Matiskos Design, Develop and Manage Their Growing Business with Help from BGC

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CHALLENGE:
A landscaper by any other name still takes care of your lawn—but if he’s an architect of land, he can do a whole lot more. What’s the difference between a landscaper and a landscape architect? If you aren’t sure, you’re not alone.

This was the problem facing Matt and Ellen Matisko of The Matisko Group (formerly MGM Landscaping, Inc.), based in Berea, Ohio. With 15 years of experience and a degree in landscape architecture, Matt specializes in high-end landscape design and construction, but as Ellen noted, “[w]hen you say the word ‘landscaper’, people start asking questions about grass.” Just as an orthodontist isn’t your average teeth cleaner, the Matiskos needed to distinguish themselves from other landscaping companies. And, after a rough year in 2005, they needed to do it quickly.

SITUATION:
Since 1989, Matt Matisko has been designing, creating, and maintaining lovely outdoor spaces for residential and commercial clients in Northeast Ohio. He and wife Ellen incorporated MGM Landscaping, Inc., as a full-service landscaping business in 2001. Maintenance is a small part of what they offer. In addition to seasonal, clean up, and irrigation services, the Matiskos specialize in transforming outdoor space to meet a client’s unique needs, using materials in the traditional “softscape” category (plants, trees, shrubs) as well as “hardscape” materials such as decks, walkways, water features, and retaining walls. “Something that separates landscape architects from landscapers is the idea of honoring not only aesthetics but also functionality,” Matt Matisko explained. He cited the analogy of home construction: “If you want to build a kitchen, you go to an architect who knows certain guidelines to put together a comfortable, usable space. Landscape architects do the same thing. Depending on what a client needs, I can design a cozy space outside for one person to sit and read, or a large open space where people will congregate at parties.”

Unfortunately, too much of the company’s business didn’t utilize Matt’s passion and expertise, so the business lacked an identity. “We were all over the place,” Ellen admitted with a laugh. “If someone asked us what we did or what our company was about, it took us a half hour to explain!” Without a clear sense of what made their business special, the Matiskos couldn’t attract the right kind of clients. After a few years of treading water, the company experienced what Ellen labeled a “dismal” year in 2005. “Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” she recalled. In addition, Matt was excited about launching a new venture in roofscaping, but the company needed the profits to support it. Acting on a recommendation from Rob Felber (Felber & Felber Marketing), the Matiskos attended the ABA Kickoff at The House of Blues in Cleveland. That’s where they met Andy Birol.

THE BGC SOLUTION:
As part of the ABA Kickoff, the Matiskos qualified for a series of phone conversations with Andy, but after just one call Matt and Ellen realized they needed his full attention. “Andy struck us as being not your typical consultant,” noted Ellen, “and we appreciated that. Matt and I are both straight-shooters. We liked Andy’s ability to tell it like it is.” The first thing Andy did was to focus the Matiskos on their individual strengths. “Matt and Ellen offer great services to their clients, and they are also a lot of fun,” said Andy. “What they needed to learn was how to take control of their business. Matt is so good at the design aspect, but with all the attention he paid to aesthetics, he was missing some important opportunities to increase revenue.” Enter Ellen’s strong communication skills. Andy realized that if each partner leveraged his or her personal Best and Highest Use, the company could increase efficiency as well as income stream.

To begin, the Matiskos needed to target their best customers. Under Andy’s direction, they conducted a comprehensive analysis of their existing clients. “We were looking at what type of clients we really wanted to have,” said Ellen, “and they turned out to be people who want a blend of aesthetics and functionality.” With this market in mind, Andy helped the Matiskos reposition themselves with a new business name (The Matisko Group) and a tagline—“Homescaping. Workscaping. Roofscaping.”—to encapsulate the company’s BHU: high-end residential and commercial landscaping for beauty and functionality.

CLIENT RESULTS:
In just a few months, the Matiskos have developed a new company name and tagline, a new Web site, and a newly energized business. Matt can focus now on the type of intricate, elegant projects he most enjoys. “A lot of people can create pretty lawns,” he said. “Our strength is designing beautiful, usable outdoor spaces and bringing them to life.”

Efficiency has improved in important ways. Whereas initially the fee for a consultation was built into the total project price, Andy recommended a more straightforward approach. “Before, Matt might spend ten hours meeting with someone and working up ideas,” said Ellen, “but sometimes people backed out. When that happened, we didn’t get paid.” Andy advised a two-step approach. First, he worked with Ellen on developing questions to pre-qualify clients over the phone. Second, customers are charged a set fee for the initial consultation. “It’s saved us so much time,” marveled Ellen. “In just a few minutes, I find out whether this is the type of client we want, and I give a ballpark price. If someone is shocked by the number, they disqualify themselves pretty quickly, which eliminates hassle all around.” Prospective clients understand that if Matt comes to their site, they must pay for his service. “The fee typically starts at $500 for him to come out, talk with you, and work up ideas, and if drawings are involved, the fee can run higher,” said Ellen. Clients who greenlight a project get the initial fee subtracted from their final price.

Matt and Ellen also appreciate Andy’s help in finding other companies to support their growth. Acting on his referrals, the Matiskos have launched a new Web site (www.thematiskogroup.com) and are implementing a strategic marketing campaign. “We knew we needed to do these things, but as small business owners, Matt and I didn’t have time to go out and find people who could help us,” said Ellen. “Working with Andy was a huge time-saver because he hooked us up with the best.”

The Matiskos are happy with the results of working with Andy Birol, and they also enjoyed the process. “It’s our company, and we never expected someone to come in, give us all the answers, and fix all of our problems. We wouldn’t want someone to do that,” Ellen said. “Matt and I agree that Andy’s great at showing people what’s in their guts … He’s a partner when you need to turn your business around.”



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