Bret Achtenhagen’s Seasonal Services, based in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, have been in business for 25 years and are focused on creating landscapes that will last for generations.
Bret Achtenhagen, President and CEO of Seasonal Services, got the landscaping bug while working for his brother’s company, which focused more on maintenance.
After separating from his brother, Achtenhagen started his own landscaping business.
“Every Achtenhagen I know has their own business,” he says. “My uncle, my father, my brother, my grandfather, everyone; we’ve been talking since 1850. When I had the chance to build those first retaining walls and plant some gardens, I thought it was for me. And then, of course, being from an entrepreneurial background, I was not at all afraid to borrow money or take risks.
The business is located on a 45 acre property with a barn that was used to raise quarter horses and cattle. Achtenhagen rented the area from his father until he ended up buying the entire place.
Part of the land is still used for boarding horses, but the rest of the property is used by seasonal services to train and test different herbicides.
“We can try a new herbicide here for about a month before we try it in the field,” he says. “We never want to experiment on a client’s property. “
Business exploded and seasonal services grew rapidly. Achtenhagen did the physical labor for five years, then was the primary salesperson for 15 years. Over the past five years, he has taken on the more traditional role of CEO. Achtenhagen’s wife, Amy, ended up joining the company after a stroke from the company’s accountant.
“It’s just culturally and socially uplifting and it gives the business a really nice family flavor,” Achtenhagen said.
Create a healthy corporate culture
Over the past five years, Achtenhagen has devoted considerable time to developing the corporate culture of Seasonal Services.
“Culture will kill a business,” says Achtenhagen. “A bad culture will kill a business faster than a low profit.”
One of the main threats to Seasonal Services’ healthy corporate culture was a particularly negative employee who was also a productive expert in the industry.
“The way he led was not what I envisioned,” says Achtenhagen.
The company was losing good people due to the negative atmosphere, and Achtenhagen’s business coach ultimately advised setting business goals that would create a more constructive work environment.
“He would have to change his behavior to achieve these goals over a long period of time,” says Achtenhagen. “We held him responsible for the plan.”
As negativity was filtered out of the company, Achtenhagen decided to make culture # 1 in 2006. The company now encourages a workspace of enthusiasm, teamwork, compassion, dedication. and trust.
“We still have challenges,” says Achtenhagen. “But when you’re with a team of people willing to roll up their sleeves, you feel like you can take on any challenge. You almost welcome challenges because you are proud when you overcome them. It is very rewarding to take on challenges.
Like any business in the green industry, Seasonal Services faces the workforce challenge, but more specifically, Achtenhagen says he’s looking for passionate people who will see this industry as a long-term career.
The company employs around 110 people in high season and 60 people in low season.
The main source of new employees comes from current employees who bring in friends and family. The second source of Seasonal Services is from online platforms like Indeed and LinkedIn, but they also try to share job postings on Facebook.
Achtenhagen says they tried the H-2B last year, but despite the investment, they weren’t selected for the lottery.
As for how Seasonal Services retains its current employees, the company hosts four to six appreciation events per year, from pancake breakfasts to taco trucks. It also has an incremental PTO policy so that workers can gain a considerable amount of PTO while they are working.
“We do our best to provide the best trucks and the best tools,” says Achtenhagen. “We show them our appreciation. We recognize them. Whenever we receive a compliment, it’s sent in a company-wide email and we recognize the people mentioned in the compliment.
Achtenhagen says he empowers his employees to make decisions and spends a lot of time talking about culture. He says he works to create a family atmosphere and maintain a balance between the professional and personal lives of employees.
“They are the face of the company and success or failure is within reach, because they are the ones who represent the company to the public,” says Achtenhagen.
“I think you take this environment that you come to work in, and you take that culture and you integrate it and show it to our clients,” says Amy Achtenhagen.
Attract the right customers
Seasonal Services’ customer base is predominantly mid-to-high-end residential customers and Achtenhagen says they are looking for people who want a high-quality, sophisticated and unique landscape.
“Sophisticated is a difficult word,” says Achtenhagen. “But I think it’s still appropriate because sophisticated, for me, doesn’t mean cookie-cutter.”
By targeting people who love and are motivated by beautiful scenery, seasonal services often receive a lot of loyal customers.
When it comes to finding those leads in the first place, Achtenhagen credits his radio show that he’s been doing for 10 years. He says this has positioned his company as experts in the Wisconsin landscape with around 25,000 listeners tuned in every Saturday.
“The Designer Yard Show” on Newsradio 620 AM WTMJ is 37 and a half minutes long and Achtenhagen will discuss a relevant seasonal topic on the show, but most of the time he will answer questions from homeowners on the lawn and garden.
“We’ll spend 30 of the 37 minutes answering probably about 10 to 12 questions from callers,” he says.
Questions can range from how to get rid of crabgrass to what is eating my tomato plants. Achtenhagen says he will address the caller’s concerns and provide his speculations on the likely problem.
Achtenhagen stumbled upon the opportunity at the end of “The Plant Doctor” radio show, and he turned out to be the only person advertising landscaping on the radio station. They asked him if he wanted to host a show and he was extremely intimidated at first.
“At week six it’s like, ‘It’s fun and it’s easy!’ », Says Achtenhagen. “And I was exploding at four in the morning, ready to go. The phone rang immediately and now everyone knows who we are.
Other than the radio show, Seasonal Services’ other main lead generators are word of mouth and seeing the company’s trucks on the move.
Seasonal services also take advantage of occasions such as when the Metropolitan Builders Association has its Parade of Homes showcase as a chance to show off what the company can do when it comes to design.
When seasonal services get calls from potential clients, they make sure they are a good match by finding out the extent of the work they ask for and how far away they are. The business tries to stay within 45 minutes or less.
Kyle Kohlmann, a landscape architect for the company, calls Achtenhagen the People’s Landscaper because they do a fair amount of work from $ 5,000 to $ 10,000 that helps fill in gaps in schedules, while larger jobs $ 100,000 and more are what keeps the business visible.
“We don’t care who you are, we want to work with you if you are passionate about great design and great craftsmanship,” says Achtenhagen.
“Details Matter” is the mission statement of Seasonal Services and you can see how this belief is implemented in a number of ways.
Because the company wants its landscapes to stand the test of time, it makes a point of investing in products that last. When it comes to choosing which plants to use, Seasonal Services provides customers with palettes of plants they know can handle Wisconsin’s harsh climate. Achtenhagen says they’re always on the lookout for unique plant introductions, but will monitor them for five years before including them in their designs.
Seasonal Services also advises clients on landscaping materials, as some simply won’t last as long as other brands. Knowing its high quality standards, the company guarantees landscaping for five years, irrigation and lighting for three years and plants for one year. If customers sign up for the tree and shrub maintenance program, seasonal services guarantee the plants.
According to Kohlmann, they are trying to take more time to come up with ideas and work with the site. He says he often tries to be more thoughtful with his designs and keep up to date with what other companies are doing. One of the design goals of Seasonal Services is to ensure that each job is unique.
The company is also working to free up its landscapers so that they can go into the field more often.
“It’s nice to see what’s built, to see what’s drawn come to life,” says Nellie Mogge, a landscaper who has worked for seasonal services for three years.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this series, where we will see how Seasonal Services are achieving cost savings and their plans for the future.