Paulita LaPlante, a former research scientist at a University of Minnesota transplant lab and one-time medical device saleswoman, is the face of Prescription Landscape in an advertising campaign for Kawaski Engines.

The turf-and-snow trade traditionally has been a man’s business.

LaPlante, whose late husband started Prescription Landscape, is also an interesting story that’s about more than cutting grass for commercial customers.

“Kawasaki Engines of North America recognized us because of our story and how this became a woman-owned business,” said LaPlante. “We also are a racially diverse company. That resonated with them. And we are one of the largest landscaping firms in Minnesota.

“The Kawasaki Engines are engines of choice for Toro equipment, mostly because they perform better for a large landscaper like us. We own a lot of Toro equipment. We’re not doing small properties. Some of the [mowers] have huge decks.”

Bloomington-based Toro has done well in recent years making energy- and water-efficient equipment, from mowers to snowblowers and irrigation.

LaPlante, whose company is growing organically and through acquisitions, owns a couple hundred Kawasaki-powered Toro mowers and other equipment. The business-to-business campaign by the Falls Agency of Minneapolis focuses as much on Prescription Landscape’s people as it does on engine power.

LaPlante said her people, even more than machines, are the high-performance engines of the company.

And the challenge, particularly in an economy hungry for good workers, is hiring and retaining reliable people willing to work hard in a demanding business that’s conducted in weather extremes, summer and winter.

St. Paul-based Prescription Landscape employs up to 200, depending upon the season, including snow-removal and landscape-construction workers who make $15 to $40 an hour, plus full benefits and profit-sharing into the 401(k) retirement plans.

“We try to offer the best employment [package] in the market,” LaPlante said. “We trust people to do the right things under the supervision of crew managers. We are keen on employee training. I also believe in paying a fair wage.”

Last year, the company, which is heading toward $30 million in annual revenue, acquired the outdoor-services business of Arteka Cos. of Shakopee, which handled Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium.

That move, including landscape construction, further diversifies Prescription Landscape from its volatile snow-and-ice trade, which is weather-dependent.

The company also recently landscaped the new Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota. Its biggest clients include major banks and health centers.

LaPlante’s late husband, Colin O’Neill, started Prescription Landscape in 1980 after earning a degree in horticulture from the U.

LaPlante, who had been around the business as an investor and supporter while maintaining her own career in medical sales, joined the company in 2015. O’Neill was ill with cancer. He died in 2016 at the age of 62.

“Not only does a death change your perspective on life, but it’s an opportunity to literally change your life perspective,” LaPlante wrote recently in a post on the Kawasaki Engines website. “I always told my husband during his last few months that he had saved my life as he was losing his.

“I was on a plane traveling every week, living a workaholic’s life. It’s odd to say that him getting sick was a gift he gave me. But it was. And it made him happy to know he helped me understand his mantra: be patient, be kind, find balance.”

LaPlante, 61, joined the Prescription Landscape as chief strategy officer.

Ryan Foudray, 41, O’Neill’s minority partner, became chief executive.

Foudray has the same “incredibly supportive attitude toward a woman’s role in business that Colin had,” LaPlante said in the Kawasaki website post.

“We have [different] strengths and skills” but work well together.

LaPlante said she understood the business well enough to come up to speed quickly as a Prescription Landscape executive.

“Over 30 years, I was promoted to increasing levels of responsibilities within medical device companies,” she said. “I used a lot of my earnings to support acquisitions and [finance equipment] on behalf of Prescription Landscape.

“Colin’s philosophy was you build a successful business by investing in its people and equipment.”

LaPlante and O’Neill seek to be a strong regional competitor in a Twin Cities landscape increasingly dominated by national consolidators such as Asplundh, Brightview and TruGreen.

And the owners say success is rooted in responsive, local ownership, smart management and a productive, appreciated workforce.

“The crews truly are the ‘face’ of our company,” Foudray said. It is them and their work that the customers see.

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.