March 15, 2010
Big family creating big business
The 10 van Stralen brothers, from left, Seth, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, Tim, James, Derek, Ben and Mark.
The formula for success behind the growth of Sunshine Grounds Care makes a good story.  When that story includes the fact that the company is owned and operated by ten brothers, it takes on a whole new level of interest.

Sunshine Grounds Care was founded in 1987 by Tim van Stralen, the oldest of the ten brothers. Recently, Horticulture Review visited Tim at his company’s head office in Orangeville. Also at the meeting was Tim’s former college instructor Tony DiGiovanni, now better known as executive director of Landscape Ontario. He was the coordinator of the Landscape Technology Program at Humber College, when Tim was a student there. Twenty-three years later, Tim fondly remembers his time at Humber.

After college, Tim started to improve his company and began to bring his nine brothers into the business

Small beginnings

With humour, Tim remembers his small one-person lawn care company, complete with a smoke-billowing mower and a beat-up trailer. “Looking back, my one-man operation must have looked pretty funny.” With uncompromised commitment to customer satisfaction, growth quickly evolved. Today the company has 21 franchises in Ontario, with others in three provinces and one U.S. state.

Tim says his philosophy of leaving every customer a happy customer, came before all else, including making money. “As a rule, the money will follow, when you religiously ensure the customer is satisfied,” says Tim.

Peter van Stralen says their parents laid the foundation for success. “They taught us not to be afraid of good old-fashioned work, and that you need to contribute and do your part to be part of the family. We learned that you must pay your way, because nothing comes for free.”

Each brother brings his own character, personality and skills to the company. One brother may be exceptionally good with sales, while another is great with customers, and another does well in design, employees, or technology. Each learns from the other brother.

Everyone understands the difficult challenges with personal or business relationships in a work environment. Imagine how this is magnified when ten brothers work side-by-side. “For us to make it work, it comes down to practising the basic Christian values of respect, and resisting the basic human tendency toward greed and self-seeking,” says Tim. “Practising these things, allows us to have a genuine desire to see not only ourselves, but every member of the group, succeed.”

Brotherly meetings

At weekly meetings, each brother takes part and presents a report to keep everyone up-to-date. Each sibling has the opportunity to comment, critique, and speak openly, in order to avoid any discontent or hard feelings. Tim says the meetings also produce lots of good ideas and suggestions.

Franchising has become a large part of the business. Tim says Sunshine Grounds has relationships with its franchisees based on the same process as that involving the brothers. The concept is the all for one, one for all philosophy that is encouraged between individual franchises.

Sunshine Grounds took part in Jim Paluch’s Working Smarter program. The internationally-known business coach said, upon meeting the brothers and looking at their business, “This company just does it right, and we have to tell our newsletter readers about them. They get along amazingly well. It’s ten brothers working together to support a $20-million plus business.”

Sunshine in U.S. market

In mid-February, The Dwyer Group in the U.S. announced a business agreement with Sunshine Grounds Care to market franchises in the U.S. under the brand of The Grounds Guys.  

The deal introduces the first grounds care franchise to The Dwyer Group’s brands, which include Aire Serv, Glass Doctor, Mr. Appliance, Mr. Electric, Mr. Rooter and Rainbow International.

Dina Dwyer-Owens, CEO and chair of The Dwyer Group, said, “We knew that landscape maintenance was a natural extension of our family of franchise brands, but it was the expertise of Sunshine Grounds Care in Canada that helped us deliver a business model with a proven track record.”

Community involvement

Community involvement is also an important philosophy of the van Stralens. When an extension of the Island Lake Trail in the Orangeville area was required, a volunteer cleanup crew from Sunshine Ground Care took on the job. The local paper wrote, “More than 50 landscaping professionals spent the morning removing branches and debris as a way of giving back to the community.” Bob Shirley, chair of the group which administers the trail, said, “This would have taken us so long to do, what they (Sunshine Grounds Care) accomplished in a single morning. People can enjoy this trail and the beauty of Island Lake right away

Committed to being green

Sunshine Grounds is one of the very few landscape companies in North America with a full-time environmental coordinator. Scott Bryck works full-time at Sunshine to ensure the company follows proper environmental procedures.

From business, to family, to community involvement, it truly is a family affair at Sunshine Grounds Care.