Committed to the core

Photo: Colin Conces
Sun Valley’s 5 acres include a hardscape supply yard. Photo: Colin Conces
LM0715CVR-sun-valley-3 Photo: Colin Conces
Photo: Colin Conces

Establishing a purpose and values—and living by them—drives growth 
at Sun Valley Landscaping.

Paul Fraynd and Hugh Morton have a challenge on their hands.

They want to hire a best-in-class staff so they can grow their company. At the same time, they need to expand their operation to attract great people.

“Applicants say, ‘I want a company that treats me right and gives me an opportunity to grow,’” Fraynd says. “So if we want great people, we have to grow. We won’t be able to get the top talent if we’re not growing and providing more opportunities.”

Some might call it a paradox. Others would say it’s growing pains. Whatever you call it, the owners of Omaha, Neb.-based Sun Valley Landscaping aren’t letting it slow them down. They’ve grown their company about 25 percent per year since merging their two firms in 2012. And they plan to double in size by 2018, despite their people challenge. With a company purpose and set of core values driving everything they do, the Sun Valley Landscaping owners are proving they’re committed to their staff, clients and community, and it’s paying off.

Industry beginnings

During his freshman year at 
Creighton University, Fraynd and 
his roommate started a business to provide maintenance services, including lawn mowing, with a $50 garage sale mower. It was the ultimate business school lesson for the budding entrepreneur.

“I got a lot of out my education and my business by doing them at the same time,” Fraynd says.

In 2002, he officially founded Omaha Friendly Services, and after graduation in 2003, his business blossomed with the help of his father as a partner. After five years, it was generating about $1 million in annual revenue.

Meanwhile, Morton, a Utah State University engineering grad, had discovered his passion: landscape design and installation. After working for a landscape firm in Omaha for about a year after graduating in 1995, he hooked up with Don Shrack, a local businessman with about 
5 acres on his hands. The pair started up a landscape supply yard and design/build business, called Sun Valley Hardscape Design, on the site of Sun Valley Landscaping’s current home.

Sun Valley suffered a loss when Shrack died in 2006.

At the time, the business was doing about $1 million in revenue.

Sun Valley’s 5 acres include a hardscape supply yard. Photo: Colin Conces
Sun Valley’s 5 acres include a hardscape supply yard. Photo: Colin Conces

“That was about as much as one person could do,” Morton says. “So I started looking for a business partner.”

His top prospect was Fraynd.

The pair had developed a rapport over the years. Morton was a supplier to Fraynd, and they subcontracted services to each other from time to time.

Over the years, Morton came 
to appreciate Fraynd’s business 
acumen, and Fraynd was impressed by Morton’s technical expertise and experience.

“For growth, I knew I had to take a stronger role in landscape design and installation and in the people,” Morton says. After his partner’s passing, he was too bogged down by running every other aspect of a small business.

Those details, it turns out, are Fraynd’s specialty, so Morton approached him about merging.

The merger took about two years, as they worked out details small and large, such as name, roles, how to buy out Fraynd’s father and more.

By that time, Omaha Friendly Services was grossing about $2 million per year. It was growing fast but not making a ton of profits. Sun Valley, on the other hand, had healthy profits but was stagnant size-wise. The time was right, and the men recognized they shared a vision, values and interest. Not to mention, each business served a different niche. Together, they made a full-service firm.

Today, the partners have their roles distinctly defined, with Fraynd overseeing sales/marketing, finance, human resources and the maintenance division. Morton runs the design/build division, manages the design team and heads up the supply yard.

Dreaming big

Although the company retained the Sun Valley name from Morton’s original enterprise, it was a new company and a new culture.

Sun Valley staff have volunteered at several projects this year. Photo: Colin Conces
Sun Valley staff have volunteered at several projects this year. Photo: Colin Conces

To ensure they were on the same page as they rebranded, Morton and Fraynd turned to the one-page 
strategic plan concept from the book “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Verne Harnish. Fraynd got the idea to use this tool from his brother, who had success with it in his job turning around public schools.

“Most business books are theory or an idea to use, but this one, you can take it and boom,” Fraynd says. “There’s your strategic plan.”

This exercise prompted the partners to lay out a set of goals the company is now striving to meet. For starters, Sun Valley plans to double in size by 2018, reaching $6 million in sales. The firm’s “big hairy audacious goal” is to some day be considered a top landscape company in Omaha, a model for the industry and a destination company employing 50 full-time team members.

Putting these things down on paper is “eye opening,” Fraynd says, explaining that doubling in size will mean going from 13 to 30 managers and having around 30 trucks.

“It’s crazy when you start to look at it,” he says. “So what do we need to do to get there? The main answer is we need people that believe in the values and the goals of the company, who have the ability to get us there. The owners aren’t going to get us there. We can’t control a $6 million business. We need managers and systems that can do it apart from us.”

Specifying the goals forced the company to map out how it would achieve long-term objectives versus getting caught up in day-to-day details.

“That’s what we’ve been focusing on: Changing our perception from a short-term, head-down, get-through-the-season mentality to ‘How are we going to get there?’” Fraynd says.

One way Sun Valley is doing so is by breaking its larger goals up into smaller targets. For example, it’s in the midst of a baseball-themed contest to motivate the staff to gross $417,000 during June and July. The goal is tacked up on the wall, and financial progress is visible to everyone who wants to see it, as Sun Valley is an open-book operation.

“Everyone’s shooting for it,” Fraynd says. “If we hit it, we’ll take everyone out to a day at the ballpark with at least one family member.”

The Sun Valley Way

The one-page strategic plan also made the owners articulate Sun Valley’s core values and purpose. Those, collectively, have influenced the company culture, aka “The Sun Valley Way.”

Many companies have mission statements or values, but the key for Sun Valley, Fraynd says, is talking about them, actually believing them and “using them to teach” the team.

The first year after the merger, there was a lot of “we” and “they,” Fraynd acknowledges. “Once we put this stuff in place, it was ‘The Sun Valley Way,’ and we’re all in this together,” he says.

Graphic: LM Staff

Morton adds that it’s fulfilling to see the core values at work. For instance, team members bring in clients’ trash cans from the curb. They pick up their newspapers from the sidewalk. And if there’s ever a question about whether the company should fix something for a client, the staff takes a look at the values and the answer is almost always, “We should fix it.”

“When you see the guys using the values to answer questions, the business tends to run itself,” Morton says.

That brings us back to the Sun Valley “people” predicament: needing great people to grow and needing growth to attract great people. Culture is just one way Fraynd and Morton make sure they’re hiring the best.

Other tools they’ve implemented to attract and keep top performers—defined as “people who can do great work without being supervised”—include a structured hiring process, Winslow personality profiles and a stepped up recruiting process.

“Recruiting is just as important as marketing; you never stop doing it,” Fraynd says. “It took me a long time to realize that.”

Sun Valley is always advertising its career opportunities, and Fraynd interviews an average of one person per day. One thing that’s not negotiable, when it comes to hiring, is an employee’s passion for the outdoors.

“If they fit our values and have that passion, that’s what we’re looking for,” Fraynd says. He adds that he’s changed his thinking about hiring people with industry experience. For example, the company’s production manager had no prior industry experience, although he was a proven leader.

“It’s interesting that it’s easier to teach him the industry versus how to be a manager,” Fraynd says. “To do things ‘The Sun Valley Way,’ we need people who are smarter than us. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we need to hire people with strengths we don’t have.”

Little things show their efforts are proving effective. Morton shares an anecdote about overhearing a positive comment about the company culture during a meeting held at Sun Valley by one of its employees who participates in a women’s landscaping group called Divas of the Dirt. “There’s a little bit of me that enjoys when people come in here and they say, ‘This would be a fun place to work,’” Morton says. “To hear that or see that on people’s faces, it makes me proud.”

Walking the talk

sun-valley-5 Photo: Colin Conces
Photo: Colin Conces

At Sun Valley Landscaping, the leadership team talks a lot about the company’s core values and purpose. But they don’t just talk. They use these tools throughout the company to help staff members make decisions. They discuss them at every team meeting. They’re displayed on the office wall. They are as follows.

Purpose: “Landscaping is our life. We wake up every day with the hope that we can allow others to enjoy the outdoors as we do. From initial contact to a job well done, we have structured our business around our clients, their experience and their interaction with their very own piece of the outdoors.”

“We call this concept ‘Landscapes for Life,’ and we use that tagline everywhere,” co-owner Paul Fraynd says. “It’s how people use their outdoor space that’s most important. It’s the memories made in the garden that stick with you. We extend this concept to our employees’ experience working here and how they interact with the outdoors at work and in their free time.”

Core Values: “People come first. We do it right (the right way).
It’s all about the experience. We take care in the craftsmanship. Everyone is an owner.”

“They’re our promise to our employees, the community and our clients,” Fraynd says.


When the Sun Valley Landscaping owners and Director of Business Development Ashly Neneman realized 2015 was the company’s 20th anniversary, they wanted to do something big. They were inspired by a conversation they had last fall at a dinner at the GIE+EXPO trade show in Louisville, Ky., where several of their peers were discussing how individual companies can help raise the profile of the green industry. Their conclusion? Landscape companies can elevate the entire industry by being leaders in their own communities.

That same week, several Sun Valley staff members were participating in a service project back in Omaha. They texted Neneman and co-owner Paul Fraynd photos of their work, sharing their pride and how much fun they had.

sun-valley-purpose Photo: Colin Conces
Photo: Colin Conces

Not long after, Neneman came up with the Commit20 concept to challenge employees to volunteer 20 hours of their time to causes of their choice to celebrate the company’s milestone anniversary. The company took the concept a step further and extended the challenge to clients, partners and the entire Omaha community.

The program quickly became a lot of work, so Sun Valley brought on an intern to help manage the website, social media and other details surrounding the campaign.

“I would have never thought in a million years I would have hired an intern to head up a community outreach effort,” Fraynd says. “I’ve never been more proud of anything in my 14-year career as this campaign.”

No surprise, Sun Valley set an ambitious goal of getting 500 people to donate 20 hours each for a total of 10,000 volunteer hours by the end of the year.

“The purpose is to track the impact that a small group of people can make,” Neneman says, adding the website has a feature for participants to log their hours, submit photos and more. “It really stems from one of our core values, ‘It’s all about the experience.’ You can donate money to any cause, but when you’re volunteering, you’re out there interacting
with people.”

Neneman would really like to see the campaign hit its goal of 10,000 hours logged.

“But I think the fact that when we meet people at networking events and tell them about Commit20, they’re just blown away that a little landscaping company has come up with this idea and is getting its employees involved. So that’s already a success to me.”


Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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