2020 LM150: The art of relationships

June 18, 2020 -  By
L to R: Patrick McMahon (son), Kevin McMahon (father) and Ryan McMahon (son) (Photo: Art by Nature)

L to R: Patrick McMahon (son), Kevin McMahon (father) and Ryan McMahon (son) (Photo: Art by Nature)

With a strong father-sons leadership team of founder and co-owner Kevin McMahon (father), co-owner and president Ryan McMahon and co-owner Patrick McMahon serving as the foundation of the company, Art by Nature, based in Granite Falls, Wash., and No. 119 on the LM150 list, focuses on strengthening the pillars of client, employee and community relationships to cement its growth.

“It’s unique because we’re a group of alphas, we’re all competitive and we’re all business partners,” says Ryan McMahon, the oldest brother. “I know that a lot of family businesses don’t succeed, but I always feel strongly that ours will because at the end of the day, we all love and trust each other. The differences in opinions on things can actually be helpful for us because it keeps us all in check. We can all talk about it in a civil manner, and we usually come up with the right decision together.”

The company’s $20.3 million 2019 revenue is comprised of mostly new construction projects. It also provides some irrigation, mowing and maintenance, turf and ornamental and garden and nursery services. It serves a mostly residential clientele.

LM spoke with the trio to learn more about how the company achieved 19 percent growth in revenue from 2018 to 2019 and landed a spot as one of the top landscaping companies in the country.

Humble beginnings

Kevin McMahon began his career in the green industry about 30 years ago as a laborer for a tree supplier.

Through the years, he gleaned information on the company’s clientele of various landscape companies.

“I started off so far at the bottom of the pool,” he says. “I would always observe when I was unloading these trees, things they did right and things they did wrong (on the jobs).”

When 2004 rolled around, he decided to form his own nursery and wetland restoration company with his sons. It soon blossomed into residential construction work as well.

Residential construction project (Photo: Art by Nature)

When the state of Washington got the go-ahead to work on residential construction, Art by Nature moved full steam ahead. (Photo: Art by Nature)

“The company started with nothing, with no money, and struggled for years, and we learned from our mistakes,” he says. “As we acquired money, we saved it … and we put it back in our company and saved it for a rainy day.”

As far as roles go, Kevin handles the 65-acre nursery, procurement of inventory, problem solving and forward planning; Patrick runs the tract housing division and plays a pivotal role in training and cultivating talent, helping laborers evolve into responsible foremen; and Ryan oversees the corporate level day-to-day operations, including estimates, invoicing and contract negotiations for all divisions of the company except for plant procurement and nursery work.

A competitive edge

It was only a few years into the company’s founding that the Great Recession struck.

“When we started forming the landscape side of things with our company, it felt like it was pretty green pastures, and then all of a sudden, we got hit with the recession,” Ryan McMahon says. “As far as roadblocks and challenges, we feel pretty battle-tested getting through that.”

To weather the setbacks, Kevin McMahon says the company watched its spending and was asked by many of its builders to reduce the price of contracts.

“It wasn’t a very profitable time for us, but by showing that we were willing to give concessions, we were able to add more volume and establish long term relationships,” Ryan McMahon says.

Upon bouncing back from the recession, Art by Nature set itself apart by zeroing in on its employee and client relationships and focusing on efficiencies.

“I think the employees, No. 1, they’re our heart and soul, but without our customers, we’re working for nothing. So, it’s a fine balance,” Ryan McMahon says.

As far as employees go, the company emphasizes high pay and tangible rewards such as upgrading promoted employees to nicer work vehicles.

“Take care of your employees,” Kevin McMahon says. “Here in the Seattle area, seven times out of 10, it’s going to be raining when crews go to work. For them to be inspired to go out there and do a good job and make you money, you’ve got to make them feel good about themselves.”

When it comes to customers — mostly made up of new residential construction — Ryan McMahon says it’s all about making sure they’re satisfied with the outcome.

“If they’re not satisfied with our job, then we didn’t do our job correctly, and that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. That’s how bad publicity gets spread around,” he says.

Patrick McMahon adds that quick response times and efficient work on the job sites helps further ensure the jobs are done the right way. To make sure crews are efficient on job sites, Art by Nature has implemented small skid-steers into its lineup.

“We like to load up our jobs with as many guys as possible, so usually we have a five-man crew instead of a three-man crew and give them a machine, so that way we’re more efficient to meet our builder’s deadlines,” Ryan McMahon says. “So that keeps us ahead of the curve and keeps us rolling faster.”

When it comes to streamlining office operations, Art by Nature uses QuickBooks for accounting and Bluebeam software for estimating purposes, which Ryan McMahon says is leaps and bounds ahead of the technology the company had at its disposal in the beginning.

“Before, you had a cell phone if you were lucky, or you came home and checked your messages at the end of every day and found out what the directions were or who wanted work,” Ryan McMahon says. “We saw the whole ‘dot com boom’ happen right before our eyes.”

Finally, Patrick McMahon says the current state of the market in Washington has given the company an extra boost.

“It’s a beautiful state and people have been buying houses, so as long as people are buying houses here, we’re going to be out there working hard for them,” he says.

Ryan McMahon adds that while the coronavirus pandemic may take a bite out of the company’s bottom line for 2020, he’s optimistic that the demand for work has remained high.

“As soon as the snow melted (in the Northwest), it was gangbusters right out of the gate, and we were going that way until the day that we shut down on March 27,” he says. “When they lifted the ban for residential construction, we were right back out at it, business as usual. I think there was some pent-up demand, so we’re still looking to see what’s going to happen in the next 90 days, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in a recession right now.”

Giving back to the community

In addition to caring for its clients and employees, Art by Nature is quick to give back to the community as well.

Over a 90-day period beginning in late 2019 through early 2020, the company has donated 400 man-hours to the renovation and conversion of a hotel into the Fusion Family Center, a nonprofit homeless shelter dedicated to helping homeless families with children.

Art by Nature first heard of the opportunity through one of its local connections, Lennar Homes.

“The fact that we were able to donate our time to something that is such a good cause was something that was very rewarding for us and for our workers,” Patrick McMahon says.

The shelter, once completed, will be named after a member of the community who recently died of COVID-19.

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To view the complete list, breakdowns and company profiles, check out a PDF version here.

This article is tagged with , and posted in June 2020, LM150
Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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