Keeping promises


Two partners prove cooperation and alignment go a long way toward a successful landscape business.

We weren’t businessmen,” Gordon Denmark says.

“We’re still not!” Bill Henkel adds.

They are family men who saw an opportunity: the chance to create a company on the values they believed in and strategies they knew could work. Seventeen years later, their company, Henkel Denmark is thriving in the Bluegrass State with an annual revenue between $6 million and $8 million per year, doing about 60 percent maintenance and 40 percent design/build. During peak season, it employs 80 people.

The partners, who met working together at another landscape company, knew they needed a strong foundation of values before entering this venture. So, Henkel and Denmark made three clear promises: take great care of clients, take care of the men and women who work for them and, finally, take care of each other.

“And to try not to kill each other in the process,” Henkel says, joking.

Along the way, they’ve held true to their promises while tweaking their business practices for the better.

Listening to the client

It’s one thing to accept positive reviews from happy clients; it’s another to seek unknown opinions. But in the hopes of learning more about itself, the company set out to uncover these sentiments.

About five years ago, the team hired a consultant to survey eight clients, current, former and potential customers, about what they genuinely thought about Henkel Denmark.

The consultant asked what the company did well, what it could do to improve and how valuable the service was overall.

The company learned these clients wanted to be heard. From these conversations and internal meetings, the team developed the company’s core values: tell the truth, do what you say you’ll do, deliver real solutions, work as a team, be professional and work safely and sustainably.

“I think that’s one of the biggest things that separates us from our competitors is that we listen to our clients and we value what they’re telling us,” Henkel says. “We understand it’s not what we think about how things should happen or what should happen. It’s what they think.”

To facilitate better service to the right type of clients, Henkel Denmark recently made a change to how its team handles design clients.

Instead of going out to a client’s location for the initial consultation, the company now has the clients come to them. The initial hour-long consultation is free if the potential client agrees to come to the office. During this time, the client provides photos of the area and a budget.

This move has helped the design team weed out the “tire-kickers,” ultimately saving time and resources. The company has discovered that the serious clients are typically willing to sit with a team of professionals for an hour to talk about the designs.

Henkel Denmark’s updated website allows new customers to sign up for consultations, thus opening up a new world of potential clients. With the streamlined process, the design team can focus more on the serious clients and spend less time on customers who are unwilling to make the commitment.

Looking after their own

Looking around Henkel Denmark’s headquarters, it’s not uncommon to see someone who joined the team at a young age, is now married and is starting families of his or her own. The partners say they strive to go above and beyond to promote an atmosphere that encourages a healthy work/life balance.

“We really wanted this company to be a place where folks could come and work hard, grow their skill sets, grow their ability to provide for their families and then go home,” says Denmark. “We weren’t going to work people to death. We weren’t going to work seven days a week.”

The pair also tries to consistently thank and praise their employees. For example, employees’ families attend the company Christmas party. Henkel and Denmark like to use this as an opportunity to talk with employees’ children and tell them how hard their parents work.

“We can buy the mowers and the trucks and the plows and make decisions to get the best piece of equipment money can buy, but people, from a crew member on a truck to a senior landscape architect, they’re the ones that really, really matter,” says Denmark.

Looking after one another

Anyone who works with a partner knows that it isn’t always a walk in the park. However, this pair sets aside some time every week to do exactly that.

In rain or shine, Henkel and Denmark take a weekly four-mile walk to discuss various topics. Sometimes they discuss business issues, sometimes it’s personal. Sometimes the talk is urgent, sometimes they brainstorm. No matter what the topic is, what started as a way to communicate in a different environment became a non-negotiable activity.

The pair finds it’s better to talk about challenges and solve problems when they’re not sitting around a table. Meeting in this format takes some of the pressure off discussing topics where facial expressions and body language can change the mood of the conversation quickly, Henkel says.

The ritual is a well-known practice at the company. Team members know that if they want one of their issues addressed, they should text the pair before the partner walk.

An extension to the partner walk, the pair’s physical activity even evolved into biweekly workouts with a trainer. Denmark says staying fit, healthy and clear of mind leads to better problem solving, quality family time and more effective leadership.

Photos: Kelly Limpert (top), Henkel Denmark (bottom)

Headshot: Kelly Limpert

Kelly Limpert

Kelly Limpert is a graduate of Ohio University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Strategic Communication from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Her background in online journalism and advertising aids LM in developing a strong online presence.

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