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Profile: Scott Chapla of SereneScapes-Success Through Giving

By Leslie McGuire, managing editor

Scott Chapla

Scott Chapla started SereneScapes, Design/Build firm, in l999 after having worked in the landscape business since the age of 19. Scott knew as soon as he started working in landscaping--he was still in high school--that this was what he wanted to do. He also knew he wanted to own his own company.

Scott learned everything he needed to know while working for others. He got a great deal of hands on experience and also attended seminars on subjects ranging from retaining walls to pavers. While working for a lawn care maintenance firm he got a fertilizing certificate. Scott also has a Belgard paver brick certification and is looking to take other certification classes in the future.

After leaving the last landscaping company he wasn't 100-percent certain about starting out on his own. But while working as a carpenter over that winter, Scott connected with a builder and mentioned he was thinking of starting a landscaping company. The builder offered to give him all his work. That gave him the incentive. These were high-end clients who wanted lots of work done and had lots of neighbors who also wanted work done. That first client is still a client of his today.

"If you knew how Scott works and that he can't sit still on the weekends, you'd know he was born to do this," says his wife, Donna.

This pondless waterfall built by SereneScapes drops down into a basin filled with stones. The outer edge, the steps and the retaining wall are constructed of outcropping stone from Wisconsin. Scott Chapla, founder of SereneScapes, (above) finds that pondless waterfalls are extremely popular because they require less maintenance and don't take up a lot of space.

Moving to the Next level

When SereneScapes started out, Scott mowed three days a week and landscaped the other three days a week to make ends meet. He did the mowing so he had a guaranteed and regular source of money coming in. Within two months he was subbing out all the mowing and devoting himself to landscaping six days a week.

Now, Scott continues to sub out some of the maintenance work for customers who really want to be working with him. "We're happy having Scott do the landscaping," says Donna. "He subs out for specific customers, but as a regular part of the business, it just got too overwhelming to coordinate all that. Now he does just landscaping."

A Keystone retaining wall separates two properties in a situation where the property line was too close and the elevation between them was radically different. Because of the elevation issue the wall had to have geo grid reinforcement.

Good Tools Are Worth the Price

They own three Bobcats, a Toro Dingo, three large trucks, two pick up trucks, plus compacters, sod cutters, edging machines and lots of brick saws. "We've gotten these things over the years," says Scott. "I buy the best out there because I want them to last and perform. The last thing I need is for any of them to break down on the job site. That ends up costing money and time."

This water feature is the very first pond installation Scott ever did. Over the years, he's been called back to this property about once a year for yet another project. In addition, the owner has always referred Scott, which has been wonderful. SereneScapes gets many jobs through word of mouth, which is a very important source of business.

Design Sells Success

Scott has a true eye for design and when he bought their house in 2000, Donna looked at it and saw nothing, but Scott looked at it and described everything he was planning. She says she still couldn't see it, but he kept with his vision, and now it's wonderful. He has a design partner named Todd Barbott who does most of the design work now and meets with the clients--Todd has a gift for sales, he's not pushy and doesn't come on too strong. "He's also extremely gifted at looking at things and breaking it down for the client," says Donna. "Since most people are on a budget, Todd says 'maybe we could start with this, then next year add on this, and in the third year add some more. That way people can stay in their budget and spread it out over time." Scott only does 20 percent of the sales now, and that is mostly for hardscape projects.

When they go out to the client, they interview and find out what the client wants before they sit down at the drawing table. Then they do a plan and present it to the client on second visit. "Other people don't do this," says Donna. "It's a unique approach. They starting to get into CAD work and computer generated photos, but up until now it's mostly been hand drawn blueprints."

They work with plant choices on the plan as well. "We try and stick with a hardy plant material that works well in the area," says Donna. "We do a lot of homes that are in or on the edge of the woods. Deer love yews and a lot of deer will come out and eat all the landscaping. For example, there's a book that tells us what the deer don't like. But we end up doing a lot of internet searches. For example when we designed the landscaping for Reins of Life, a therapeutic horseback riding stable, we researched what plants would be safe around the horses."

This pergola, showcased at the Notre Dame Home and Garden Show, features a unique water wall designed by Scott. It has a water line that runs all the way along the top beam to drop the water back into the EPDM lined trough. A small pump then runs the water back up the post at the other end.

Getting the Word Out

Their web site has also done wonders. During the busy season in April, at least 50 people visit the site each day.

Two or three years ago SereneScapes did a promotion with a local country music station. Scott's makeover for the DJ was tied in with the station's web site. People saw the progress daily with a diary of what happened. "I cannot tell you how many people said 'I heard about you on the radio.'"

This dry stack retaining wall made of field stones native to Indiana, was designed and installed to control a slope and give it character. A large brick patio was also put in around the swimming pool. As it turned out, the concrete trucks delivering the cement for the pool installation damaged the driveway so badly, SereneScapes had to come back to replace it. The owners always call back each year with another project.

Success Through Giving

They also do charity auctions two or three times a year--everything from donating a tree with installation to donating a brick patio. Charities benefit quite a bit from these donations, and Scott gets a new customer who usually purchases other things to go along with the installation.

"Everything you give away comes back 100 times," says Scott. "I have been very successful due to the support of people around me, so I like to give back. It's hard work, but definitely worth the extra giving."

In 2000, Scott and Donna bought a house that was (in Donna's words) a disaster. The only redeeming thing was a 10-foot by 10-foot deck which Scott pulled down and replaced with a new slate patio and functional retaining walls. It has become his testing ground, or as Donna says, his playground. Scott tries everything here first. He built the stream and 20 by 30-foot pond with liner, as well as an enormous water fall. The pond has water plants, 200 fish, turtles and frogs. Scott built the bridge, as well.

It's All About People

SereneScapes has thirteen employees. Some are seasonal but five are fulltime. "I try to surround myself with the best people," says Scott. "I have an incredible foreman and a wonderful right hand man, Todd Barbott. My wife, who is my left hand, runs the office. It is this incredible staff that makes it all run smoothly."

Even though there is serious turn over in the landscape contracting industry, Scott's employees have been around for years. He pays well and they appreciate it, even if he works them hard. "We all work well together and appreciate each other's talents."

This is their ninth season. Scott works six days a week and on the seventh, he works around the house. Scott and Donna's son who has just turned four, loves to help out.

"It really is a family business!" says Scott.

"Our quality of work speaks for itself and because we have so much repeat business, our word of mouth referral base is great," says Donna. They are now over a million dollar company. "But," says Scott, "money was never my goal. My goal was to be the best, and that continues to be my goal."

It certainly sounds as if he has attained it.

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October 20, 2019, 8:07 pm PDT

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