Contractor of the Year Finalist: Ryan and Colin Taheny and Shannon O’Neill

Ryco Landscaping provides innovative turnkey landscaping and maintenance services, from digital designs to year-round maintenance. “Entrepreneurship runs in our blood and our family has always been creative,” says Ryan Taheny. “The landscaping industry is a wonderful business in which to be creative.” Ryan, along with his brother Colin and sister Shannon, continue the family tradition of hard work.

Ryco Landscaping
The roots of Ryco Landscaping run deep, starting in the early 1920’s at Ellis Island. Ryan Taheny’s grandfather brought his masonry skills to America and started a construction company, eventually working on projects for the Chicago public school system. His son, Ryan’s father, served as president of U.S. Homes until retiring at age 34 to start a law practice.

Ryan started work in construction after completing school, but soon realized he didn’t want to work for someone else. “I was always taking on more responsibilities than I was asked to perform,” he says. Ryan says he wanted to give more to his jobs and felt restricted from doing so by his employers.

In 1996, working from his family home in South Barrington, Illinois, Ryan began the ground work for Ryco Landscaping, named for his brother and himself. “There are more costs to setting up a business than just buying capital equipment,” Ryan says. “One of the advantages of working in my parent’s loft was being able to set up my operating processes, write the company’s policy handbook and do training, all without a lot of overhead.” He was also able to use his start-up time to educate himself, soaking up all the information about the landscape business he could find.

With just $127 in his checkbook, the new president of Ryco Landscaping purchased some hand tools and a DeWalt drill. That left only $7 for lunch until his first job was completed and paid for. “The job was supposed to take a month to do but I finished it in two weeks,” Ryan laughs. “Hunger is a powerful motivator.”

The support of family and friends gave Ryan the foundation he needed to grow his small company. Ryan’s mother helped with the bookkeeping and he credits his parents with teaching him values such as honesty, sincerity and commitment. “My parents lead by example, not words.”

A friend of the family, Joe Saleno of Grand Construction, stepped up to mentor Ryan in his first large projects. “Joe saw my potential and desire to exceed my client’s expectations,” Ryan says.

In 1999, younger brother Colin left his marketing position at Motorola to join Ryan in the business, soon followed by their sister Shannon O’Neill in 2000.

Ryan feels he is fortunate because he knows his strengths and weaknesses and notes that he, Colin and Shannon complement each other, making their company a pleasant place to work. “My expertise is in operations management, Colin is our vice president of sales and marketing and Shannon excels in administrative management,” he says. “I hire the best people with the strengths I need and empower them,”

The Ryco Experience
Ryco’s approach to their market sets it apart from other landscapers. Ryco’s core client base is luxury homes and high-end commercial properties in the Chicago area, and Ryan is acutely aware of his customers need to present a professional image that compliments their business. “Many of our customers are entrepreneurs who are highly visible in their corporate life. We don’t have a second shot to do it right. We have to make sure our work reflects their brand,” Ryan says.

The Ryco experience begins in their Lake-in-the-Hills, Illinois, showroom where Colin and Ryan meet with clients, gathering information on how the client envisions their landscaping will both look and how it will be used for activities such as cooking, entertaining, sports and children’s play.

Ryan and Colin say because it is hard for most people to visualize what their completed landscape will look like from a two-dimensional sketch, they developed a multi-dimensional software program in 2004 that generates a 3-D rendering of the building and surrounding landscaping. If the client’s home is already built, Ryco integrates digital photographs of the house into the design. When the client’s home is still in the pre-building stage, Ryco incorporates the architect and builder’s plans into their landscape design program and builds a virtual model of the house.

Clients can temporarily ‘plant’ trees, retaining walls and other design elements into their virtual landscape, and with a little digital nurturing, Ryco can show how the vegetation will grow in the next few years. This is helpful when planning new landscaping in an undeveloped area because the client can see how the landscaping adds to the value of the property. If the client wants to experiment with several design concepts, Ryco can easily move different design elements within the plan.

The result is a digital virtual tour that shows Ryco’s customers what their property will look like immediately after the landscaping is installed and how it the vegetation will mature over the years. “Homeowners can see their finished project long before ground is broken,” Ryan says.

Ryan says his digital plans can also save his clients from expensive mistakes. One Ryco customer wanted to know what his backyard would look like with a pool. Using the digital rendering process, Ryan took the pool contractor’s plans and created a 3-D graphic. The customer didn’t like the pool the contractor proposed and Ryan saved his customer $200,000 by allowing them to see that before a bucket of dirt was moved.

Customers can follow their project’s progress on their laptops. Ryan says their digital planning and design process is important because, “Pictures are what people relate to. You are doing a disservice if you don’t offer clients the opportunity to reinforce their design and buying decisions.”

Ryco employs 60 people and runs 28 crews. Ryco’s first piece of heavy equipment was a Toyota skid steer bought at auction for ten cents on the dollar. Today, Ryco has 11 skid steers, five of which are Cat 252B models. Ryan prefers to own equipment. “My father taught me to look at the long run. He said if I was going to use a machine only once, why buy it. But if I thought I’d be using it for longer than what it costs to make a payment on it, then buy it.”

Ryco teams drive specially outfitted trucks that carry a skid steer and job supplies. Ryan encourages his foreman to take home the company trucks, saying that it makes good time management sense for his foreman to start their day with the equipment they need and drive directly to the job instead of stopping at the shop before traveling to the jobsite. Colin says, “We are getting smarter about fuel use – we have about 45 trucks, so we try to watch what we do. We don’t get paid to drive trucks. No one makes money doing windshield time unless you’re a full-time truck driver.”

Ryco’s safety program includes a season kick-off event followed by weekly safe procedure reviews. Colin says the company sees a direct correlation between management’s commitment to employee well-being and the number of worker injuries. “We think our renewed emphasis on safety has worked. We’ve only had one accident in the past three years. If you put the effort in, you’ll get the effort out.”

Seeds for now and the future
Ryco Landscaping has seen double-digit growth for the past six years, for which Ryan credits his strong customer service, referral network and technology-rich marketing.

Ryan says his best customers are current customers and Ryco makes a long-term commitment with each installation. Maintenance services such as fertilizing, mowing and snow removal were not part of the Taheny’s original business model but when customers came to Ryco saying they were unable to find knowledgeable and dependable landscape services, Ryan immediately saw he had another market waiting for the Ryco touch. Now, customers can log on to their Ryco account to schedule year-round services and manage payments right from their laptop.

Colin seeks out new products and services to expand the company’s market depth. “We hooked up with Field Turf, which provides a patented synthetic turf for athletic venues. We’re finding better ways to provide services that our competition doesn’t.”

The Tahenys expect their company to continue to grow and are looking towards doing more commercial landscaping in the Chicago area. Colin hopes to eventually franchise the Ryco digital master plan system.

Ryan’s advice to new landscape contractors is, “Hold yourself to the highest standards and love what you are doing.” Taheny lives his own advice and says he loves “meeting and exceeding the customer’s expectations at the most personal place in their life – their home.”