PHOTOS BY STEPHEN FUNK
There is only one plant in the CEO’s office at Dennis’ 7 Dees, a nondescript tree shrub with large green leaves. But outside David Snodgrass’ window is a well-tended and landscaped garden with native bushes, shrubs and other flora designed by his business, Oregon’s largest landscaping and garden store business. The soft-spoken 56-year-old likes to say landscaping and gardening is in his blood.
Dennis’ 7 Dees had its origins in a combination lawn mowing and wholesale rhododendron nursery started by Snodgrass’ grandparents in 1927. Snodgrass’ father, Robert, married into the family, took over the business in 1956 and renamed it Dennis’ 7 Dees after his seven children.
One by one, the sons began entering the business. Snodgrass followed suit in 1975. He took over the landscaping portion, while older brother Dennis split off from the family company and ran the retail garden centers.
Dennis retired in 2005 and Snodgrass bought back the garden centers. Dennis’ 7 Dees now provides residential and commercial landscaping services; it also operates four retail garden stores, with three locations in Portland and one in Seaside. Little brothers Drew and Dean are partners. Since becoming CEO 35 years ago, Snodgrass has grown Dennis’ 7 Dees from a company doing $70,000 in sales to projected sales for this year of $21 million.
This D takes what he calls the “long view” when running his business. The key to success, he says, is diversification. Dennis’ 7 Dees does it all — landscaping services for residential and commercial properties that cover every step of the process, from design to construction and installation, to future maintenance.
The business grew even more in mid-June. Its Seaside garden center opened an open-air fresh produce market. The market’s supply is fresh and organic produce grown in Oregon’s coast region. Snodgrass says the customer count has been “incredibly higher” than normal, and that many people coming to the garden center to buy produce or nursery items end up buying a bit of both.
It is unusual for a landscaping business to combine landscaping, gardening and produce under one roof. “We do pretty much anything with the green industry,” Snodgrass says.
The diversification is practical. When one part of business is not doing well the others pull extra weight. “They’re never all strong at one time,” Snodgrass says.
The other benefit is an edge over competitors because of expertise gained from working on a landscaping project from start to finish. “You know what works,” he says. “You’re bringing in all of your experience and knowledge to a project, which pretty much ensures success.”
That leads to another part of Snodgrass’ strategy: creating customers for life. That does not result simply from taking care of all the customer’s landscaping needs, but doing it with quality.
“Quality used to be something that would really differentiate yourself,” Snodgrass says. But quality is a sound bite all businesses now use. That makes it important for Dennis’ 7 Dees to put words into action. “If you do it right the first time, you save a lot in rework.”
If it isn’t done right the first time, you own up to it. “For us, it’s important to manage the call- back. Smaller companies don’t even return that call,” he says.
Snodgrass describes residential landscaping as the “weak pocket” of business right now, with sales down by 20%. That’s a big chunk, but Dennis’ 7 Dees is weathering the recession well considering that the landscaping industry has on average seen sales drop by 50%. Snodgrass still thought it was necessary to take an aggressive approach as sales began dropping two years ago by maintaining loyalty, cutting inefficiencies and keeping the long view in mind.
The marketing budget was increased by more than 100%. Efficiencies were found by scrutinizing how landscaping projects were managed and how equipment was used. No employees were laid off. All four garden centers were upgraded.
Snodgrass plans to incorporate those strategies in the future even as the economy and business improve because they will help him “do better not only during the bad times that you just survived, but the good times that lie ahead.” And there are good times ahead, at least familywise: Snodgrass, who has no children, proudly boasts that the fourth generation is already involved in the business — Dean and Drew’s younger sons, Sean and John. “We’ve got enough Ds,” Snodgrass says, laughing.