Interviews

Solid Ground Landscape Inc. – Seth Barnard, James Day, & Peter Gustafson

Introducing Seth Barnard, his business partner James Day and their team at Solid Ground Landscape Inc.  Serving Ashland for over 10 years, they provide comprehensive landscape services in both installation and maintenance. Solid Ground works closely with clients to not only implement the desired landscape plan, but also to maintain it long after the job has been done. The company currently employs a staff of 20 skilled individuals and services the greater Rogue Valley. With about 90% of its clientele in Ashland, Solid Ground has built strong local relationships which are the foundation of not only providing a quality product but also a quality process. The vision of Solid Ground as described by Seth is “We want our properties to look great not only on the day they are completed, but even greater 15 years from now, all the while fostering a relationship built on trust and mutual expectations.” I met with Seth to learn more about Solid Ground Landscape Inc.

Seth, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. Please introduce us to your company and your staff. 

I founded Solid Ground in 2003 with the intention of creating a company that puts quality at the top of the priority list.  Having owned a handful of other companies before this one, I knew what it was going to take to make it successful.  Quality service and product with clear communication and expectations is at the core of our business.  We strive to exemplify these ingredients at each stage of the relationship with each one of our clients.  I have also been tremendously fortunate to have found the skilled individuals that actually produce the work.  Our employees are sincerely dedicated to our vision of quality and it shows.

You describe Solid Ground as offering not only a quality product but also a quality process can you say more?

Sure—we think of our management structure as a tripod.  As we stress a long term relationship with our clientele, It is important that they receive a high level of service before, during and after the project.  We have a business structure that makes this possible as three individuals are responsible for each of the three stages of the relationship.  I personally oversee the sales and general business management, James Day is our Project Manager and oversees the installations and other current projects, and Peter Gustafson is our Client Service Manager overseeing all maintenance and warranty services.

Your projects can range from residential to commercial with the majority of your projects being in Ashland. Will you tell us more?

Our focus is quality residential work, although we certainly enjoy the occasional custom commercial project.  With a high level of customer service, the residential market has been very receptive to us.  Ashland is such a great place to live and work—it’s a lot of fun getting to know the diverse population we have here.  We prefer the residential work as we strongly value the personal relationships we have developed.  With commercial work, the personal element lessened.

Creating a strong plan and defining expectations up front is an important part of the initial planning process of Solid Ground. Please elaborate.

I am very strong advocate for good design.  It’s not just the style, it’s the accuracy and appropriateness that matters.  It is also the communication tool that translates between the contractor and client.  It provides everyone involved a more clear vision of the project as well as a basis for expectations, especially the cost.  While we do much of our own plant design, we prefer to collaborate with local designers and architects to develop a comprehensive plan for the property.  It is important to consider the overall plan as part of smaller phased projects so there is cohesiveness in the end.  In other words, It acts as a road map for projects that might be created over several years.

After you have a plan that everyone is happy with, what is the next step?

Next is the contract phase in which we present the client with a proposal to complete a specified scope of work.  The proposal has line items that describe each phase of the project and it’s related cost.  This is the second tool of communication between the contractor and client.  It’s important that each item is described accurately and with a reasonable level of detail and should clarify any ambiguities in the plan.  Once the scope and price are agreed upon and the contract is signed by both parties, the work is scheduled.

You mentioned that once you start a job, you don’t leave–that you work all the way through the job. This way the client knows what to expect and can depend on having the job done properly and on schedule. 

Again, I talk about process.  There is no denying that a landscape project is very invasive—maybe not a much as a home remodel, but close, except you probably don’t have to move out!  In an effort to be considerate of this, we dedicate crew to the project that the client can expect 5 days a week, until the project is finished.  We are fortunate to have great teams that perform the work and have excellent people skills as well, making the process enjoyable.

Once a project has been completed you are not the type of company that says “Goodbye”.  What do you mean?

A well installed landscape is only as good as it is maintained.  Gardens need care—and regular, proper care if they are going to achieve the vision that they were designed from.  It’s easy to mow lawns, shear hedges, and blow sidewalks, but that’s not proper maintenance.  We stress landscape health and performance as much as we do aesthetics.  It will slowly deteriorate if the health of the lawns, trees and plants are not cared for.  The irrigation system must be monitored and adjusted.  Being exposed to extreme weather changes, animals and pests, landscapes are quite vulnerable.  Understanding what is needed when, along with a predictable schedule will promote a happy and healthy landscape.  It will also protect and improve the investment of an Owners time and money.

Do you do maintenance for clients who have not worked with you?

Yes, but we tend to be more selective.  It’s important that the landscape have good bones to it, otherwise we will be battling the project instead of caring for it.  In cases where we feel significant work might be needed to bring it to a level of quality that we can care for, we will provide a prospective client with a plan to remedy the issues we discover and a cost to provide the work necessary to implement the plan.

Seth describe the key strengths of yourself on customer relations and contracting, James as project manager and Peter as client services manager.

The strength of each of us comes from what we each love to do.  I really enjoy sales and business development.  I was literally in the trenches for many years, since the age of 12.  I have extensive “in the field” experience in both installation and maintenance.  James has been landscaping all his life too and excels at project management.  He is unfazed by complexity and scale.  He also has a high level of professionalism that really shows in his work.  He is methodic, ensuring each project is built efficiently and correctly.  Peter comes from a lifetime of landscape work as well and manages the complex and diverse Client Services division.  He is proficient in the art of multi-tasking and follow up work, overseeing the myriad operations of his crews.

Tell us about why you named the business solid ground?

It came from a place of accepting my past business struggles and having a clear dream of the future.  I have learned that successful business development comes from a strong and realistic vision.  I recommend a book called “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, by Garth Stein.  If you look where you are going and not at what you might crash into, you will get where you want to go.  Brilliant advice in my opinion.

As a customer what should are five key things to look for when choosing a company to work with and taking on a landscape project?

1.  Reputation and references

2.  Portfolio of completed projects

3.  Licensing and bonding

4.  Sense of professionalism

5.  Ability to service the product after completion

Best compliment or customer feedback you have received in the last month?

“The process and product, now 2 months later, is just as it was described when we first met”, C & G., Ashland

Biggest myth about landscaping that you would like to set straight

There is no such thing a residential landscape that doesn’t need regular maintenance.  Although the needs might be highly variable, care is always needed to promote optimal health and function.  We get requests all the time for low or zero maintenance yards.  They just don’t really exist.

Your company has great relationships with it’s clients. What are the key ingredients that make this possible? 

We seek a clientele that demands quality and professionalism.  We are confident that we can deliver this to any job that we take on.  There is a mutual expectation established immediately that they will be well taken care of and will be delivered a product to match.  Clear and regular communication during the design/contracting phase, continuing through the installation and subsequently into the maintenance/long term care phase is essential.  Our business is built on relationships and will only continue to exist if they are maintained with the same care we give to the landscape.

What types of projects are you currently taking on what is your availability?

We are usually quite busy, even through the winter months.  This time year it can get a bit crazy.  I want people to know that late Fall and even Winter can be a great time to get work done.  Our Winters are mild, relatively speaking, and allow for decent working conditions year round.

Any last words to our readers or anything special you would like to share?

Thanks for reading!  And a huge thanks to all of our clientele.  They have provided and continue to provide us with a venue to promote our passion.  Finally, Happy 40th Birthday Can—I love you!

Business Information

Solid Ground Landscape Inc.

855 Reiten Dr., Ashland, OR 97520

Web: www.solidgroundlandscape.com

Phone:  541-601-9421

 

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Shields Bialasik

Hi, I am Shields. I am the creator or LocalsGuide. The mission or my company is to provide a positive media platform for my community which in turn makes it stronger and more resilient. I hope you will enjoy and feel inspired to start your own LocalsGuide in your town or community.

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