Case Studies

The Bruce Company Inc.

Building on 64 years as Wisconsin’s outdoor living and landscaping experts

Based in Middleton, Wisconsin, The Bruce Company Inc. has delivered award-winning landscape services for more than 64 years. The family-owned company specializes in residential and commercial design-build landscaping, construction, maintenance, irrigation and pond and water feature installation — anything needed to maximize an outdoor space in total turnkey form.

Bruce Company has been recognized for its dependable service and creative solutions as Madison Magazine’s “Best of Madison” 2016 Gold-level winner for the 10th year in a row. For the Bruce Company, customer service is more than a buzz word; it’s a day-to-day priority.

The Bruce Company Inc.

“We have three things that really drive business and our day-to-day decisions: exceptional customer care, a great employee environment and strong financial stability,” says Seth Nicholson, second-generation president of Bruce Company. “We’re constantly asking how our decisions as a company align with these focal points and think it’s important to find as much of a balance as possible in all three.”

With more than 300 employees on staff, Bruce Company has an extensive team with diverse skills. The mix includes registered landscape architects, landscape designers, horticulturists, aquatics specialists, lighting specialists, construction professionals, CAD drafting and measuring staff, estimators and certified irrigation contractors and designers who average 18 years of industry experience.

A proactive approach to cultivating talent

Even with years of experience, Bruce Company believes no employee’s training is ever fully complete and Nicholson strongly believes in ongoing training and mentoring programs. “I’ve worked for the business my whole life, through high school and college. I’ve worked in all the different areas of the trade and management positions,” he explains.

Understanding the intricacies of the business, Nicholson knows just how important a quality team is to success. “Finding reliable, interested employees is a bigger challenge now than we’ve faced in the past,” he says. “We’ve pushed for more internal training to get employees up to speed and we’re doubling up on crews so there’s some mentoring opportunities and information sharing in terms of the foresight and detail that goes into every job.”

With younger staff coming on board and learning from more seasoned, older staff, Nicholson says planning for succession is on his mind. “We don’t want to end up with an abrupt transition and a situation where we have to start from scratch,” he says.

As a younger executive, Nicholson says he has embraced millennials in the workplace, realizing that change is a good thing, if communication lines remain open. “They’re curious and they want to be more involved; they also want greater flexibility for more work-life balance,” he explains. “This is fine, but we need to make sure we continue to communicate concerns and expectations effectively.”

He adds that millennials want an opportunity for advancement and growth. “They’re looking two steps ahead and we want to provide them with those steps so we can create a solid team and lifelong employees,” says Nicholson.

“It takes a long time for someone in a trade like this to learn the ins and outs and fine details of doing it really well,” adds Nicholson. “This is something we recognize and know we need to make an investment in it ahead of time. We’re really trying to think outside of the box on this. We make a big effort to promote tenure and get people to stick around and really perfect their trade.”

Aligning service and products for turnkey solution

Along with a strong team, the resources to back up a wide range of residential and commercial projects are also highly important. Bruce Company maintains two sizable locations in the Madison area, including one in Middleton with one of the largest landscape-retail garden centers in the U.S. and the other in Verona with their 500-acre nursery. “We maintain our growing operation in order to offer the level of product quality our customers expect and that we expect,” says Nicholson.

“This also ensures we have the right products available, which is a challenge in the plant material market,” adds Nicholson. “It’s hard to find quality products because they were cut drastically with the down economy. We’ve always tried to maintain consistency with our own growing operation to hold on to availability and quality. Customers say, ‘That’s Bruce Company material — you can tell.’”

With the resources to man and tackle large-scale jobs, Bruce Company is working on being the complete turnkey solution from landscaping and design to complimentary garden center products and furnishings to maintenance and more. “It’s a matter of learning how we can continue to support the customer,” says Nicholson.

He points to a recent insurance company installation. “This project incorporated the full scope of our services, including irrigation, outdoor patio installation and furniture from specialists at our garden center,” he details. “Advanced planning and teamwork between crews ensures a successful progression from landscape installation to landscape maintenance, protecting the customer’s investment.”

This type of seamless transition from installation to routine maintenance is what Bruce Company is looking to grow into in more customer contracts. “Now we’re on a three-year maintenance contract with this customer and if there’s a patio or furniture warrantee issue our maintenance crews are there and can take care of it immediately,” says Nicholson.

Turnkey installations come back to the importance of employee training. “We’re now doing more employee cross-department training, so someone on the landscaping side can answer initial customer questions about patio furniture and vice versa,” says Nicholson. “This makes for more opportunities in all departments.”

As Bruce Company grows, adding more turnkey installations and ongoing contracts to its portfolio, Nicholson says the company is turning to an open-book policy. “We want more individuals, particularly management, to have access to our financials so they can learn what is working and we can celebrate big wins and learn from what’s not profitable and what’s not working,” he says. “We never used to do this, but now we have the ability to track more data and compare to last week, last month, last year and its helping us show our employees what constitutes success and how they can influence it.”

With a highly engaged and invested team and the tools of the trade to deliver the full package in outdoor environments, The Bruce Company Inc. is well on its way to another record year and ongoing success.

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