Jesus “Chuy” Medrano started CoCal Landscape in 1992 in Denver, Colo. In the beginning, he was part of a 2-man crew. Today, his company has more than 30 crews and more than 280 employees. CoCal is one of the largest Hispanic-owned landscape contracting firms in the U.S.
Medrano is also one of the founding members of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance (NHLA), an industry group of Hispanic-American landscape industry professionals founded in 2011. “It was time. We had built a foundation for success through hard work and learning the business basics, but to take the next step we had to take a wider view,” says Medrano. “We had to look beyond what we were doing. We also had to look closer at ourselves. As we did that, we could better see opportunities and threats and our strengths and weaknesses came into better focus, too. As some of us started sharing more, we realized that we could help each other. It started there. Over the last few years there had been some efforts here and there, but there wasn’t anything keeping it going until we formed the NHLA.”
Meet Landscape Company
Owner Jesus “Chuy” Medrano
Occupation: Jesus “Chuy” Medrano is president and owner of CoCal Landscape, Denver, Colo., one of the largest Hispanic-owned landscape contracting firms in the U.S.
Market: CoCal’s services include maintenance, water management, color programs, snow clearing and outdoor designs. Their service area stretches from Ft. Collins in the north to Colorado Springs in the south, a range of about 150 miles.
Equipment: John Deere 5425 and 5083 tractors; 647A QuikTrak stand-on mowers; 1445 front-mount mowers; 12- and 15-foot 3-point rotary cutters; loaders and snow pushers; Bobcat 837 skid steers; Caterpillar 262 skid steers; Husqvarna and Stihl trimmers, blowers and other hand-held equipment
Priorities: Durability and efficiency
Video: View a video of CoCal Landscape’s divisions. http://cocal.com/services/
Jesus “Chuy” Medrano leads a “CoCal University” staff training session. CoCal Landscape’s team includes more than 280 employees.
Medrano’s philosophy of focus, identifying strengths and weaknesses and building relationships has helped his business succeed for more than 20 years.
Building a Business
Before starting his own business, Medrano had worked for 18 years for another large landscaping company. It was there he developed the skills of building customer relationships. “When you do good things and do what’s right, people follow you and they stay with you. And when things are not right, you make things happen,” he says.
Medrano and a partner incorporated their business in December of 1992 — and grew fast. They hired their first employee in January and by April they had 2 crews of 4 people. “A developer friend gave me a big job, $12,000 a month, and another friend gave me 25 properties at $15,000 a month. We finished the year doing $560,000 in business.”
In its second year, CoCal added landscaping construction services and earned $1.5 million. By the tenth year, CoCal’s revenues were more than $30 million. Part of that growth was due to the addition of an irrigation division in 2001, called WaterRight. The company’s growth took a hit when the recession kicked in. “Within 5 months, two of our biggest contracts went bankrupt. We went from doing $30 million in 2007 to $15 million in 2009 due to the falling off of construction revenue.”
Know the Hispanic Market
Statistics from the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance show the influence of Hispanics in the commercial landscape industry:
- Hispanic Americans make up 16% of business owners in the landscaping industry vs. 8% nationwide for other business segments.
- Hispanic Americans make up more than 43% of the workforce in the commercial landscaping industry vs. 16% nationwide for other business segments.
- Hispanic American-owned businesses in the landscape and lawn care industry capture 7.5 times more of the total receipts than Hispanic American-owned businesses across all industries, with the landscape and lawn care industry reflecting an approximate 9% of total industry receipts vs. 1.2% of total receipts across all industries.
NHLA is just 3 years old and already has the backing of 13 equipment companies, including Briggs & Stratton, Cub Cadet, GreenWorks Pro, Honda Power Equipment, Hustler, John Deere, Kohler, Oregon and Rotary.
Raul Berrios, NHLA president, says, “My advice to dealers is to be conscious of everybody who walks in through the door and treat them with the same level of service, regardless of whether they are a site worker or the owner of a company. It is important to remember that many of the smaller businesses, especially the ones that are Hispanic-owned, oftentimes have owners who also work on-site with their crews. A dealer can be most successful if everyone is treated with the same respect, regardless of whether they come in to purchase 10 mowers or just one. Another great tip to consider is to have a Spanish-speaking employee who can provide equipment information, if possible. If not, it would be key to make sure that you have Spanish-language materials on hand to overcome any potential language barrier.”
The National Hispanic Landscape Alliance was formed 3 years ago. Jesus “Chuy” Medrano (left) is a past president. Ralph Egues, Jr. is executive director. Raul Berrios (right) is the current president.
The recession forced Medrano to restructure the business. He bought out his partner’s share and reorganized the construction side. Instead of offering construction services for other design companies, they added design-build services, where they now carry out the complete job. CoCal’s services now include maintenance, water management, color programs (flower bed design and planting), snow clearing and outdoor designs. Their service area stretches from Ft. Collins in the north to Colorado Springs in the south, a range of about 150 miles.
Medrano says that in the beginning their equipment lineup included Husqvarna products. “For the first few years, we were exclusively buying their equipment. We had a good working relationship with them and my chief mechanic was dealing directly with their engineers and we were doing our own warranty work. But they lost people and their service went down,” Medrano says.
About 5 years ago, John Deere selected CoCal as a corporate account due to the size and influence of the company. The local John Deere connection is Potestio Brothers Equipment, which has locations in Parker and Colorado Springs, Colo. “We met with the folks from John Deere and now we’re only using their mowing equipment.”
His John Deere mowing lineup today includes 647A QuikTrak stand-on mowers, 1445 front-mount mowers and 12- and 15-foot 3-point rotary cutters used with 5425 and 5083 model tractors. For snow removal, he uses front-end loaders and snow pushers for the John Deere tractors as well as Bobcat 837 and Caterpillar 262 skid steers. CoCal uses Husqvarna and Stihl hand-held equipment for tasks like trimming and blowing.
A typical trailer of equipment for a 3-person crew maintaining properties for a homeowner association includes 2 stand-on mowers, 1 walk-behind mower and trimmers and blowers. The larger front-mount and 3-point mowers and skid steers are used for municipal and commercial accounts.
“When we talk about mowing equipment, cost is a big deal, but so is efficiency and durability. The shop is one of the most expensive departments to run in the company. It’s like throwing money down a black hole. John Deere and Husqvarna are not the cheapest — in fact, they are some of the most expensive items on the market — but they are well made and have good warranties. They’re made to last.
“I look for efficiency in terms of being easier to transport — compact and well-made. That saves us from having to use a huge trailer,” Medrano says.
Medrano admits that his crews can be tough on equipment, so he factors that in to his equipment choice. “If you have a piece of equipment that’s used by the same person, they take care of it. When you have equipment that’s used by 5 different people, that’s a different animal.
“We have a lot of flat tires. They hit the edgings or stakes and they rip. And then they just take abuse from the guys. When they finish one area and move on to the next, they jump the curb or sidewalk and bend the forks on the front wheels. My shop superintendent invented this machine to bend them back and then he welds them. That saves on buying new forks.”
CoCal buys mowing equipment through a leasing program. “Some people think I’m crazy, but I came to the realization that it’s like buying a car and financing it for 5 years. By the time you pay off the car, it’s old. If you lease, it’s like you have a brand new car every 3 years. We run our fleet of mowers for 3 years and put on about 300-500 hours per year per mower and then we turn them in for new ones. We then don’t see a lot of engine problems and don’t have the problems of them being in the shop much for repairs.
Jesus “Chuy” Medrano owns CoCal Landscape, Denver, Colo. About 4 years ago, he transitioned much of his mowing equipment to propane power for the environmental benefits and cost savings.
“We do a lot of our own repairs, we have 4 mechanics. Nothing against the dealer, but they have a lot of people to serve. We don’t like to be #2. My fleet manager, Javier Oliva, is resourceful and does a lot of research on the Internet. He knows a lot about the day-to-day business as well as the changing technology. Sometimes he’s one step ahead of the competition and even some of the dealers.”
CoCal turns to new technologies to improve efficiencies. When they transitioned to John Deere, they switched most mowers to propane units. Today, about 90% of the fleet (about 85 units) run on propane. The remainder of the mowers, mainly the larger units, have diesel engines for the added power.
Oliva made adjustments to the propane units to adapt them to Denver’s higher elevation atmosphere. “By him making that adjustment, we picked up 1-2 hours of efficiency per propane cylinder. Now, we’re changing them every 6 hours instead of every 4 hours. We consider ourselves a green company. We work to beautify the environment, but we want to save it too,” Medrano says.
Working with Dealers
Medrano says his company handles most of the repairs and he turns to dealers for support on upgrades and introductions to new equipment. For instance, he may soon trade off his older Caterpillar skid steers. “They’re offering good programs for the first year. The lease goes toward the purchase and they’re offering good deals on the older equipment.
Partnering with Landscape Contractors
Potestio Brothers Equipment has locations in Colorado Springs and Parker, Colo. The dealership supports CoCal Landscape with tractors, mowers and hand-held equipment. Commercial cutters are a growth area for the dealership.
Potestio Brothers Equipment is a family-owned John Deere dealership with locations in Colorado Springs and Parker, Colo. The dealership serves all segments of the rural lifestyle market, with golf courses and municipalities making up a significant portion of their customer base. Commercial cutters are a growth area for the dealership.
“Commercial cutters are a smaller part of our business at the moment, but we have our eye on it to drive more business,” says David Heizenrader, sales manager. One of the dealership’s commercial cutters is CoCal Landscape. CoCal is one of the largest Hispanic-owned landscape contracting firms in the U.S. Jesus “Chuy” Medrano owns CoCal.
Heizenrader began working with CoCal about 4 years ago when John Deere selected them as a corporate account. Heizenrader and Potestio provided the local contact, helping set up CoCal with leases on propane-powered mowing equipment. “It was something Chuy pressed us on because they were looking for ways to improve the environmental impact of their company. It’s been a very positive experience and has made a positive impact on their bottom line,” Heizenrader says.
Heizenrader says the support from the dealership and a John Deere corporate contact makes a good partnership with CoCal. “We’re a partner with John Deere and so is CoCal. We offer the day-to-day support and do what it takes to keep them moving, while John Deere comes in with the overall structure.”
A family-owned business serving another family-owned business is also an advantage. “We’ve been in business for almost 40 years and are family owned and operated. Our after-sales support has been key to our success in the industry,” Heizenrader says. “It’s not like we sell you a tractor and send you down the highway. We operate on family principles and we treat every customer the same, whether they spend $2,000 or $50,000.”
“I use the sales teams to get more informed. Things are changing fast and equipment is 10 times more efficient than when I started. Every year, somebody is coming up with a better way. I’ve been in business for a long time, so I know my stuff, but you never know everything. There’s always something to learn,” he says.
Medrano offers advice regarding how dealers can earn more business from Hispanic landscape company owners. “There are a lot of companies who may not be buying the quantities I’m buying, but ‘little by little’ makes a big deal. Many Hispanic business owners are still reserved. A lot of them need to come up with ideas to take the next step in their businesses and it takes a while for us to trust people or companies or the ‘system,’ ” Medrano says.
“Sixteen percent of the landscape company owners in the U.S. are Hispanics, compared with 8% for other kinds of businesses. I think dealers need to be more visible to Hispanics and run more advertisements in Spanish and more focused marketing campaigns — just start doing something. There’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of profits to be gained,” Medrano says.