April 15 2015 12:42 AM
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TONY DILLUVIO & JOE PIERORAZIO

Although they have lived in close proximity to each other for many years, Tony Dilluvio and Joe Pierorazio did not know each other until they met at Aqua Turf, an irrigation contracting firm in Elmsford, New York. Dilluvio accepted a position in operations and has been with the company since 1997; Pierorazio came in a year later and worked in the finance department.

After a few years went by, they realized that there was an opportunity to buy part of the business. Their accountant (who has since passed) sat the two men down and explained how he thought they could put enough money together to buy the company.

“He felt that we would complement each other and make a good team,” said Dilluvio. “I had a mentor—we both did —when we realized that he was the same person. He was both Joe’s and my accountant.” In 2003, the owner sold the commercial and residential business and the name to Dilluvio and Pierorazio, but he kept the golf segment of the business.

Aqua Turf works the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Dilluvio realized, even prior to buying the business, that they had to provide quality service at the highest level. Many high profile people live in this area, and they are willing to pay for quality work; some have very high expectations.

“This company was built on service,” said Dilluvio. “One of the lessons I learned early in the game was to return calls quickly. When a call came in at 5:00 p.m. one day, and I didn’t call him back until the first thing the next morning, the prospective client told me I was too late. I felt bad that I didn’t get back to him in time. So, I’m neurotic about that to this day. We expect that our people will return each telephone call within two hours,” he stressed.

“To keep our business growing, we realized we had to raise the bar a little. We had to keep our clients happy and renewing each year, and generating references. So we spend a lot of time on training our techs. We express what we expect from them time and again. We explain to them that we’re not going to take shortcuts; we’re going to do a good job.

Both Joe and I take pride in the fact that our entire staff are professionals. Our technicians are the best in the business, and we feel constant training is one of the keys to our success,” said Dilluvio.

Dilluvio and Pierorazio pay a lot of attention to details. Their technicians don’t go out in street clothing —they wear clean khaki pants and blue Aqua Turf logo shirts. “We have a lot of little rules,” said Dilluvio. “There is no smoking on the customer’s grounds, and when they enter a home they have to wear plastic booties over their shoes, stuff like that. It’s all the little things that add up to show that we care.”

Much of their fleet consists of late-model vehicles. They may have a few dings and dents, but overall they’re clean. The lettering is clear and up-to-date. If they begin to look like they’re fading, they are re-lettered.

Has their business grown? “We’ve added about 800 new clients since we took over the company,” said Dilluvio. “We did this by establishing relationships with landscape architects and landscape contractors. We did it by doing a good job, by showing up on time, and doing what we said we were going to do.”

How do they expect to grow their company in the near future? “There are two ways we can see how we can grow our business. One of them is to add more services to offer our customers,” Dilluvio responded. “Another is to maintain the high quality of service. We have some exciting ideas for growth in the near future.”

One of the new services Aqua Turf is adding is installation and servicing of landscape lighting. “Very few homeowners have landscape lighting in this area. I believe this affords us an excellent opportunity, especially with our current base of clients. They already know us and there is a level of trust,” said Dilluvio.

They’re adding other services as well, such as outdoor sound systems. Currently, they are an installer for True Audio. Smart home products, such as electrical switches and NEST (WiFi thermostat controllers that soon will include irrigation) are other products that will be available to their clients.

Dilluvio’s son Alfred, 28, joined the business a year ago. He started as part of a crew that did installations. In addition to his current work load, he is going for his license to test backflow devices and inspect them. “We believe this can be a good revenue source for us,” said Dilluvio.

During the winter season, Aqua Turf lays off all the crews. I asked Dilluvio if the same people come back. “Absolutely,” he declared. “Except for a new guy once in a while, we get the same guys back year after year. Some of these guys have been with the company since it opened in 1975.”

With the H-2B program in turmoil, how does that affect his company? “We already have our people for this year,” said Dilluvio. “When the minimum wage was eight dollars and change, a while back, we paid the guys $11 an hour. We now pay the prevailing wage of $15.65 an hour, and that had a trickle-down effect to the rest of my crew, so the whole company got a raise.”

Here is an interesting story of how two individuals, who lived in the same area but did not know each other, were put together by chance.

Or was it? It does seem a match made in heaven. Pierorazio handles the office and financial staff; Dilluvio works with sales, operations and the crews. When it comes to estimating, it’s done in two steps. Dilluvio will work out the numbers; they then will sit down and talk about the bid. “We’ll put it together as partners,” he said.

In today’s workplace, it’s refreshing to hear how well these partners get along. Dilluvio says of his partner, “He is truly a decent human being.” With the principals feeling that way about each other, this partnership has stood the test of time.

More importantly, with their philosophy of how to run a business, there was no way this company could have failed.

We should all take a page out of this book.