Lambert’s circles back to its roots

September 4, 2014 -  By

Paul Fields leads Lambert’s into its centennial with a vision to reinvent the Dallas firm by thinking ahead amid returning to its roots.

2013 Lambert

If Henry and Joe Lambert could take a tour of Lambert Landscape Co. today, it’d be nothing short of a 95-year-long walk down memory lane.

The brothers, who partly founded the Dallas-based company, would beam at the awards lining the entryway hall and may recollect the time Henry Lambert received one for industrial landscaping from Ladybird Johnson.

They’d venture into the shop and see a fraction of the firm’s 150 employees setting out for the day no later than 7:20 a.m. The brothers might let out a sigh of relief that the crews weren’t driving off in trucks colored pale pink, as the siblings once considered painting them to stand out.

Smiles would spread across their faces when they entered the conference room painted in “Lambert green”—a color Joe Lambert created and department store Neiman Marcus later adopted for some of its clothing collections. The founders would huddle around the conference room table, a repurposed wooden door from one of the company’s first facilities.

Stan Wetzel, the company’s second owner, and Paul Fields would join them.

Undoubtedly, all eyes would turn to Fields, current co-owner, president and design lead, who has overseen Lambert’s development into a more than $15 million firm, with a split focus in design/build and maintenance, plus a tree care division.

In his calm and collected demeanor, the Tennessee native would assure the company’s priorities are intact: The novel designs and concierge-style residential customer service the Lambert brothers breathed into it many years ago remains. Additionally, the firm still is committed to an organic approach, the way Wetzel left it.

“None of the owners bought this company from the perspective of profit, first and foremost,” Fields says. “It’s all been about the quality of product and the level of customer service we offer. That’s one of the things that’s really a differentiator in Lambert’s and the reason we’ve been successful.”

While that success is nowhere near dwindling, Fields hopes to skyrocket it with his intended mark on the company: The creation and execution of its first strategic plan.

The strategy is twofold, one part modern and one part revival.

The first part is to create a proactive sales division and modernize marketing efforts to tap into new clients.

The second is to introduce new and retired business segments to the Lambert’s brand to complement the landscaping company.

Above all else, Fields’ vision is to structure the company so it can be sustained and continue to grow for generations to come, all the while keeping its reputation unblemished—a reputation that began with a phone call from Dallas to Shreveport, La., sometime in the mid-1930s.

From one generation to the next

Joe Lambert Sr., who founded the company in Shreveport in 1919, instructed his sons, Joe and Henry Lambert, to tend to a prospective customer in Dallas. The prospects, who came from a word-of-mouth referral, wanted a flower planted on their property that had never been grown in Dallas before: azaleas.

From left: Gordon, Henry, Joe Jr. and Joe Sr. Lambert.

From left:
Gordon, Henry, Joe Jr. and Joe Sr. Lambert.

“It was a success and so much so that over the course of the next years people started coming to see this big planting of azaleas. Busloads of people started coming by,” Fields says. “It got so popular in the spring that the Dallas police department set up at intersections to direct the traffic.”

From that project, the Lambert brothers set up shop in Dallas. At the time the brand had a few businesses under it, including the landscaping company—now formally referred to as Lambert Landscape Co.—and a garden shop that was a weekend destination for family picnics and a natural playground for children.

In 1980, Wetzel, a real estate man, Lambert’s client and member of its board of directors, bought the firm. He ushered it into a totally organic organization, going “cold turkey” in 1989 (see Web Extra).

Fields, a student at Mississippi State University at the time, was in his third summer internship at Lambert’s and recalls all synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers being disposed of in a single weekend. He was permanently hired on at the end of that summer.

Sixteen years later, in 2005, Fields and two other managers, Dan Morgan, who is still a co-owner, and Walter Dahlberg purchased Lambert’s.

Like his predecessors, Fields had more of an appreciation for landscape design than running a business, but he was able to channel that artistic mentality into what’s now his vision for Lambert’s.

“When we bought the company I felt like there should be a lot more opportunity for people to grow within the organization,” Fields says. “We weren’t really set up to provide those opportunities.”

And he admits he wasn’t able to provide them.

“Looking back at the history of Lambert’s, we never really had a strong business-minded background and leadership position,” Fields says. “We wanted to have someone who could come in to help run the operations.”

Peek into the office door across from that “Lambert green” conference room and you’ll see that void has been filled by COO Theresa Austin. She joined the firm in 2012 after serving as its independent consultant a few years prior.

With a background in global management and an Air Force veteran, she’s the executor, so to speak, for Fields’ vision and the one who’s translated it into a strategic plan.

Structured sales growth

Austin is shifting the company internally into a more traditional business structure, instilling a corporate mindset. She refers to the process as “change management,” moving the company into a future state based on its vision. She’s had to tweak operations delicately, though, as to not bruise the reputation that has served Lambert’s so well.


“(Fields) doesn’t want that corporate culture that’s hierarchal,” she says. “He wants people to be as passionate and wanting to be there as much as he does. If we lose sight of that, we’re not Lambert’s anymore.”

For most of its livelihood, Lambert’s gained leads by word-of-mouth referrals—90 percent from this method, Fields says. It’s a business built by waiting for the phone to ring.

“The company never really had a sales force since I’ve been here,” Fields says.  “We’ve always focused on the product, taking care of the client.”
As a part of its strategic plan, Lambert’s has become more proactive in sales. To do that, it first had to create a sales division. Specifically, it had to divide production and sales roles.

Austin facilitated the separation Jan. 31, leveraging her lean management philosophy to create continuous improvement teams (CITs) to examine the company’s internal and external problems and how those could be quelled to better serve clients. The CITs then figured the standard operating procedures in each production unit.

From there, the descriptions for the sales positions were created, and interested employees applied.

The new sales force takes the same consultative approach with clients as the company always has. The proactive angle comes from the team encouraging clients to place their orders earlier for upcoming seasons to secure the revenue stream. They don’t focus on upselling.

Also, Austin gives the sales employees cultural training on how to communicate with the rising diversity in Dallas as a result of the economic downturn. Because Dallas was not hit as badly during that time as other parts of the country, many corporations moved their headquarters there and brought with them a flood of residential prospects for Lambert’s. To tap into those prospects, the company has had to get a hold on how newcomers value gardens differently or not as highly as Lambert’s long-time clients.

“You need to know your client and where they find the value (in your service),” Austin says. “We have to be a little more aware and understanding, so that’s where that consulting comes in.”

Still, Lambert’s continues to nurture existing clientele who are, for the most part, high-end homeowners in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.
For some perspective, Lambert’s maintains more than 250 homes in Highland Park, an estate-populated Dallas suburb, or the “Beverly Hills” of Texas, as Austin puts it.

Modernized marketing

From a manager’s viewpoint, Director of Construction Services Jodi Joseph compares Lambert’s level of service to “juggling chainsaws.”
“You have to have a balance of being able to accomplish what you need to accomplish to keep that person happy but not upset the applecart,” Joseph says of serving the “elite.”

Lambert’s has made a name for itself by serving those clients and by the professional product it provides them. But being tagged as the firm that caters to the elite has, in recent times, become a burden, too.

“Too many people for too long thought Lambert’s dealt with huge estates and that’s the only thing we do,” says Judson Griggs, director of sales and marketing. “‘Lambert’s is too expensive for us,’ or ‘My grandparents used them; my parents used them; I want someone cutting edge,’ they’d say.”

To that end, and in hand with its ramped up sales process, Lambert’s rolled out an award-winning marketing campaign last November to address those concerns. It created case studies, or project examples, for clients to view and gauge the company’s service offerings from a style and price point (see Web Extras).

The notion, Griggs says, is to market the lesser-known side of Lambert’s. That it does price projects at, say, $2,000, and it can deliver younger generations the innovative styles they desire.

“We want to stay ahead and create new opportunities, forge new trails and not let the competition overtake us,” Griggs says. “We don’t want to become irrelevant.”

And he has proof the marketing effort has done that, noting sales have increased nearly 24 percent this June over June 2013.

An on-track sales and marketing initiative just skims the surface of the strategic plan, though. The rest reinforces the parts of the firm that have endured time and pulls out of retirement parts that have been laid to rest.

Reviving the past

Though he wasn’t around to experience it, Fields speaks well of the company’s old garden shop, the one located off Interstate 635 that was wall to wall with families and children on the weekends.

“That’s one of the things Lambert’s was really known for was our garden shop,” he says.


That shop is one of the business segments Lambert’s intends to bring back through its strategic plan, as well as a tree farm that has sat idle for several years and a retail business for garden furniture. Hence, there will be four businesses under the Lambert’s brand, including the landscaping company, to boost profitability.

With that game plan still in the making, Fields says further details will be unveiled nearer to Lambert’s centennial in 2019 as part of an initiative tagged “Lambert’s 2.0.”

Even as the company’s circling back to its roots, it’s all part of an evolution, Austin says.

“Paul wants to grow this company,” she says. “He wants to grow the company so it can continue to be relevant, become a more visual leader that accepts the responsibility that every generation currently in power has an obligation to the next.”

And while his vision has played out only recently, Fields had a grasp on it ages ago. At least 25 years ago, that is, the day he was put on the payroll full-time at Lambert’s.

“Where do you see yourself ultimately going in Lambert’s?” Fields recalls Wetzel asking him in his interview. “I kind of laughed and said, ‘Well, I want to be sitting in your chair.’”


From one leader to another

JudGriggsJud Griggs on finding focus:
“One of the main things I tell smaller companies is stay focused on what you’re really good at. We know residential design, construction and maintenance. When you’re a small company, it’s so easy to say yes to everything that comes in. But sometimes saying yes to the wrong thing, you stub your toe and you get a bad reputation.”

TheresaAustinTheresa Austin on serving an “elite” clientele:
“It’s a different level of service. We truly have a consultative service. That is our selling approach. It’s very meticulous. People need to be comfortable interacting with people who live on a $20 million estate or in a $200,000 home.”

JodiJosephJodi Joseph on best practices:
“Best practices, processes and procedures, those are important all the way down, especially if you’re smaller and want to grow. It’s very important to establish those earlier on and stay true to them. That’s when things get chaotic is when you get outside of those parameters.”

TomNugentPaul Fields on the Lambert’s way
“The one underlying theme all the way across is we look at our product, the gardens we build and maintain, as an art form first and foremost. It’s about doing what’s best, design-wise, what’s best for the client and then we try to figure out how to make a profit.”

Business breakdown

Company: Lambert’s Landscape Co.

Location: Dallas

2013 Annual revenue: $15.4 million

Profit centers: 43% design/build; 42% maintenance; 12% tree care; 2% irrigation; 1% lawn care

Ownership history: Joe and Henry Lambert (1919-1980); Stan Wetzel (1980-2005); Paul Fields and Dan Morgan (2005-present)

Images from: Landscape Management; Ira Montgomery Photography; Geof Kern; Lidji Design office

About the Author:

Former Associate Editor Sarah Pfledderer is a West Coast-based contributing editor for Landscape Management.

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