July 15, 2008
By Allan Dennis

Few in today’s fast-paced world can honestly say they are excited about their work and take pride in what they accomplish. One doesn’t need to speak very long with Herman Ciardullo and his partner Len Poloniato to know these two men don’t just talk the talk; they really are excited and proud of their accomplishments at Oakridge Landscape Contractors, based near Hannon, Ont.

“We do absolutely no advertising,” says Herman. “All our marketing is by word of mouth through our customers. We have developed a very strong customer base.” It is reflected in the company’s philosophy, “There is no greater need than the need of our client.”

The two men operated independently before beginning their successful partnership in 1992. “Every once in a while, we would bid on the same job,” recalls Len. “Right around the time when the recession hit, we decided to begin our own business together.”  Not the greatest of timing, but with a lot of hard work, talent and determination, the rest is a history of success and growth.

Herman notes with great pride that they did it all without bank loans. “We didn’t even draw a paycheque from the company for two years,” remembers Herman. He goes on to emphasize that six or seven of his suppliers at the time were strong supporters, and helped them through some difficult times. “They believed in us, and now we are loyal to them,” says Herman.

Over 100 employees

From there, the company grew to where it now employs just over 100 people. Many are long-term employees, who both Herman and Len credit as a major reason for the company’s success. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” says Herman.
Staff members include landscape estimators, landscape designers, horticulturists, construction superintendents, janitors, groundskeepers and equipment operators. “They are a dedicated group, who reflect our philosophy of pride in a job well done,” says Len.

Herman revealed an example of that pride and project ownership. He tells of a retaining wall that was constructed for the City of Hamilton. The city had already approved and paid for the project. A crew chief from Oakridge noticed a dip in the wall. He returned with a crew, and corrected the problem. “That’s an example of pride in workmanship,” says Herman. “Even though it cost us money, the final product wasn’t to our standards.” Herman reflects how the crew chief couldn’t bear to drive by that project and see that it wasn’t done correctly. “He had pride of ownership. And, that is how this organization feels from top to bottom.”

One of the important aspects of the hiring process is looking for people who will fit into the Oakridge family. “We want people who will fit into the positive atmosphere here,” says sales manager Mark Poloniato. He notes that many members of the staff are good friends. “We socialize together, as well as work together,” says Mark. The company produces a monthly newsletter to keep everyone up-to-date on staff happenings.

Wide array of services

Oakridge Landscape Contractors provides a wide array of services, including landscape estimating, landscape design, earth grading and excavation, haulage, infrastructure landscaping, residential landscaping, grounds keeping, exterior janitorial services, snow removal, planting and installation of interlock pavers, precast walls, armour stone, fencing, decking and sod.

Herman notes that the industry is changing all the time. He and Len spend a great deal of their time researching the market. “We have such good people in management, that Len and I can spend time to actually look outside the box.” One recent project involved the installation of GPS systems in the company’s equipment. As well, a new garden centre has been created, allowing the company to move in an additional direction.

The partners, non-family members, do a great job understanding each other’s strengths. Herman runs the day-to-day operation, while Len is in charge of special projects.  They work as a team when it comes to investigating new ideas and concepts. They have been building up air miles over the past while, attending shows and checking out some U.S. operations.

This year the company made a name for itself in the Landscape Ontario Awards of Excellence. It won awards in three categories: commercial construction between $50,000 and $100,000 for the City of Burlington Gateway feature; residential construction between $100,000 and $250,000 and residential construction between $50,000 and $100,000. Herman says he plans to increase his involvement with both the Awards program and the association.

Oakridge Landscape Contractors is located in Hannon, just outside Hamilton near Binbrook.  

Herman Ciardullo and Len Poloniato take pride in the company they built.
Another project by Oakridge Landscape.
Many of the projects include highway work.