I first met Steven Kinzler at a chapter meeting of the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA). That was about 14 years ago. He was a newly-licensed landscape contractor at that time and very anxious to get his business on a level footing. I recall him talking to another contractor who had a small job that he was willing to turn over to Kinzler—it was for about $1,500. No other contractor was interested in doing the job because it was too small, but Kinzler jumped at the chance; he was that anxious.
Kinzler went to a community college and then continued on to a four-year university, where he took administration of justice classes. He did not graduate, but became a reserve police officer. He worked for the city of Inglewood for 11 years, and ended up as a reserve sergeant.
At this point Kinzler was also working with his brother. They had a machine shop and a field repair company, doing repairs on industrial valves for oil refineries. His brother owned the company, and as it grew, the brothers went in different directions.
When he left his brother’s company, Kinzler started working in the film industry as a property master and a technical director. As luck would have it, he quickly got a lot of work, but since you never know when your next job will be, you take what you can get. This means putting in a lot of hours.
It was during this time that Kinzler got married and had four kids.
But raising a family is not easy when you’re working in the film industry. The hours are long and erratic; when he did work, it required him to be away from home, on location. Even when he worked locally, the hours were long. And when there was no work, he had lots of time on his hands.
On one occasion, while he was between jobs, he landscaped his house.
Friends that he knew from the movie industry would come over, and hang out. “They liked what I did to my house, so they had me landscape their homes. And that’s how I slid into landscaping,” Kinzler said.
While he was away on a movie shoot, Kinzler began to think about his life. “This is too many hours— I’m not seeing my kids, my wife is pregnant; I’m missing the kids’ school and sporting events, and I want to be around,” he thought to himself. So he made a decision, “I’m going to start a landscape company. I like it; I enjoy it. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Once he made the decision to open his own landscape company, Kinzler enrolled at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and took their landscape design and construction course. In the class, he met some people who were already working in the field.
However, with a wife and kids to feed, Kinzler had to do something, and fast. He went to a local nursery and said, “I’m starting up a landscape business; if there is any work, let me know.” Within the next week, this local nursery referred him to some small landscape jobs. He said, “I took that very first check from the very first job I got and filled my refrigerator; then I went and opened up a DBA, SK Landscape.”
“The year was 2001, the year of the World Trade Center disaster. I had jobs lined up in the movie industry while I was starting my business, but the movie industry froze after that. Nobody would travel; nobody could do anything,” he remembered. What a year to start any business..
Kinzler spoke with one of the students from the class who worked for a contractor. “When you guys do your construction projects who does the maintenance on those projects?” Kinzler asked. The response was, “Nobody.” He jumped on that: “Okay, can I meet the owner of that company?” The student set up a meeting, and that’s how Kinzler met Eric Watanabe. “Eric and I set up a program where he would bring me in before the jobs were completed. I would meet with the owners and sign them up for the maintenance. I would do the final cleanup of the job site, and then I would start the maintenance on the project,” he recalled.
Kinzler then spoke with his gardener and asked, ”I’m going to start getting maintenance accounts. Do you want to take them over for me? I’ll pay you whatever you need; I’ll add a percentage and do the billing, and you can do the maintenance.” That’s how he started his maintenance department.
Through Watanabe, Kinzler also found out about CLCA. While he was gaining work experience, he was also going through school to get his contractor’s license. He got his license and started getting work from different contractors. He put magnetic signs on the sides of his truck, advertised in the PennySaver, put out flyers and started getting work from different areas.
“I’m building up the company; I’m doing my thing, and then the economy crashed. People dropped maintenance services, construction jobs just stopped. People had no money, the industry just stopped,” Kinzler said. “I didn’t lose my home, but I sure lost everything else. I got rid of everything I could possibly get rid of and did everything I could not to go under. I survived.”
Now, Kinzler was looking for different ways to grow the business. He started talking to management companies, and to HOAs. He joined the local Chambers and, “did other things to get my name out there to see if I could get back to work,” he said.
Small apartment building maintenance probably kept Kinzler in business; he realized that these units needed to look good to keep their apartments full. But he was always creative.… I bumped into Kinzler during this period, and he related that he had been driving by a Target store and saw a sprinkler on the sidewalk, gushing water. He rushed to his office, called the general manager of the store, told him the situation and explained that he could be there in a short period of time, to repair it. The general manger approved the repair, and eventually Kinzler got the store’s landscape maintenance contract on an annual basis.
Because of this type of hustle, Kinzler’s company, SK Landscape, is now very healthy. It boasts a design/build division, a three-crew maintenance division, and presently has a volume of more than one million dollars annually. “I’m not looking to be a large company; I just want to do good work, keep my employees happy, and make a comfortable living.”