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January 2006

Landscaper Thrives in Booming Housing Market

The booming housing market in Alberta, Canada, has helped the growth of several Canadian landscaping companies.

One of those companies is Prestige Landscape Construction (1998) Ltd. But owner and founder Michael D. Haberl Jr. says economic growth isn't the only key to a company's success.

"We believe that no matter what industry you work in, service is what makes your business," he says.

That's why Haberl has worked over the years to educate and align himself with people who hold the same standards of professionalism as himself — from his employees and associations to equipment dealers and vendors. And his efforts have paid off. After being in business for nearly a decade, his company, which specializes in subdivision landscape installation and rehabilitation, has grown to employing 65 seasonal workers and 10 full-time staff.

"Alberta has been experiencing a booming market, with the subdivision and housing market seeing record years in the past five years," Haberl says.

Equipment Helps Meet Deadlines
A major part of providing excellent service in the landscape construction industry is being able to meet deadlines. In order to do this, Haberl has made it a point to supply his employees with the equipment they need to complete jobs as efficiently as possible.

In his first year in business, Haberl started out with only one piece of equipment, miscellaneous fleet vehicles, and eight seasonal workers. Today, his equipment fleet includes one-ton, crane, water, and dump trucks, two wheel loaders, a dozer, an excavator, nine skid-steer loaders, attachments, and small equipment such as pipe pullers and chain and cutoff saws.

Each piece of equipment is assigned to the crews depending on their project function. As the company has grown, Haberl has developed a full irrigation division with complete installation and maintenance, as well as a landscape maintenance division that works on all projects that are built through the warranty/contract period. During the construction season, Haberl has six full-installation crews, four maintenance crews, two irrigation crews, and a couple of miscellaneous rehabilitation crews. On average, he says there are anywhere between two and five people on each crew.

Over the years, Prestige Landscape Construction has been successful in negotiating about 60 percent of its work, with the remaining 40 percent coming from the tender process on the open market. Currently, Haberl says they are working on many subdivision projects in the Calgary and outlying area, which include installation and rehabilitation of city parks, boulevards, show homes, and environmental reserves. The company also offers a homebuilder program.

"My background was in the landscape maintenance field, but I've always been interested in the construction aspect of the green industry, thus my decision to start an installation business," Haberl says.

Typically, crews use the excavator and skid-steer loaders for grading, loaming, and tree installations. The nine skid-steer loaders, which include a Bobcat® 751, S205, S250, two 463s, and four S185s, are used with several attachments on the landscaping construction jobsite. First, the full-installation crew attaches buckets to the Bobcat skid-steer loaders to perform grading and loaming on an area. In addition, Haberl says they also have Bobcat soil conditioner and landscape rake attachments. A soil conditioner smoothes ruts, tears out old sod, grades topsoil, and pulverizes dirt clumps, while a landscape rake breaks up lumpy soil and picks up rocks as small as 3/4 inch. Both tools are commonly used by landscapers to prepare the ground for seeding and sodding.

"The landscape rake is probably the most popular attachment that we use," Haberl says. "We use the landscape rake in order to reduce labor. It's an innovative tool that we pursue to not only increase profits, but also build the project faster without sacrificing quality."

In addition to the bucket, soil conditioner, and landscape rake, Haberl also owns auger attachments, which are used for digging holes for installing trees, shrubs, and fence posts. "It's the attachments that expedite the work," Haberl says.

When performing landscape construction in residential areas, being able to see the obstacles that may lie in your way becomes important. One of the reasons Haberl says he chose the Bobcat skid-steer loaders was because of the way the lift arms and cab are designed to provide operators with optimal visibility. Oftentimes, crews are working close to homes and adjacent to sidewalks, play structures, and other obstacles where they need to know what’s going on around them on the outside of the machine. "It's also easier for them to see the attachments at work," he says. "Visibility is important to production. Being able to see what’s going on around them helps them complete jobs faster."

In order to work year-round, Haberl says his newer Bobcat skid-steer loader models (the S185, S205, and S250) have enclosed cabs with heating and air conditioning. Again, Haberl sees the feature as another way to increase his operators’ productivity. Whether it’s during the hot summer months or long blistering cold winter days, his operators are able to stay comfortable while they work. "Comfort is the biggest feature that our operators like about the skid-steer loaders," Haberl says.

When it comes time to dig trenches and install tree pits, shrub beds, or erosion control measures, Haberl's crews turn to the Bobcat 442 excavator. Haberl says he chose the 442, the largest excavator Bobcat Company offers, because it provided the performance his crews needed to complete the services his company offered.

While crews generally utilize the excavator in more open new construction areas, Haberl says it's extremely easy for his crews to maneuver from job to job. One of the features that helps with maneuverability is the excavator’s zero-tail swing, which increases Haberl's productivity by making soil placement easier. It also reduces the chance of damaging the excavator and surrounding objects when working close to homes and other structures. And besides using it to dig trenches, Haberl says the 442 excavator sometimes assists the grading skid-steer loaders in cutting soil.

Features are important on machines, but Haberl says what sold him about Bobcat equipment was the equipment dealer’s service. During his second year in business, Haberl knew he wanted to purchase his first skid-steer loader from a dealer who would stand by him, whether he needed training for his operators, parts overnighted, or information about new products. Just as Haberl puts his customers first, he says his Bobcat dealer does the same. "I've cultivated a relationship with our dealer," he says. "We have the benefit of having a dealer who makes their priority, our priority."

With Growth, Comes Challenges
Though business has been good, that’s not to say Haberl and his crews never face any challenges.

As most landscapers will tell you, their biggest challenge is one that they have no control over — the weather. "Our business is dictated by the weather," Haberl says. "During inclement weather, we have had to utilize our excavator and skid-steer loaders in other capacities in order to keep working."

Another challenge that has resulted from Haberl's company success is the task of managing growth. When Haberl founded Prestige Landscape Construction in February 1998, there was just himself and a handful of employees. Today, Haberl must manage a much larger staff, in addition to taking on a great number of projects that are also larger in size.

"The fundamental aspects of the work have stayed basically the same, with the exception of utilizing more innovative pieces of equipment," he says. "Managing corporate growth, staff, and cash flow is the biggest change that we face on a daily basis."

To help ensure his company continued on its successful path, Haberl became involved in several landscaping organizations, learning from other company owners in the industry who had already gone through the growth he was experiencing. Today, as president of Landscape Alberta Nursery Trades Association (LANTA) and second vice president of Canadian Nursery Landscape Association (CNLA), Haberl is passing along the experience he has gained to others.

"I am a believer in our green industry associations, especially that networking and volunteering commitments assist in professionalizing our industry as a whole," he says. "They have been an integral part of our growth as I have learned from many other business owners from around North America, sharing ideas that have helped in our growth."