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Brennan Landscaping in Schenectady embraces new technologies, old-school values

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Brennan Landscaping in Schenectady embraces new technologies, old-school values

‘Business is ever-changing, so you’ve got to adapt’
Brennan Landscaping in Schenectady embraces new technologies, old-school values
Tim Brennan, owner of Brennan Landscaping in Schenectady, stands with several different landscaping machines, January 29, 2020.
Photographer: Peter Barber

SCHENECTADY -- Tim Brennan enjoys driving around the Niskayuna area because he’ll pass by walkways, walls and other projects that his company, Brennan Landscaping, completed 25 to 30 years ago. He likes seeing them still there, in good shape. 

Brennan has always loved being outside and working with plants and nature. In high school he mowed lawns. He considered becoming a farmer, but he opted to study journalism in college instead. When he didn’t see a future for himself in that field, he transferred to SUNY Cobleskill to study landscape design. In 1990, he opened his own business in Schenectady, Brennan Landscaping, which is now in its 31st year. 

The business began with mowing, maintenance, plantings and hardscaping, but has evolved significantly over the past three decades as Brennan has added services and adapted to an ever-changing business landscape. 

Over the years he added plant health care, which includes lawn, tree, shrub and plant fertilization. Most recently, he added tick spraying and foundation pest control to his company’s services.

WINTER, TOO

The business had been largely seasonal until Brennan found a product called Ice B’Gone Magic in 2004 and became a distributor. One of the reasons Brennan was drawn to it was that it is environmentally friendly. Less is required for the treatment of surfaces and it does not corrode concrete as salt does. 

PETER R. BARBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tim Brennan owner of Brennan Landscaping on Peek Street in Schenectady stands next to a commercial salt spreader Wednesday, January 29, 2020.PETER R. BARBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Tim Brennan owner of Brennan Landscaping on Peek Street in Schenectady stands next to a commercial salt spreader Wednesday, January 29, 2020.

“Because of the ice-melt business we’ve expanded,” Brennan said. He used to rent a building at 1100 Erie Blvd. across from Mike’s Hot Dogs, which he said was a great location, but he outgrew it. He now owns a 9,000-square-foot showroom on an acre and a half at 451 Peek St. on the north side of Schenectady, a building he purchased in 2011. There he sells spreaders for trucks, tailgate spreaders, push spreaders and is a SnowEx dealer for various winter equipment.

“It’s kind of like your go-to shop for snow removal, with shovels and gloves,” he said. 

Brennan admits that when he started his business, he didn’t expect to include snow removal, but that unit keeps the business busy in the winter, even busier than it is during the landscaping season. It gets so busy he had to increase his staff in the wintertime.

CUTTING EDGE

During the landscaping season, he services a customer base of about 500 with a small staff of five to six employees. He focuses largely on the fertilization aspect of lawn care. It’s Brennan’s favorite part of the business.

“I like seeing the nice, green lawns that we create and help maintain,” he said. 

PETER R. BARBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tim Brennan owner of Brennan Landscaping on Peek Street in Schenectady holds a hand full of fertilizer Wednesday, January 29, 2020.PETER R. BARBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Tim Brennan owner of Brennan Landscaping on Peek Street in Schenectady holds a hand full of fertilizer Wednesday, January 29, 2020.

One main aspect of the fertilization work is the type of fertilizer he uses. “We use a super-slow-release fertilizer that doesn’t run off and slowly releases to the plant, so there’s very little loss of the nutrients nitrogen and potassium,” Brennan said, noting that because there is no waste with this type of fertilizer he can use less of it. He also said the plants are healthier because they are not forced to grow as quickly with the slow-release product.

“There’s less disease when you slow feed a plant,” he said. 

This type of fertilizer also requires only one application, saving on labor costs and time. “We’re generally there once in the spring and it will last six months,” he said. On return visits to a lawn, his staff can take care of weeds and look for any other potential issues rather than reapplying fertilizer. 

One of Brennan’s suppliers, Malcolm “Buzz” Johnson, a salesman for the global fertilizer distributor Nutrien Solutions, sees Brennan as forward-thinking in his choice of products.

More from Outlook 2020

“I think Tim is very progressive,” he said. “I think he thinks ahead of the curve. I’ve been at this for 50 years. I have never met anyone that is so interested in taking a look at new technologies that are going to benefit him, benefit his customers and be environmentally sound.”

Those who deal with Brennan say he asks a great deal of questions. “He asks me more intelligent questions because he’s always trying to improve, make his business better and make better results for his customers,” Johnson said. 

Penny Clark, who works in inside sales for the wholesale nursery supplier Northern Nurseries in Schenectady, also answers a lot of questions from Brennan. “If he’s not sure of something, he’s always willing to get the info he needs to get to his customers,” she said. 

This makes Brennan, in turn, able to explain things well to those customers.

Doug Lohnas of Schenectady has been a customer of Brennan Landscaping for more than 20 years. “If you have a project, he’s very thorough in explaining what it’s going to entail and how much work is involved, and he gives you alternatives,” he said. 

Brennan also follows up with customers once a project has been completed.

'OUTSIDE THE BOX'

Part of Brennan’s business philosophy is to keep it simple and small. Finding employees is one of the most challenging aspects of his business.

“We’ve had pretty good employee retention, but I could see in the future that that could be a problem,” he said. “The labor market is smaller, so it’s harder to find people that are skilled and want to work.”

He makes sure to treat his employees with respect. Another ongoing challenge is adapting to the changing marketplace. “Business is ever-changing, so you’ve got to adapt to the conditions of everything that’s thrown at you, whether it’s labor or competition or trends,” he said. “We always think outside the box whether it’s the ice melter or the synthetic grass,” he said.

PETER R. BARBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Brennan Landscaping on Peek Street in Schenectady Wednesday, January 29, 2020.PETER R. BARBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Brennan Landscaping on Peek Street in Schenectady Wednesday, January 29, 2020.

To keep current and make the most use out of his equipment and facility, Brennan last year added two new divisions to his business. One is a dumpster service. He had purchased a roll-off truck for landscaping before it occurred to him that he could use it for dumpsters, too. “It wasn’t planned per se, but I saw a potential service that we could market to our existing customers,” he said.

He also opened an online store for selling landscape equipment. “I see it as a good business that doesn’t take any labor — it’s more administrative,” he said. 

Brennan’s bottom-line business philosophy, along with constant innovation, has allowed him to operate his business successfully for 30 years.

“We just try to do a great job, and we treat people like they want to be treated and their property like it was our own,” he said.

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