and rebranded as BCLS Landscape Services, LLC (BCLS).
He says the secret ingredient isn’t a secret at all. “We have combined technology and processes, along with procedure, metrics, data, etc. Coupling that with creativity and passion and it’s a pretty good recipe on which to build a business,” Steven explains. That might explain his title at the company: Chief Visionary Officer.
BCLS Landscape Services offers multiple service lines and has significantly grown its commercial landscape management and its enhancement services under the new ownership. “We have a strong commercial landscape management division that is topnotch. We don’t sell landscaping; we sell peace of mind,” he explains. “We also do commercial irrigation and snow and ice removal and management.
“We have invested heavily in snow and ice control, utilizing a paperless technology platform for time and location recording and risk-management reduction. We are a leader in liquid anti-icing and deicing in the Richmond market and have a large fleet of snow and ice control equipment and trucks, which helps us serve our largest snow removal client of Virginia Commonwealth University, for which we handle all the liquid applications and snow removal,” Steven says.
The company’s leadership team includes Chief Operating Officer Howard Rose, a longtime Richmond native who leads the day-to-day operations of the company. Melannie, as the company Vice President, oversees all administrative functions, including personnel and finance. The company’s executive team is augmented by divisional operations managers, a fleet and safety manager and several administrators.
Putting Down Roots
Steven has been in the landscape industry for almost 42 years. He owned a landscape company for 24 years before selling it to a larger competitor in 2003. He then worked as an executive for several large national snow companies. Steven’s long industry tenure and extensive industry experience coupled with a strong change management acumen led him to start a consulting firm in 2003: GreenMark Consulting Group. That company, which he still operates, helps landscape companies become more operationally efficient and profitable.
In 2016, Steven and Melannie decided they would like to put roots down in their adopted hometown of Richmond and travel much less for his consulting business. The couple started a search on the East Coast to find a local company to buy and operate. “I always liked interacting with my consulting clients in the capacity of ‘what if I owned the company, what could I do, what would I do?’ We were fortunate to acquire BCLS, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of PrimeSites Landscape Group Holdings, LLC. While we are currently focused on BCLS Landscape Services, we are always looking for new opportunities,” he says.
About 50% of the company’s revenue comes from commercial landscape management services, including office complexes, homeowners’ associations, and apartment home complexes, industrial parks, shopping centers, health care facilities and retirement communities. About 40% of that is landscape construction, installation and enhancement services and about 5% is irrigation and the remaining 5% is snow and ice control, he says.
The bread-and-butter projects for the firm tend to be the ongoing projects that improve client properties’ curb appeal. BCLS routinely bids on big projects with local, regional and national contracting firms and gets repeat work based on its reputation and referrals from satisfied customers, Steven explains. The company has completed many large landscape installation and special projects in the last few years and has a backlog of multiple large projects for 2020. Steven says industry experience, a passion for quality, on-time deliveries along with great communication have afforded the company tremendous opportunities in the bid-build arena.
The company serves clients through Central Virginia from its corporate headquarters in Ashland, Virginia, and maintains a landscape management branch office in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Steven says the company employs upward of 50 employees seasonally and 30 full time. Growing the Greener Side of Life One of the company’s projects that stands out is its partnership with Brandermill Woods retirement community. “It has been the most rewarding because they have aligned well with our business values as we have with theirs,” Steven says. “They also appreciate our visionary approach to the big-picture, long-term aspect of how we approach both their landscape management and improving their community.
“We have a tremendous relationship with this client; the community has embraced us, as well,” he adds. “We recently had a meeting with the residents and presented our 2020 vision to them. It is all about creating destinations. Everyone in the community has a destination, so our goal is to make the entire property accessible to everyone by creating a journey for them within the landscaped environment.”
Another positive partnership has been with Westminster Canterbury Richmond. “Because everything we do is very vision based, we don’t just look at the job in front of us, but we see how we can innovate in all aspects of the work involved,” he says. “Our clients really like this approach. It’s very easy for people to think with a simple mindset; it’s another to think outside the box and be innovative.”
“We work really hard on company culture,” Steven explains. “We have focused a lot of time on that. We know that a company culture that facilitates team happiness means lower turnover and better company performance. Team members become loyal and the company performs better. It’s a win-win. On teambuilding, we have a teaching-learning culture. We continually train and mentor our team members on how to improve personally and professionally. We also support this with teambuilding activities and our annual employee pride day, which includes training, camaraderie and competitions.”Steven says another big aspect of company training is its three ’E’s: empowerment, equipping and elevating team members. “Empowering our entire team to take calculated risks through sound decision-making is key; people need to feel comfortable and have the flexibility to do this. We support this by equipping our entire team with knowledge, which is even more important than equipping the team with tools and equipment. Finally, elevating people is key. People want to grow, and in today’s world, it’s not all about money,” Steven says.
Melannie says the BCLS executive team’s leadership’s management style is to treat people with respect while earning that respect in return. “It’s a delicate balance when you need to keep accountability on the forefront,” she says “We find that clear and concise communications, both internally and externally, help us achieve this in a positive manner. While we are not always perfect, we are certainly learning how to become better as individuals and as a team each day,” she says.
“Because we do not sell our services, but rather offer peace of mind with our services, it is imperative that we work on our client connectivity,” Steven adds. “We drive communication hard. We strive for continuous engagement with our clients through interpersonal relationships, email communication and monthly email blasts with updates of what’s happening.”
Connectivity is the defining word that truly differentiates the brand, he continues. For the BCLS team members, connectivity consists of three layers: knowledge, understanding and communication. To achieve that, Steven says leadership strives to hire people to be part of the company culture and not just to have a job. Additionally, leadership spends a lot of time evaluating what went right and what may have gone wrong when an employee leaves for whatever reasons.
“We are very transparent with our strengths and weaknesses, and we want to hold on to team members who help us solve challenges,” Steven says. “Experiencing camaraderie through teambuilding exercises is a big part of that. We want to empower our employees to be thinkers and take risks; sometimes that means letting them take you way outside of your own comfort zone.”
That fits in with the company’s mission, vision and value statement. Nothing is more important than the core values of communicating with clarity, embracing innovation, promoting teamwork, demanding quality and having fun every day, he says. “We believe this is the foundation to team member retention and delivering exceptional services to the clients we serve.”
Company leadership also believes that it is important to serve the community and give back. To do that, BCLS is involved in Project EverGreen’s GreenCare for Troops, which connects military families across the region that need landscape services while a spouse is deployed. “We are very proud to have been given a plaque and a flag that was flown in our honor over Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the help we provided to one local family. It was a very touching moment for our team,” Steven says.
When the Cohens acquired the business in 2016, they had a defined five-year strategic plan.
“We have accomplished many of our five-year goals as we now approach our four-year milestone in October 2020,” Steven says. “We have already outlined what the next five years will look like, too. We will continue to focus on our core values of delivering innovative services through client connectivity, technology and a team dedicated toward doing the best and being the best. We will grow the services we excel in and divest the ones we don’t. We will continue to grow our market share and expand into new markets as opportunities present themselves,” he adds.
One of the ways BCLS is working to grow the business is by being certified as a Small, Women-owned, and Minority-owned Business (SWaM) by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The purpose of the certification program is to enhance procurement opportunities for SWaM businesses that are interested in state-funded projects. Two of the company’s biggest relationships were earned through a SWaM partnership. Both BCLS’s Virginia Commonwealth University and The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts contract were procured that way, he says.
BCLS also focuses on producing “enhancement revenue,” which Steven defines as projects generated through existing relationships by consistently searching for opportunities to enrich a client’s property. The idea is to pique client interest by proactively reaching out regarding ways a client’s property could be further improved.
“It’s like fruit on a tree. The three stages of client engagement for enhancements include what the client needs and/or might consider today (ripe for the picking); what can be shown to the client for consideration in the near future (ripening); and then longer-term planning, which is typically capital expenditures type projects (not ready). The most important part of this initiative for BCLS is not selling the client but engaging proactively so they know we are in tune with the property and managing the property, rather than letting the property manager manage us,” Steven says.
“Our executive team has also worked to be very self-aware and to grow as leaders; it is a learning process,” Steven says. “We try to be aware of our behaviors and adapt to environments. In the last three years, we’ve focused on not just about making a sale, but on creating a partnership with our clients. We align ourselves with the values of the people we work with and they appreciate that.”