Growing Landscapes, Growing Relationships

Piscataqua Landscaping & Tree Service
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

In many industries, it’s unusual to receive praise from the competition. This isn’t the case with Piscataqua Landscaping & Tree Service. Recently acquiring several other respected landscaping companies, Piscataqua is a company admired for being built on respect, honesty, and service.

With locations in Eliot, Maine, Wolfeboro, and Belmont, New Hampshire, Piscataqua proudly serves residential, commercial, and industrial clients with seasonal and year-round services. From property care to landscape construction and lighting, tree and plant care to snow and ice management, Piscataqua has the teams necessary to meet the needs of all its customers.

A growing business
Piscataqua Landscaping & Tree Service started small. With just a barn, pickup truck, and lawn mower, Booth Hemingway founded Piscataqua in 1979. Over the decades, organic growth and savvy acquisitions saw the business transform into what it is today: a respected entity of around 215 employees and a true New England brand. Today it’s the largest full-service landscaping company in the seacoast area of Maine and New Hampshire.

“Most of the work was done in the high-end residential market along the seacoast of southern Maine and New Hampshire,” says Vice President of Business Development Jay Rotonnelli of the company’s history. “Building good relationships with a lot of general contractors and builders is what has gotten the business to where it is today.”

Although Piscataqua may have started modestly, Hemingway focused on high-end residential from the start, which, through enthusiastic word-of-mouth referrals, soon proved to be a market of great potential.

Rotonnelli was drawn to Piscataqua by its reputation in the landscaping sector, its leadership, and its positive company culture. With 31 years in the landscape contracting industry and his knowledge of both horticulture and business, he was a valuable acquisition for the company.

Around the time Rotonnelli came on board in 2016, Hemingway sold the business to Portland’s Chenmark, a long-term holding company. At the time of his retirement, Hemingway said he wanted to ensure the business he built over almost 40 years was purchased by someone “honest, quality-oriented, and employee-focused.” Piscataqua’s President, Justin Gamester, who had worked alongside Hemingway, seamlessly transitioned the company while partnering with Chenmark to focus on the long game and ensure the relationships with the customers and the team are held in high regard.

As it grows, the company is open to acquiring other successful and promising landscaping businesses. Last year, Piscataqua took on Design & Landscapes by Labrie Associates. “It helped us to offer additional services to clients in our southern area, and become more efficient and reduce costs so we could maintain those clients and build on that as well,” says Rotonnelli. The company is continuing to run the Labrie portion of its business from the current base in North Hampton, New Hampshire.

This summer, Piscataqua acquired CBH Landscape Contractors from owner Christopher B. Haddock. A well-known company located in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, the move will see Piscataqua become even more efficient and gain additional experienced employees.

“Part of the goal was not only to increase market share, but gain from a staffing perspective as well,” says Rotonnelli, who has seen four acquisitions during his time with the business. “We look to these companies that have really good profit and loss, a great culture and brand in their communities, and good staff. And we were able to come in as a larger company and build on what CBH had started by offering better benefits, 401(k), and things of that nature.”

Longstanding customers
Combining decades of experience with trained professionals, well-maintained equipment, strong safety protocols, and connections to trusted partners, Piscataqua Landscaping & Tree Service is an established industry leader.

Counting actors, sports figures, capital investors, hedge fund managers, and doctors among its clients, most of the company’s work on the residential side is in the higher-end market. In the commercial and industrial sectors, Piscataqua offers green and white services, including landscaping and snow removal.

“Our range is pretty wide, and it’s based on who has what skill sets and who can execute on the work,” says Rotonnelli of the company’s projects, which range in value from $5,000 to $700,000 or more. The company is currently working on a high-end residential project which will amount to an almost $5 million investment in landscaping.

The pandemic is one of the reasons the business is seeing an increased demand for year-round services. COVID altered the dynamics of the business and the industry as a whole. “People are looking for the ‘easy button,’” Rotonnelli says. This is the result of all the rules and regulations that came during the pandemic, such as not being able to meet others in person, and countless other restrictions.

“People are looking for a company that has the support behind them financially—and from a resource standpoint—with the skill sets to come in and take care of things fully. In years past, projects were piecemealed out; as we’ve grown and seen the market change post-COVID, customers want a team, an alliance, to take care of things.”

This may mean taking care of snow and ice removal for a shopping center, or clients with plumbing or electrical needs. “They may call us and ask if we have somebody, and we have our Rolodex of contractors we work with who can hop on this issue for them and keep them moving. So there’s a lot of value with relationships.”

Strength in numbers
Along with its staff of landscaping industry pros, Piscataqua clients appreciate the accountability and convenience that come from dealing with one company instead of several. If projects include low-voltage landscape lighting, the company has well-trained staff on hand to do the job. And if work is more complex, Piscataqua has a network of trusted subcontractors available. Dealing with one business has other advantages, such as less paperwork, defined payment terms, not dealing with certificates of insurance, and more. Clients are secure knowing that Piscataqua is on their side to help.

“They don’t have to make 10 phone calls to reach one person when they can reach out to us with our Rolodex of partners,” says Rotonnelli. This extends to extensive excavation projects. Sometimes, Piscataqua will call on specialized companies, and come in later to do the fine grading.

“It’s all about relationships and partnerships,” comments Rotonnelli. “When we’re working with these general contractors, they get the work done. We come in prior to the project and consult about how things should happen and what the transition looks like toward the end. And they rely on us at the end to come in and help finesse and finalize the project with them.”

Getting the best
On the basis that a company is only as good as its staff, Piscataqua is part of the Workforce Development Project, a project of the National Centre for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). This initiative, along with others, helps bring new staff to the business.

“Everybody here is a sales rep and a recruiter,” says Rotonnelli. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to talk to folks, and if there is an opportunity—whether it’s a foreman out on a project to do extra work, or you’re out with your family somewhere and someone chats with you—we encourage people to keep those communication lines open.”

Through the H-2B program, the company temporarily brings in 46 individuals from Guatemala who have worked for them for years. Not only are they enthusiastic and hard-working, but many are skilled in masonry, carpentry, electrical, and plumbing, and train others during their stay in America.

“We work with them to have them help educate some of the younger folks here who want to learn,” states Rotonnelli. “It’s been a great way for us to mesh together and utilize resources, so everybody is getting training on the job every day while they are here,” he says.

Fostering a team environment, Piscataqua is active in many charitable initiatives, from sponsoring school sports teams to supporting the Music Hall in Portsmouth and the Seacoast Humane Society. One of the biggest is the Salvation Army, which sees staff purchase new unwrapped gifts for kids at Christmas. “I’m super proud of those things with our company. You never have to ask; our employees are asking us what is going to happen because they want to give back, and that fosters a sense of pride.”

Both Rotonnelli and the company are active on a variety of boards, associations, and committees. These include the Advisory Board for the Sanford Regional School District as part of its horticultural program and trade programs. Others include the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association, the Snow and Ice Management Association, and the New Hampshire Landscape Association. Currently, Rotonnelli is president of the Irrigation Association of New England.

“We try to keep ourselves out there,” he says, “not only to give back but to stay current with technology and be innovative in our industries. As labor challenges continue, that’s one thing we have to stay focused on—being innovative.”

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