Coffee Break with David J. Frank, President/CEO, David J. Frank Landscape Contracting Inc.

Corporate office is at  N120 W21350 Freistadt Road in Germantown, with branch offices in Madison and the Fox Valley

Industry: Landscape services, including landscape architectural, design-build, construction, and maintenance services; as well as nursery, irrigation, interiorscape, holiday décor and snow removal services.

Number of employees: 350, plus seasonal workers

Company’s annual revenues: $24 million

Education: Attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, majoring in marketing and finance until senior year.

Family: Wife, Jane; and children David R. (the CFO of the company), Megan, Mike, Lindsay and Christian.

What was the smartest thing your company did in the past year?

“A company-wide recommitment to improving customer service and maintaining our customer service leadership edge. We also redoubled our initiatives on Lean Management and developed a market-focused, no frills, low-cost commercial service package to be as competitive as possible.  We try to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to the economic conditions based on media sensationalism. In other words, we didn’t go into layoffs just because everyone else was doing it. We try to focus on our customers, vendors and our own circumstances rather than many that don’t affect us.”

What’s new at your company?

“We are working aggressively on our LEED certification, which we should have in the next one to two months. We are broadening our environmental and green solutions in the areas of storm water management to reduce erosion and prevent water contamination; design and installation of green roofs and green walls; eco-engineered irrigation systems; rain gardens; environmentally friendly native and drought-resistant plantings; and other recycled and energy-saving options. We are increasing our work in the public sector and on athletic fields.”

What will be your company’s main challenges in the next year?

“To maintain our revenue volume as well as our gross profit percentage, which is greatly affected by such things as fuel, insurance and other costs. This challenge is requiring us to quickly shift our production capabilities from conventional services such as new residential home landscaping, which has greatly diminished due to the economic conditions of the housing market, to newer initiatives such as public work and environmental services, as well as aggressively managing our costs.”

Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

“We have several openings in key positions in the business development area and will be adding production staff for specific project requirements. We have established a significant capital budget focused on two areas: updating and replacing equipment as well as purchasing of new equipment that will improve and enhance our crews’ productivity in many areas.”

What’s the hottest trend in your industry?

“Almost all of our commercial clients are cutting costs. With our experience and knowledge, we are providing insightful cost-engineering services to get the projects done more cost-effectively. With residential clients, much of our business, many are responding to economic conditions by postponing large decisions such as building or buying a new home and are instead choosing to renovate their existing home by adding a terrace, garden, lawn irrigation system, outdoor kitchen or other amenities. They realize that despite the current financial downturn their residence remains one of the best investments they will make.”

From a business standpoint, who do you look up to?

“Early in my business career, I was very fortunate to have learned from many of southeastern Wisconsin’s business leaders. As they realized I was just starting my business at a young age, they made significant, frequent and constructive suggestions for improving my business. People like Ed Watson (past chairman of Boston Store), Fred Stratton, Earl Rose, Henry Harnischfeger, Bill Luff,  Bob Touchett, Bernie Sampson and Eric Butlein were true mentors I looked up to. I look up to Jay Baker and what he and his colleagues accomplished with the leverage buy out of Kohl’s and growing that into a leading national chain.”

What was the best advice you ever received?

“The key to success is to keep your promises. That lesson never left me.”

What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in your career?

“I remember back in the 1970’s going out on a Saturday morning appointment to meet a very good prospect. I was met at the front door by a rather large man who had contacted me for a property walk through. He was completely naked and apparently he was very comfortable that way. I spent about an hour with him walking the property to see what his interests were. It was a very distracting interview, to say the least.”

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