Clarence Davids, Sr. launched his landscape company in 1951 with one truck, a seventh-grade education, and lots of can-do attitude. “His office was the back porch,” remembers his son, current Clarence Davids & Co. President Bill Davids. “Mom helped him with phones and bookkeeping.”
A commitment to top-quality workmanship with cost-effective service paid off, and the small, family affair soon found success. “My father was the kind of person that just poured his whole heart and soul into his work, and the company began to grow,” Bill says.
Clarence Davids Sr. earned a reputation as the ‘father of landscape management’ for taking his Chicagoland business in a direction not yet seen within the industry. Although the company did take on new construction, it found a foothold by focusing on maintenance first and foremost.
“When everybody else at that time in the area was doing new construction, residential construction, or industrial construction, he decided to do maintenance,” Bill says. “So we were one of the first that started with maintenance.”
“We always did additional landscaping, but the first thing he tried to do was to get the maintenance and then sell additional services,” he says. “So, at some point, we were even doing maintenance for [other] landscape contractors. After they’d finished a project, they’d have us maintain it until their contracts were complete.”
Although Clarence Davids Sr. had little formal education, “He became a great student of the industry and kept learning,” Bill says. In addition to growing a successful business, the senior Davids became an industry leader, cofounding the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA) and cementing his company’s legacy. “We’re the only member of the ILCA that had a founder in the beginning and is still in operation today,” Bill says. “We’re proud of that fact.”
Bill grew up working alongside his father in the family business and returned to the company after graduating from Michigan State University. He eventually took over the reins and continues to steer the company with the same founding principles that brought his father success.
Today, Clarence Davids & Co. boasts three offices and over two hundred employees servicing the entire Chicago Metropolitan region. The team specializes in landscape maintenance, landscape design, installation, lawn care fertilization, tree services and annual color rotations. Projects range from high-profile residential properties and corporate and industrial campuses, to schools, hospitals, commercial and multi-family complexes.
As Bill expanded the business beyond maintenance he brought on industry specialists to broaden the company’s capabilities. “We did add landscape architects, and the landscape architects really allowed us to do some of these more interesting projects,” he says. “So then you combine that maintenance with the construction, and now, you have a complete package for the clients. And that has really been a blessing to us, where we’re designing and installing it; we’re maintaining it.”
His team delivers all the extras as well. “We’re doing the four rotations of color. That’s one of the big things in the city of Chicago, to do spring, summer, fall and winter annual color to really make properties be dramatic.”
In one recent project that showcases its wide range of talent, Clarence Davids & Co. handled the landscaping for the rooftop deck on Chicago’s Grand Plaza. The site includes a swimming pool, running track, and outdoor kitchen area. “They wanted to update it,” Bill says. “There were a lot of overgrown trees out on the deck that were actually hiding the swimming pool… The client really wanted to see green lawn up there so our landscape architect worked with him and designed the project.”
To entice top talent, the company gives employees ample opportunity for growth and promotion. “I think the key is your people – to be able to come out of college with your horticulture degree or landscape architecture [degree] and to come to a company where there are opportunities to grow and advance, become branch manager, become production manager,” Bill says. “I think people, especially coming out of college, they want to see opportunities, and it’s very rewarding to work with people and to help them advance their careers as well as advance the company.”
This desire to advance employees has always been at the core of the company values. “Our culture is to care for our people, to educate them, to further help them improve and advance through the years,” he says. “We’ve taken laborers, moved them to foreman. We’ve had foremen that we moved into supervisors and project managers. So we’re always trying to promote to keep people within our company, keep them growing. We’re always trying to improve our company, always trying to grow, trying to be innovative, trying to be the leaders in industry.”
He takes this leadership role seriously, and like his father, has served as president of the ILCA – one of the few sons to ever follow in their father’s footsteps to serve in that same position.
With so much opportunity for advancement, employees stay with the company for the long term. In fact, a handful of employees have worked for Clarence Davids & Co. for over thirty-five years. Several employees have been there twenty-five years, and quite a few have worked there for over fifteen years. “We have people spend their whole career here,” Bill says. It is not unusual for employee’s children and even grandchildren to come on board when they grow up. “We have second-generation and third-generation kids that work here,” he says. “We’ve been very blessed on the length of stay for our employees. There’s a lot of experience.”
As well as opportunities for advancement, these longtime employees are attracted to its kindhearted company culture. “Leadership really cares about them, really cares about the client, and is in it for the long haul,” Bill says. He adds that he is not interested in gaining a quick profit at the expense of employees and clients. Some companies “get in, and they get out as fast as they got in just to make a buck by selling the company. The employees know that this is a long-term deal. We don’t make decisions for today; we make them for tomorrow.”
This future-minded attitude enabled Clarence Davids & Co. to stay ahead of the game for seventy years. While COVID-19 has postponed any plans for a celebration, the company has still found ways to commemorate seven decades in business. A special newsletter will feature a timeline showcasing the company’s history and progression, the company website will be updated with testimonials, and it has rolled out a seventieth anniversary logo and tagline that will be used for this year only.
Clarence Davids & Co. managed to keep operating fairly normally, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, although the beginning of the pandemic proved particularly challenging due to the uncertainty. Bill remembers when the governor of Illinois announced the shutdown last year and that, for a few days, no one knew what to expect. “He’s telling us, you know, that everybody has to shut down. At that time, I didn’t know that we were essential. Obviously, your heart drops. How are we going to stay in business? How are we going to pay our employees? How are our clients going to pay us if we don’t come? So that was a tough weekend, but by Monday, we got the answer that we were essential, and from that day on we kept working.”
Some office workers opted to work from home. “We had some office people that were concerned. At that point, no one knew exactly what was going on,” he says. Other employees came in but maintained social distancing, which required some creative reorganizing, especially when multiple people normally occupied one room. The company put together special training for employees working on-site to keep them safe.
“I look at it just like any other bump in the road that you deal with,” Bill says. “You deal with it; you go through it; you know what the law parameters are, and you just work through it, and you keep going because you don’t have any other choice.”
Although sales were slightly down throughout 2020, the company came through remarkably well. “God is good,” he says. “We’re looking forward to next year.” After seventy years of success, we look forward to future blessings.”