New Partnership, Same Commitment

Crystal Greens Landscape

Crystal Greens Landscape specializes in all phases of commercial landscape management. Since its founding in 1990, the Portland, Oregon-based business has helped clients maintain and improve property value through a wide range of services and technical expertise.

Throughout the company’s history, it has stayed true to its guiding principles to keep the business on a steady path of success. “Passion, humility, caring, integrity, and fun are our core values,” says General Manager and partner Jason Sutton. “We’re living and expressing these core values within our decisions, within our activity, and it really does make a difference.”

Since Construction in Focus featured Crystal Greens Landscape in 2019, the company has undergone a major change by entering into a new partnership, but its goals and ethics have remained the same, and it continues to put clients and employees first. This attitude was paramount as the team considered partnering with industry giant Sperber Landscape Companies (SPERBER).

“You’re only as good as how well you take care of others,” Sutton says. “That’s been breathed into the life of our culture since Pat Murphy founded our business, and really it’s just become more sophisticated and mature as we’ve evolved. So servant leadership is the only leadership that’s tolerated.”

Under the new partnership with SPERBER, Crystal Greens Landscape will maintain this culture and the values that have won over clients for the last thirty years. “We are still Crystal Greens Landscape,” he says. “Same brand, same people.”

Instead of dismantling the Crystal Greens way of doing business, SPERBER recognizes its strengths and aims to enhance them. SPERBER targeted Crystal Greens Landscape to build on what the company had already achieved as an industry leader within its region: a strong competitive advantage, high levels of client satisfaction, and high employee retention. “And then our cultures just aligned,” Sutton adds.

This alignment of values sold him on the partnership. SPERBER Managing Partner Richard Sperber “reiterated everything that I’ve experienced and believe in for our industry,” Sutton says. “And he takes phenomenal care of the people, phenomenal care of the clients.”

When considering a partnership approach, the management also recognized that SPERBER could help propel it forward. “We do have bigger goals and certainly could get there faster with a really healthy partnership,” Sutton says. These goals include moving into the Seattle market and likely other regions in the Northwest, opening new divisions with new construction, arbor, and expanding the snow removal division.

Crystal Greens Landscape has always been committed to sustainability and that is another aspect of the company that will stay the same. Oregon Business Weekly ranked the company sixteenth on its list of the ‘100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon’ last year. The recognition is not surprising since everything the company does is evaluated through a lens of sustainability.

“[We] have really been trying to look at every area. Is this a smart way to operate the business?” Sutton says. “Is this a smart way to purchase materials? Is this a smart way to run our service delivery? From vehicle selection to what we’re doing at our facilities to the types of one-, three-, and five-year plans that we’re proposing on landscape enhancement solutions, we’re not just trying to aesthetically improve the landscape, but also functionally and efficiently think about the landscape from a holistic perspective. So, training our account managers and our production managers and our executive team around the sustainable initiative to really be responsible stewards of the environment as we operate a profitable business.”

This effort toward a more sustainable future “aligns right in with our overall mission,” he says. “Create beauty, enhance community, and grow as people.”

Using Weathermatic’s water-conserving solutions has been one way Crystal Greens Landscape has worked toward greater sustainability. The green technology is beneficial for clients and the environment. “Our clients, our property managers, commercial landowners, all [were] experiencing higher water bills and water waste,” Sutton says. These clients were actively looking for cost-saving, green solutions, and Weathermatic technology helped bring down clients’ monthly water bills as well as helping them meet their sustainability goals.

“It’s a piece of our overall sustainable initiative to bring the most sustainable kind of road map to our contracts,” he says. The company prides itself on advising on “what you can be doing to conserve your water resources, to preserve your landscaping and arbor resources.”

As well as lowering client water bills, Weathermatic solutions have also saved Crystal Greens Landscape time and money because the entire operation is more efficient when using its weather-sensing technology. “We’re not having to dispatch as much to property,” Sutton says.

COVID-19 affected the company throughout the past year, but it managed to stay on track despite the challenges. In the beginning, dealing with the unknown was one of the most difficult aspects of the pandemic. “Back in April [2020], we were sitting there on the edge of our seat,” he remembers. “Are they calling it an essential business or nonessential?” The team was greatly relieved when the business was declared essential and allowed to remain open during the shutdown. “That was fantastic news.”

But it was not out of the woods yet. “The laws were that you could only have one person per vehicle and needed to socially distance and everything needed to be clean, wiped down every day,” Sutton says. “We needed a ton more procedures around things we didn’t need procedures prior to, and it was all happening pretty fluid, in real-time – and all while trying to get a feel for if our clients [were] going to spend any money on enhancements and projects.”

The timing was further complicated by the fact that Crystal Greens Landscape was in the midst of negotiating the new partnership with SPERBER while still managing the growing business and maintaining client satisfaction. “Everyone in the world was incredibly stressed and fearful,” Sutton recalls. Navigating the situation required a strategic, thoughtful approach.

“How do we ask better questions? How do we see ourselves as servants to a situation, to our clients, to our employees, and try to give a sense of security when people aren’t feeling that way? So for me, it really moved away from landscape management to on some level emotional management and making some e-operational decisions that are challenging in and of themselves but are more challenging in the midst of COVID. And then you add in the negotiations and processing and formulation of a new partnership that is so significant in the midst of that… I really feel like I got five years’ experience in the last twelve months.”

The company culture paid off during this time of uncertainty and difficult decisions. “Our company has been so intentional about leadership and culture,” Sutton says. “There was a lot of trust already built into the decisions that were being made.” It was “a relief for me as a young leader for the company to not have to be convincing people that we were doing things for the right reasons or considering all the trade-offs that are involved in every decision. So I really am so thankful because you’re only as strong as your team.” Everybody, he adds, came together to support the tough decisions being made and support the company through the new, unchartered territory.

After overcoming a challenging 2020, Crystal Greens Landscape is well placed for ongoing success. The company has already set a remarkable recent track record and is ready to keep it going. “We’ve grown at a breakneck pace,” he says. “We set out to execute a five-year strategy back in 2011, and we got there in eighteen months.” Since then, “that same thing has happened to us a couple of times.”

Now, with the partnership with SPERBER, the company expects even more growth shortly, while continuing to ensure that clients remain the priority. “We never want our goal to be in conflict with the client experience,” Sutton says.

May 5, 2021, 8:12 PM EDT