By Mike Jiggens
MAINTENANCEâ€ˆof commercial, government and residential properties by
Courtland Professional Property Management of Tillsonburg, Ont. got off
to a challenging start as the 2011 season began.
Excessive rainfall, cooler-than-normal temperatures and fewer-than-anticipated suitable days in which to work put the 15-year-old company behind schedule once the spring season kicked off.
The narrow windows of opportunity in which to mow and the fact that grass was growing at an extraordinarily fast pace was an issue likely shared by landscape contractors throughout southern Ontario and perhaps much of the country.
Courtland, which also owns and operates Courtland Gardens & Landscaping Centre, began the spring maintenance season with the excessively saturated grounds wreaking havoc with the company’s machinery.
“We’ve had all our machines stuck,” said Steve Cluett, property maintenance manager for Courtland. “We’ve had our trucks stuck trying to pull out the machines.”
While Courtland’s crews were unable to get out to the properties they maintain, grass was growing at a phenomenal rate.
“The good thing about it is a lot of people understand,” Cluett said, adding any attempt to get onto the properties to mow would have only contributed to further damage. “We still have the odd person who doesn’t understand that. We just can’t cut their property or else we’re going to make a mess.”
Although headquartered in Tillsonburg, Courtland’s property management customers are located as far west as Lambeth, south along Lake Erie, east to Toronto and north to the Kitchener-Waterloo region. The number of properties serviced in the Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge area prompted the company to open a branch shop in Kitchener last fall.
Another is being considered for the London area.
“We’re pretty close to getting a shop in London,” Cluett said, noting the numbers have warrented the possible expansion.
Courtland’s property management division accounts for about 75 per cent of the company’s business, with its garden centre and landscape design/install divisions accounting for the remainder.
The challenge to keep up with the spring mowing this year prompted the company to hire a fourth turf crew based out of the Tillsonburg shop. With only three turf crews working previously, they were compiling 70 to 80 hours of work each week to stay on top of the mowing demands. The additional crew has helped to ease the mowing burden and keep the work weeks down to between 50 and 60 hours.
Mowing was the most time-consuming aspect of the turf crews’ responsibilities this spring as well as cleanup from a fierce late-April wind storm which swept through southern Ontario, knocking down trees and branches in its path.
Cluett said he begins his day each morning at 5:30. He meets with his crews at 6:30 to go over their day and then doesn’t finish his day until the crews return at around 6 or 7 p.m.
The turf crews’ other responsibilities include edging, mulching, shrub pruning and trimming, fertilizing, dethatching, aerating, sodding, overseeding and spring and fall cleanups. Work to combat pests is sub-contracted out.
Since the cosmetic pesticide ban took effect in Ontario three years ago, the battle against dandelions has become more challenging. Cluett said some customers have requested the weeds be pulled manually. One customer has asked Courtland to send two employees to their property once a week to manually pull dandelions for two hours at a time.
“If the customer requests it, we’ll do it.”
In addition to Courtland’s turf crews, three gardening crews stay active throughout the season. At Courtland’s Kitchener shop, a single crew looks after both turf and garden maintenance.
The amount of work done in the London area keeps a single crew busy six days a week and is a major reason for Courtland to be considering the opening of a separate shop in the city.
Cluett approximates his commercial and government customers to be about 70 per cent of the maintenance division’s total clientele with residential properties accounting for 30 per cent.
“We do a lot of high-end residentials…beautiful, beautiful homes.”
Among Courtland’s more notable customers is Cambridge’s Toyota plant, whose turf and gardens are maintained throughout the season. The newer Toyota plant in Woodstock has hired Courtland to look after its winter snow removal needs. The snow operation at the plant is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week contract which means Courtland must always have people on site throughout the winter months. Toyota demands access to its test track at all times.
“We plowed lots of snow this past winter,” Cluett said. “We’re actually starting to see that the winter is one of the better times of year for us.”
With much of its staff wishing to take time off during the winter months, some of the snow removal work is sub-contracted.
Notable snow removal customers include Ontario Provincial Police stations in Waterloo and Cambridge, courthouses in Simcoe, London and Kitchener and other government buildings in London.
Business is continuing to grow at Courtland, and it remained steady throughout the recent recession, Cluett said.
“We trying to grow our property maintenance. That’s what we’re focusing on.”
Cluett began with the company cutting grass and climbed the ladder to his current position. He had been employed by Courtland for four years, left the company for one year and then returned a second time to have completed another three years. Upon his return, he worked briefly in the garden centre before once again taking on his former position as property maintenance manager.
Courtland began operations under the ownership of two brothers—one of whom, John Veldman, is still operating the company along with partner Hank Roos. As the company name suggests, it originally was located in the village of Courtland before moving to nearby Tillsonburg. It began as a landscape design/install company and grew to include property maintenance.