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Landscaper builds his business by building trust
Jill Odom | March 1, 2016
landscaping-hardscaping-proscape

Marcum and his crew offers a wide variety of services including hardscaping, retaining walls, landscape lighting, and landscape installation to name a few.
Photo: Jill Odom

Despite being in the business since he was in high school, every day is a learning experience for Austin Marcum, owner of , based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Marcum started out working at a nursery part time during high school and enjoyed being able to work outside. When he graduated, he left that job and entered the landscape maintenance business while attending college.

austin-marcum-proscape

Austin Marcum started his business in 2003 and learned most of his landscaping knowledge on his own.
Photo: Jill Odom

“I began to get too busy to keep going to college,” he said. “I either had to work or go to college and I was like, ‘Well, let’s just stop the college for right now.’ So then I pursued the landscape maintenance a little bit more and then we started getting into the landscape implementation of things, and that’s when I really started thinking about, well, is this something that I want to do.”

Now, 13 years later, PROSCAPE Inc. has grown from just Marcum doing maintenance to eight employees who handle design/build services for both residential and commercial properties.

“I was the only guy,” he said. “I was the owner, I was the operator, I was the mechanic, I was the accountant and everything when I first started, which was pretty demanding and very tough starting out.”

When he was still learning about the design process and plant types, Marcum subcontracted design work to landscape architects. Most of his knowledge has come from reading books and magazines and from discovering things while out working in the field.

“We make a lot less mistakes than we used to,” Marcum said.

Branching out

PROSCAPE Inc. has always been open to growth and Marcum is always looking for new services he can provide for the client. The company currently offers landscape installation, outdoor living areas, drainage solutions, irrigation and lighting.

Among the services he has considered adding is pool installation, but he enjoys the current relationships he has with his subcontractors so it’s unlikely he will enter the swimming pool market anytime soon.

retaining-wall

By owning Big Oak Natural Stone and Landscape Supplies, Marcum has a ready supply of materials on hand for retaining walls and more.
Photo: Jill Odom

One of the recent additions to his business that Marcum is planning on pushing this year is Big Oak Natural Stone and Landscape Supplies. The landscape supply arm was introduced in 2014, but this year PROSCAPE will really promote it for the first time.

As for the landscape maintenance side of things, PROSCAPE has downsized to the point where only about 10 percent of the business is maintenance while about 90 percent of revenue is generated by design/build projects.

Referring to the maintenance work his company still performs, Marcum said, “Most of the time it’s for past clients who want to ensure that their landscape continues to thrive and look good.”

Despite the intentional reduction in maintenance work through the years, PROSCAPE stays consistently busy throughout the year with design/build projects.

Working with Mother Nature

Many of PROSCAPE’s clients have come to Marcum seeking a solution for their drainage problems. He feels rewarded when he can take the worry away from the client by solving a landscaping concern.

“The consistent issues that people are facing are drainage and erosion,” he said. “Some projects have been very complicated, which we have thorough experience on. Usually there’s a spike in drainage calls whenever we have this amount of rain.”

While rain can generate a number of jobs for Marcum and his team, the weather is also the main culprit for putting projects behind schedule. One of the first things that Marcum does each day is check the weather. As the day goes on, he plots out scheduling options in case of a rain event so he can send his employees to another site where work can still be accomplished.

“We have projects ongoing that we can’t get in, just because it’s too wet,” he said. “It helps us, but it hurts us as well. We need it for drainage issues to see if what we’ve done is working, but it hurts as it’s too wet to plant this tree or excavate this area.”

Keeping a quality team

The number of employees at PROSCAPE fluctuates depending on the seasonal needs, but Marcum doesn’t have to look far for his temporary help: The majority come from the University of Alabama. Generally, Marcum has two seasonal workers, along with six crew members who have been with the company for a number of years.

“I have an extremely talented crew that like what they do, they have years of experience, and they enjoy working for this company,” he said. “They are with us every step of the way.”

While Marcum doesn’t offer a 401(k) plan, he says he pays his employees well and they sometimes receive bonuses.

outdoor-living-landscaping

Outdoor living is increasingly popular as people turn to their backyards as a place to unwind.
Photo: Jill Odom

The employees at PROSCAPE are divided into three teams, where each has a certain specialty but all have a basic knowledge of the other teams’ jobs. Almost like a football team, which has an offense, defense and special teams, Marcum has a hardscape team, a landscape group and a specialty crew.

Every day, he meets with the supervisors of these crews to discuss what needs to be done that day before they leave for the different job sites. Because he likes to be hands on and always in the loop, Marcum gets text and email updates from his supervisors throughout the day.

“I get out there and work with them too,” he said. “If I have to lay sod, or run a piece of equipment, or plant a plant or run a wheelbarrow if a guy was sick and had to go home and I didn’t have anything else to do, that’s fine. I would help with that.”

Even though his employees already have a number of years of experience, Marcum continues to train them himself and send them to seminars.

“They’re learning on their own; they’re learning from me,” he said. “Sometimes I learn from them, so we work as a team.”

Finding and retaining clients

Word of mouth is the most common way people find Marcum’s company. It is generally after PROSCAPE has solved an issue for a customer that the client becomes a repeat customer, and a business relationship based on trust takes hold. Clients continue to use Marcum and his team for other projects because they know they can do the job well.

“Once we show up at a project, we listen to the client’s wishes and concerns, based upon their particular issues that they’re having needs, wants, etcetera,” he said. “We try to address those issues first and foremost just to solve their issue, solve their problem and get them back to a normal consistency with the use of their yard.”

While PROSCAPE’s normal service area is within a 15- to 20-mile radius, it has taken jobs in Birmingham – about 60 miles from Tuscaloosa – where people have heard of the company through family and friends.

fire-pit

This client requested a fire pit for entertaining, and Marcum was able to deliver.
Photo: Jill Odom

“I put myself in our client’s shoes as a property of my own,” Marcum said. “I try to be as communicative as I can, answer any questions, address any concerns or issues.”

For Marcum himself, most of the joy he finds in working with clients is helping them take a vision and bring it to fruition from beginning to end.

“We just took something that was just plain and made it into something better, or even extraordinary,” he said.

Plans for the future

Marcum wants his company to continue to grow with new services, more experience and customer satisfaction. He is always looking to improve what his company has to offer.

“We won’t grow too big to let quality decrease,” he said.  “If we grow, quality will stay consistent, if not increase as we increase.”

Marcum feels that the landscaping industry as a whole is looking up.

“People want a nice home, but they also want nice landscaping to go with it,” he said. “They spend most of the time in their home, but when they’re outside, they want a place that they can go to unwind or enjoy with family and friends.”

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