Brian Golembiewski wasn’t born a landscaper. He grew up as one of 11 children, and as he put it, “We learned how to work hard early.”
That was a trait Golembiewski took to heart: Although he had a successful 13-year career at aerospace engineering company Allied Signal, he wanted to work outdoors and own his own business. When Allied relocated him to Phoenix in 1994, Golembiewski used money leftover from the move to buy Paramount Landscape and Maintenance, a $100,000-a-year business.
For several years, Golembiewski worked 60 hours a week at Allied Signal, and 20 to 30 hours a week managing his new landscaping business. “For everyone who succeeds, there’s a story there,” Golembiewski says. “There’s a lot of sacrifice and risk, but you just have to throw it out there.” He credits his wife, Carol, with being supportive and encouraging him to go for it, even though they had three young children. “If your spouse isn’t supportive, it almost isn’t possible,” he says.
As time went on, it became apparent to Brian and Carol that their landscaping business was becoming more than just a way to bring in extra money. In January 1997, Brian decided to quit his job with Allied Signal and run Paramount full time.
Golembiewski had rolled the dice big – that was obvious from the get-go. “The first five years were about simply surviving – separating household income and business cash flow,” he says. It was a struggle. But the turning point came, once again, in the form of family. First, Brian’s brother Keith invested in the company in 1998 providing much needed capital to move the business from Brian’s home to a “real” office/yard. Then, Brian’s brother, Rob, who was working for Dow AgroSciences in North Carolina, moved west and joined Paramount in 2000.
“That was huge for us,” Brian says, “because he was so into the science of landscaping.” Rob converted ad-hoc landscape maintenance procedures into formalized processes utilizing science to build in discipline and improve the company quality. The changes Rob brought were dramatic and greatly enhanced the company’s overall reputation, which helped drive revenues to $2.5 million a year, before he decided to leave Paramount in 2006.
The way of the West
Due to Phoenix’s high growth rate, most home developments have homeowner associations to manage the affairs of the neighborhood. Golembiewski’s customer base is primarily property managers for these communities, and he constantly evaluates his customers to ensure that he is serving his clients as best he can and is taking on profitable customers. Golembiewski says he has no problem getting rid of customers if they are chronic complainers or don’t pay on time.
“Everything starts with the sales process, so all of my bid proposals are very professional,” Golembiewski says. Leaning on his own aerospace background and his brother’s insistence on bringing science into the business, Brian now uses Google Earth to calculate square footage of jobs for bidding, as well as how many man hours will be needed per week.
Because his work is centered on commercial maintenance, Golembiewski bids for almost all of his projects. Attrition is very low and it’s been easy for him to hold onto his contracts because his company focuses on providing quality work and excellent customer service.
“I’ve know Brian for many years, and he always lets me know when something needs to be replaced or revitalized with the club’s landscape,” says Deb Bachman, executive director, Racquet Club of Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Arizona. “He’s out here every week checking to make sure everything is growing properly and that we’re on schedule maintenance-wise.”
With recent legislation concerning regulations on water usage and irrigation, it’s no surprise that a state that stays as warm and dry as Arizona would turn to xeriscaping to minimize use of turf. That’s sometimes a difficult concept to explain to clients. “Most people in the Phoenix area are transplants and are used to having lush lawns and a lot of grass,” Golembiewski says. “Grass can be just as efficient as xeriscaping; the problem arises when people overwater. We do our best to teach efficient water management practices.”
While some cities give matching grants for xeriscape installation, it’s not an easy alternative for landscapers, Golembiewski says. “Xeriscaping doesn’t mean ‘less maintenance,'” he explains. “It’s a lot of work to keep everything clean; there’s usually no labor savings between working on arid or lush landscaping.”
All in a day’s work
One-hundred percent of Golembiewski’s labor pool is Hispanic, and many of his crewmembers are related to other employees. Though he took four years of Spanish in high school, he admits he had to work on his language skills to communicate effectively with his employees.
“We have a staff meeting twice a week to discuss employee issues, upcoming bids and current jobs,” Golembiewski says. “We also have a monthly safety meeting in the warehouse. There is a lot of communication in this company.”
Golembiewski also places emphasis on natural pruning and often hosts “trimming events” to teach his employees new pruning methods. “The growth season in Arizona takes off about March and lasts through October,” he says, “so it’s good to prune in the winter because everything is dormant.”
Golembiewski credits a lot of his success to the way he treats his employees. “I pay at the higher end of the scale, and I give quarterly bonuses based on the company’s performance. Good values are part of our culture.”
Today, 11 years after he gave up a steady paycheck to follow his dreams, Brian says it was all worth it. “This business is like a child, and like a child, I’m proud of it.”