Tree Foundation of Kern

Landscape Contractor

To beautify properties by installing landscaping and irrigation.

A landscaping contractor is a true renaissance person in that he/she wears many hats. Although the final product is basic irrigation and beautification of a property, the landscape contractor is knowledgeable in bidding, grading, trees, wood, concrete, flatwork, and more. On a large job, a landscape contractor can subcontract with between 50 and 60 trades.

Dave Crabtree, owner of CCN Wholesale Nursery & Landscaping, Inc., outlines seven areas of expertise that are important in becoming a successful landscape contractor.

  • Selling and business skills. "You need to know how to present yourself and your company".
  • Accounting principles. How to collect from people.
  • Construction. How to read design plans.
  • Managing people. Landscaping is very labor intensive.
  • Purchasing. How to get the most bang for the buck.
  • Computer knowledge. To maximize efficiency.
  • Good drafting background. Need to relay concepts on paper.

Landscape contracting is very competitive. All work is on a bid basis, and in many cases the lowest bidder gets the job, but some bids are wrong and can't be fulfilled, and that destroys the market for everybody.

Crabtree has a degree in business, a computer background, sales experience, and a landscape contractor's license. "It's a tough test in two parts, business and tradeÓ says Crabtree.

Some of the work that CCN does is straightforward residential and includes front yard grading, soil amendments, irrigation, curbs, trees and shrubs, and turf, starts at $6,000 and goes to $50,000 as the scope of the job increases. People can spend a lifetime saving all of their money to buy their dream home, but a house without landscaping is lacking. "With landscaping, you really make it" says Crabtree.

CCN also landscapes large projects like the 25 acre State Farm regional headquarters in Bakersfield. It called for intense grading, a computerized Maxi-Com irrigation system, big equipment to hoist 30 foot palms weighing 10,000 pounds, planting 20,000 shrubs, 500 trees, and ground cover. Cost of the landscaping: $2 million.

"I love dealing with people, developers, owners" says Crabtree. "They have a vision and I get caught up in their vision."

Crabtree supervises between 15 and 30 employees of many different levels in both the office and the field. Inside, CCN has estimators who need good broad based knowledge. This is a good entry level position starting at about $25,000 annually. Outside, foremen manage the field work by running crews and equipment and reading blueprints, making $12 to $15 hourly. Alberto Moran is a foreman for Grecian Gardens Landscaping in Bakersfield. He puts together the irrigation system including valves and wires, and frequently works on large projects like schools, parks and shopping centers.

"I like to be working outside" says Moran. "You always learn something working with nature, trees, plants."

Moran has 11 years experience as a foreman. "Work is hard, both physically and mentally, but once you pick up the system and get experience, it's easier when you know how" explains Moran. "Mentally, there is a lot of pressure with deadlines. You get used to it, like any other job."

Laborers, like ditch diggers, start at minimum wage. Experience allows for advancement to supervisory positions in landscape maintenance and application of pesticides and herbicides.

Maintenance is a lucrative part of the landscape contracting business and it constantly builds the customer base.

Landscape contractors need substantial capital investments for equipment. Start up costs of $100,000 are needed to compete in this industry. "It's a difficult field unless you're a really large company" says Crabtree, who has been in the industry for over 15 years. Profit margins are typically 5%.