JK Landscape Construction LLC grows business from the ground up
From lush green lawns outside the Short or Tall Eatery & Drink Hall in Rogers, Minnesota, to the gorgeous outdoor entertainment area featuring decorative pavers for guests at the Hampton Inn Spicer Green Lake in Spicer, Minnesota, the skilled work performed by JK Landscape Construction LLC (JK Landscape) is seen across central Minnesota.
The Minnesota-based landscaping firm, founded in 2006 by Owner Jerry Konz, started as a one-man operation and initially grew with the help of some part-time college students. For the first six years he battled a slow economy by building the company on a reputation for integrity, hard work and truly beautiful landscaping for both residential and commercial projects.
“We are now a full-service design and build company specializing in lakeshore work, outdoor living, pavers and retaining walls, all built into complete cohesive designs,” Jerry says. “We go beyond installing sod and plants—which we are good at, too—to installing water features, pavilions and fire pits.”
Jerry worked in the excavation industry for years and watched the housing construction business begin to slow in 2004, which led him to start contemplating what he might do next. In 2006, he started what was initially a side business doing small landscape projects in the evenings and on weekends, and then eventually started creating landscapes full time.
In 2012 he hired Scott Winkelman, who is still with him. Jerry has now grown the business to around two dozen employees. “We’ve gone from doing just small, little landscape projects for homeowners to doing very large residential land and lakeshore projects to more and more commercial projects every year,” Jerry says.
About five years ago, JK Landscape started bidding on more commercial work, and since then, commercial sales have started to increase, Jerry says. “We provide a wide range of products and services and use only the top-of-the-line equipment. Much of our growth can be attributed to our strong relationships with vendors and manufacturers,” he adds.
Jerry says the firm’s productivity improves every year. Recently, the company added a full-time designer who creates beautiful three-dimensional designs for customers and clients, Jerry says.
Bloom Where You’re Planted
JK Landscape typically works within a 60-mile radius of Clearwater, but will travel outside of this area when needed. The relationships Scott has built with general contractors keeps the backlog of projects coming. “Most GCs have a landscape plan in place and Scott does the estimating. Often, the GCs are looking for a low bid, but they also know the quality they get with this team,” Jerry says.
Some of JK Landscape’s recent projects that stand out include the Kwik Trip in Clearwater, just a block away from JK Landscape’s headquarters. “Everyone saw it and talked about it. They saw our sign and saw us working and we have generated a lot of calls from that one project,” Jerry says.
He adds that it is important to be visible in the community—from doing projects that will be in the spotlight to providing landscape designs that enhance the area. JK Landscape is a member of many of the area lake associations and contributes to various charitable golf tournaments as well.
Another way that JK Landscape gives back to clients and the community is through knowledge sharing. The company’s website includes an informative blog that offers landscaping insights and ideas. Blog posts include many useful topics: why you should incorporate lighting into your hardscape; the difference between a patio and a deck installation; the do’s and don’ts of designing an outdoor kitchen; the difference between hardscaping and softscaping; and how to extend the life of a wooden deck.
Influenced by the harsh Minnesota winters, the landscaping season is typically trimmed to about six to eight months. But that doesn’t stop JK Landscape’s business from flourishing year-round. The team stays busy in the offseason with bidding jobs, planning strategy, purchasing equipment and building relationships.
Jerry’s goal is to grow the commercial workload to 50% of the company’s business, which will provide a consistent cashflow and stable work. Currently, commercial work comprises about 30% of jobs.
One way the company’s staff is working toward this goal is by networking and relationship-building. Scott, for example, participates in local events sponsored by The Blue Book Network to meet new general contractors and reconnect with others. “Scott has really benefited from those events,” Jerry says.
Growing the commercial side of the business is exciting for the JK Landscape team because it creates a greater variety of opportunities for employees. But the team doesn’t want to stray too far from its residential roots. Jerry says that the two types of clients require different skillsets and parameters. With many commercial clients, a landscape plan is generally already in place and only needs to be improved and enhanced. For residential clients, JK Landscape must develop the plans and articulate them to help the customers see the vision. “Typically, when dealing with residential clients, we are putting the plan together for them and this can be a lot of fun,” Jerry says, “But, both residential and commercial projects can be very rewarding at the end of the day.”
Common Sense & Commitment
What makes things run smoothly, though, Jerry says, are the great employees on his team. “Many have been here for a number of years and I am very thankful for that. I always stress to them to do things right the first time, even if it takes a bit longer. We are professionals and this is what we do,” he adds.
Jerry continues, “I’d say 99% of what we do is common sense; but, I really count on my employees and I give them a lot of credit for what they do. And they’re always anxious to help train the new employees as they come in the door.”
Jerry considers himself to be a hands-on employer. “When needed, I drop what I am doing to work side by side with a crew,” he says. “I was an employee long before I was a manager. I learned back then that if the owner/manager is willing to work with you and get his hands dirty, then he or she will get respect from employees. Respect has to go both ways in an employee/employer relationship.”
Jerry firmly believes that honesty and hard work go a long way in the business world. “Anyone who is self-employed knows that if you’re neither of these, then your business won’t last very long.”