Contacts
 





Keyword Site Search







Profile: Teufel Landscape Services

An Interview with Rick Christensen, landscape division manager -- By Leslie McGuire, managing editor

virtuallawn.gif



Rick Christensen, manager of Teufel Horticultural Products, has been with the company for 25 years. Photos courtesy of Teufel Landscape





"As a company, we've always been conscious of environmental concerns, and we make a point of suggesting landscaping that is in synch with the native soils and include as many sustainable options as possible," Christensen explains. "At the moment, we are at about 82 percent is commercial and 18 percent residential. The commercial work is divided between commercial construction and commercial maintenance."





"On this project we put in the wood trellis and did all the brickwork for the raised planters, as well as the exposed aggregate with our own crews," says Christensen. "It is essential to have craftsmen on staff in each of the trades if you're taking on work like that. At that time we also had a brick mason in-house which allowed us to do all the brick work without going to an outside contractor."


Teufel Landscape has been in business since 1890 and they're still family owned and operated. "We are now on the fourth generation," says Rick Christensen, Landscape Division manager. "Larry Teufel is the great grandson of the founder--Gustav Teufel who was a gardener. During the day as he was trimming shrubs and trees, Gustav would bring home clippings and root them in his greenhouse. That's where it started."

The corporate name is Teufel Nursery Inc.--which is a large part of what the company has been known for over the last 100 years or so. Teufel Nursery is still a source for locally grown plants, from large trees to ornamentals and they've shipped plants nationwide. In 1983, Christensen, who has a degree in horticulture and a degree in landscape architecture from Oregon State University, was hired to start up the landscape division. Teufel Landscape now offers services from commercial construction and maintenance to residential design build and commercial maintenance, which includes corporate campus landscape construction, multi-family residential landscape construction, office landscape construction, landscape renovation, wetland mitigation, erosion control and greenroofs.

Christensen joined Teufel when there was initial discussion about adding an installation contracting business to the nursery, and he's really grown right along with the business. "I was the first employee. When I was brought on, it was also during an economic recession and the nursery plant sales were reduced significantly," says Christensen. "The landscape division gave us an outlet for selling our own plantings which we installed in the landscapes we constructed."






"Our employee count is now at 288 and will probably gain another 45 during the season. Our head count is down, and our revenue volume will no doubt be down in 2009 as a response to the slowdown in the economy," Christensen explains. "However, we have many complex jobs such as this water feature where not only did we do the construction, we did the lighting as well. The drama of the night lighting includes lights placed right in the pool water below the basalt columns.





"We have certified applicators and arborists on staff and are very serious about training and opportunities for continuing education for our employees. We strongly embrace the CLT program administered through PLANET," says Christensen. "We make it a requirement for any foreman or above obtain their CLT in a two year period. This way, we can always insure our customers that we are living up to the very best installations done by certified installers using the very latest techniques.


Challenges and Advantages

The original challenge with starting a landscape division was the competition that might have arisen between Teufel and their own customers. But they managed to avoid that by starting out only doing the largest and most complex projects in the North West. That way they weren't competing with the majority of their own nursery customers. By taking on these huge jobs, they rapidly gained a reputation for the types of projects they were capable of creating. A lot had a very high profile such as the Microsoft campus in Seattle, the Boeing headquarters in Seattle and in Portland, Nike and Intel. As for government work, they've done some very high profile projects such as the landscaping for the light rail in the Portland metro area.

"The advantage we had, and still have, is the very strong name recognition, which comes from being a prominent business since 1890," says Christensen. "We also have a very strong reputation for quality, both in the plant material and the landscape work we do. As for branding, we don't do a lot of advertising. Actually, we do very little--partly because of our long term, solid reputation. As for branding, our trucks have logos and the staff have uniforms.






The original challenge with starting a landscape division was the competition that might have arisen between Teufel Nursery and their own customers. But they managed to avoid that by starting out only doing the largest and most complex projects in the North West. That way they weren't competing with the majority of their own nursery customers.


Brand Recognition Helps

"Actually, we don't do as much advertising or marketing as we should. Particularly since it is a down economy when it's always a good idea to do more advertising and marketing," Christensen continues. "Back in 1999 to 2001 when there were so many mergers and acquisitions like Landcare and TruGreen (which ultimately bought Landcare), we redesigned our logo and went back in history. I wanted to add history and warm the feel of the logo up a bit. That hadn't been the logo in the past, but I wanted it to look as if it had been around for 100 years. You can see Mt. Hood in the background and the circle says 'Environmental Solutions Since 1890."






The wedding pavilion at the Leech Botanical Garden was built with western red cedar because of its durability and the fact that it's a local material. The Friends of the Leech Botancal Gardens were responsible for the hanging baskets, however Teufel did the ground plantings which include Japanese boxwood surrounding the edge with Lace Leaf Japanese Maple. On the far right is Lace Cap Hydrangea.





"The advantage we had, and still have, is the very strong name recognition, which comes from being a prominent business since 1890," says Christensen. "Teufel Landscape now offers services from commercial construction and maintenance to residential design build and commercial maintenance, which includes corporate campus landscape construction, multi-family residential landscape construction (such as this one), office landscape construction, landscape renovation, wetland mitigation, erosion control and greenroofs."


The Green Revolution

"We've always been conscious of environmental concerns, and we make a point of suggesting landscaping that is in synch with the native soils and include as many sustainable options as possible.

"This is also a great solution to 'I'm tired of mowing my lawn'" says Christensen. "We will see more and more of these solutions as water becomes more and more of an issue. There's also no need for fertilizing either. The planting areas are far easier to maintain and the paved areas are far more useable."

Christensen points out, "We have actually done more green roofs in the North West than any other contractor. We were the first contractor involved at the beginning of the green roof movement and the ones we've done are fine. There have been some failures of green roofs that weren't designed properly and now our firm has been contracted to go in and redo some of them, which means they have to be ripped out and installed all over again. The problem is that people don't understand the makeup of a green roof--there is almost no organic material involved. If you put in too much organic material in the media, what you have is a recipe for disaster.

"For the time being, there is so little new construction not much is happening. But green roofs have tremendous potential and in our view, there is no question that this will turn around."






"When I was brought on," Christensen explains, "it was also during an economic recession and the nursery plant sales were reduced significantly. The landscape division gave us an outlet for selling our own plantings, which we installed in the landscapes we constructed."





Says Christensen, this site had an existing yard that was just grass. The owners wanted something that would eliminate the need to mow their lawn. The simple paver patio was relatively inexpensive to install and it creates a nice entertainment and dining area. By planting the hedge, which separates them from their next door neighbors, the family gets privacy and the bird bath attracts wildlife


The Mix of the Business

"At the moment, we are at about 82 percent of our business being commercial and 18 percent residential. The commercial work is divided between commercial construction and commercial maintenance.

Our employee count is now at 288 and will probably gain another 45 during the season. Our head count is down, and our revenue volume will no doubt be down in 2009 as a response to the slowdown in the economy."

"Anyone can buy trucks and equipment, but it's what you do with them that counts. If you don't have that commitment to your employees, you're not going to make it for 118 years."

A Balance of Equipment

"The kind of equipment we either own or rent is dependent on which business unit you're looking at. For landscape maintenance, we own 100 percent of our machines. For residential work we have smaller equipment--such as skid steer loaders, trenchers and small tractors. For the large commercial landscape work, we do own some equipment, but it's more typical to rent the equipment that is specific to the needs of the job. We also do commercial maintenance and that division is more labor intensive."

Teufel services the entire Pacific North West, but they concentrate their efforts in the greater Portland and Seattle areas. Says Christensen, "Although we have done some distance installations, basically we are pretty much local. There are multiple dispatch sites in Portland with one corporate office in Portland. Seattle is divided between the main facility in Kent and a second dispatch yard in Woodenville."






Teufel installed this classical Chinese garden outside Portland. That tree was an over 100-year-old Osmanthis. This is one of the few Chinese classical gardens outside of China. At the time Teufel built that one, there was only one on the roof of the Guggenheim in NY.





Says Christensen, "The kind of equipment we either own or rent is dependent on which business unit you're looking at. For landscape maintenance, we own 100 percent of our machines. For residential work we have smaller equipment--such as skid steer loaders, trenchers, small tractors. For the large commercial landscape work, we do own some equipment, but it's more typical to rent the equipment that is specific to the needs of the job."


Making Sure Our Employees are the Best

"Anyone can buy trucks and equipment, but it's what you do with them that counts. If you don't have that commitment to your employees, you're not going to make it for 118 years.

"We have certified applicators and arborists on staff and are very serious about training and opportunities for continuing education for our employees. We strongly embrace the CLT program administered through PLANET," says Christensen. "We make it a requirement that any foreman or above obtain their CLT in a two year period. If at the end they haven't fulfilled that requirement, we redline their salary until they do get their CLT. That means no raises. They are also not eligible for promotions, so we have a very high rate of acceptance. If they don't want to do the classes, it's up to them. However we make sure they know how important we feel these education credits are to the company as well as the employees, personally. The strength of our company depends on the strength of our staff.


Search Site by Story Keywords



Related Stories



May 26, 2019, 3:07 pm PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.