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Featured Business: Alternative Landscaping Ltd.

“Wow!” “I had no idea!” If you are like most people that will be your reaction the first time you visit and see the new location of Alternative Landscaping. Opened just this spring, it has a greenhouse, retail garden centre, and landscaping office. Plus lots of space for plants, trees, equipment, and landscaping materials. You will find Alternative Landscaping on the edge of the city, at the southeast corner of 34th Street and Patricia Avenue.

Alternative Landscaping owners Chris and Karin Griffin look to the present and to the future. But they also look to the heritage of the past. In the middle of the landscaping office is an ornamental fountain made from two very substantial limestone blocks. Those blocks are from Brandon’s historic Prince Edward Hotel, which stood at the corner of 9th Street and Princess Avenue from 1912 until 1980.

The Griffins started the company in 1998. It was then just “a guy and a truck” operation, Karin says. Chris – and a little later with one employee – did the outside work. Karin did the paper work from a home office in their basement.

What’s in a name? They chose “Alternative” to announce that they were the new, fresh, different option. And “A” has the added advantage of being first in alphabetical listings.

By 2001, with the business growing and juggling a new baby as well as a toddler, it was time to expand. A spot in the 2200 block of Maryland Avenue became available, and they took it. (In the early days, the baby often accompanied
Karin to the office.) Around the same time, they purchased the site at 34th and Patricia, and they waited until they were ready to develop the property.

The business continues to be mainly landscape design, installation, and maintenance. You can see their work gracing many residential properties and commercial locations all over Westman and even into Saskatchewan. Like outside: at the Manitoba Public Insurance building and the Corral Centre. Or inside: at the Shoppers Mall, where topiaries decorate the food court.

You can immerse yourself in the sumptuous photography showcasing their handiwork when you visit their website at alternativelandscapingltd.com. The pictures will leave you dreaming. How your outdoor living space could be enhanced. How your property could become more valuable. How your place could be more inviting, more beautiful, more fun.

The Griffins are all about expansion and diversification. During the 2008 recession, they thought that more homeowners might want to save money by providing their own labour. So Alternative Landscaping began offering more materials for do-it-yourself folks.

But Karin says that if they do it themselves, she wants her customers to do it right. Often people have misconceptions about which materials would be appropriate, or which materials would be the best buy for a particular situation. So, she will make sure to ask them about their plans and objectives for their project.

“What I really enjoy is teaching people,” Karin says. “I have clients who come back with pictures and they are proud that they have done it themselves. It makes me feel good that I have taught them something and they can do it, and do it right.”

The biggest change with growth has been hiring more staff. “In the beginning, I did everything: answering the phone, bookkeeping, supervising,” Karin says. “Now we need to hire the right person for the job.”

Alternative Landscaping currently employs about 35 people year round. The number swells to 75 during the summer, including a Clear Lake division. Karin speaks with obvious enjoyment and pride in their staff. The Griffins take great effort to hire the right people, employees who will, as Karin says, “fit the culture of the company.” Their mission statement: “Superior workmanship by people who care.”

Their staff appreciates what is involved in outdoor work. While it can be great to have a job that is out of doors, the work must be done on time, to the highest standard, and in all weather conditions. Not only when it is nice and sunny, but also when it is dreary and pouring rain. Not to mention in the bitter cold; landscape maintenance like snow clearing goes on all year.

Retail staff at the garden centre are friendly, confident, open to learning, and ready to engage customers in finding the right solutions. In this line of work, Karin says, “We have to be able to talk with people. This industry is not a shy industry.

Alternative Landscaping is a full service company. You can get them to do everything for you from planning to installation and then on-going maintenance. Or, you can buy the materials and supplies and do it yourself. You can also get them just to design your project for you.

And if you are looking for plants, they have hundreds of varieties of flowers, herbs, vegetables, annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees. Plus all the landscaping materials and accessories – like topsoil, fertilizer, sand, gravel, peat, rock, wood mulch, and more – to go along with any planting or project. Perhaps most important, you will get knowledge there.

Alternative Landscaping has done the research to find and get great high-quality products. Karin notes that the commercial-grade materials they use in their installations are available for anyone to purchase. “If you see us using it,” Karin says, “we can sell it to you.”

Among those high-quality products are the paving stones and blocks that can be used for places like walkways, driveways, flower beds, and patios. And for water features: from fountains and ponds to streams and waterfalls. Alternative Landscaping is a direct dealer for Barkman products. As well, it is the only dealer in Westman for the Belgard line of concrete retaining wall and paving stone products.

The Alternative Choice Garden Centre carries a variety of items that can enhance anything from the smallest of balconies to the largest of lawns. The garden centre has the Lechuza brand of self-watering planters exclusively in Westman. These planters provide water to the roots of plants, saving water. You have the convenience of not having to water every day – an indicator shows the level in the water reservoir. The planters come in many different sizes and can be used indoors and out. The liners can be lifted out, making them very portable, and are interchangeable so you can easily switch around colours. Drain the water from the reservoir and you can leave the planters out all winter.

The garden centre has a number of other intriguing products that are only found there, in Westman. Outdoor cedar furniture where each piece of wood is hand selected, so there are no knots and no warping. As well, there are huge mosquito coils and durable nylon solar lanterns that you can hang in a tree or around a patio and that will last all season.

Just like the blocks from the Prince Edward Hotel in their office, the Griffins continue to look to the past with fondness. Back to the time they worked from their home and had just one truck. “We still have our first truck – we can’t get rid of it,” Karin says. There is a sense of coming around full circle. The toddler and baby of their first days in the business are now teenagers working part time in the family enterprise.

The Griffins are fully engaged in work that they find very fulfilling. They are people who have found the ideal: enjoying their jobs so much it doesn’t seem like effort. “It’s not really work,” Karin says. On her office wall is a sign. “Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success,” it says. “If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

As for the future, the Griffins see even more, with their new location becoming a destination spot. The setting with the greenhouse and the other buildings is really inviting: not only practical and functional, but also very attractive. The buildings are the work of Crane Steel Structures and electrical completed by G.T. Smith and Sons, both businesses are located here in Brandon.

There has already been one wedding in the greenhouse, complete with a reception catered. As well, other couples have found the greenhouse to be the perfect background for wedding photos.

Perhaps there can be a skating rink in the winter? What else? They have 40 acres – lots of space. They have lots of ambition. They have lots of imagination.

The Griffins are ones not to rest and put their feet up. They see Alternative Landscaping as always a work-inprogress, as always a creation that is unfolding. “We are doers.” Karin says. “That’s just who we are.”

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