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Interview with Dave Milburn, Owner/Operator of Focal Point Landscaping Design and Installation

Focal Point was founded in 2008 by Dave Milburn. After working in various markets and completing a Horticulture degree, Dave’s vison was to create niche brand in landscape contracting. This vison was one of living spaces designed to meet customer lifestyles while simultaneously creating long lasting relationships that would lead to repeat business and word of mouth brand referrals. Focal Point is solely operated out of the Fredericton region.

  • Tell us about your business?  What does your business do?  What products and/or services do you offer?

  Our business is in outdoor living spaces. From gardens, decks and patios to outdoor kitchens, pools and full project management our goal is to be a one stop shop for solution-based landscape design and installation. The solution piece is giving the client what they want even though they may have an out if the box idea. There’s always a solution for every great idea.

  •  Can you say a few words about your clientele?

We are extremely fortunate to have had, and continue to have, the opportunity to work for some truly exceptional clientele over the years. Typically, our bread-and-butter client would come from a referral from another client. From 6–7-month projects to one day spring clean ups, each client has sought us out for what we can bring to the table to help them keep their properties maintained or make their backyard goals a reality.

A large proportion of our customers are business owners themselves with busy lives but want to have quality time with their families when not at work. Our job is to give them that space to enjoy without having to travel to an out of town destination.

  • How many staff do you employ? 

We employ 7 full-time seasonal staff during our peak season (April-December) in addition to the two owners, Dave and his wife Lesley. Most of our employees have been with us for multiple seasons and truly love what they do.

  • Is your business involved in any community activities or organizations?

Where possible our business tries to give back to the community. As active members of the chamber of commerce and Landscape New Brunswick we aim to stay as up to date as possible with our city and our industry. We volunteer with industry committees and allocate sponsorship dollars each year to local foundations such as the Pine Grove festival of lights, the Leo Hayes football team and certain chamber of commerce events to name a few

  • Can you tell me about one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had while working for the business? 

Recently, within the last 3-4 four years, we have completed two extremely complex and rewarding projects for two exceptional clients. While these projects may not be highlighted in our social media feeds or online presence based on privacy requests, they are hands down some of the most outstanding projects any of us ever dreamed of being part of. Both of these customers were truly inspiring to work for and there is no greater reward than seeing years of design and planning and many months of construction come to fruition and hearing those clients give our team such high praise for their job well done.

  • What are you most proud of in your business?

Our team and our determination. What we are asked to take on and execute can be extremely challenging and our team is resilient. We want our clients to get to know our team members that are working on their project. We feel our team will leave an impact not only on the landscape created, but an impact on the customer in general. The proof is in the feedback we get from clients on how hard-working, professional, and accommodating our people are. We can’t help but be proud.

  • Has your business won any awards?

We have won 7 Landscape New Brunswick awards of landscape excellence over the last 8 years for work.

  •  What kind of challenges have you experienced in your business and how were you able to overcome them?

We are forever facing the challenge of skilled labour shortages and employee retention. Our biggest lesson in all of this has been, only grow when we are able. Demand may be high but growth without the right team in place goes nowhere. We are embarking on our 17th season, and we have a strong team that took some time to get in place. Through apprenticeships, training, benefits, opportunity, and appreciation we strive to create an environment that people want to be part of. The work is certainly not for everyone, and it takes time to develop and hone the needed skill set but we are again extremely fortunate to be able to continue to face and manage labour challenges.

  • What sets you apart from your competition?

Not to sound repetitive but it’s our team and our passion for excellence. We continue to uphold solution-based thinking. While some say, ‘that can’t done’ or ‘you really don’t want to get into that’, we find a solution to give our clients what they want. Building trust that lets a customer feel like we are giving them full project management to the best of our ability. If we can show the value of why we are who we are and are why we do what we do, then we have succeeded.

  • What is the biggest risk facing your business or your industry?

Labor shortages are going to continue to plague our industry. We don’t have work from home or flex time options. We need boots on the ground each and every day. All trades are going to increasingly be seeking more and more personnel over the next 4-5 years and the labor pool doesn’t exist. Retention and diversification will be paramount and like many other industries there will be a waiting period to find contractors with availability in their schedules due to understaffed companies.

  • What is next for your business? Any exciting projects you want to tell us about?

We have some pretty unique projects on the go currently that are on pause for the winter so stay tuned for those to be finished up in the spring. There are also a couple projects on the radar for 2025 being finalized that could prove to be very rewarding to construct. 

  • How do you feel about the economy and opportunities in NB?

Our business hasn’t felt much of an economic pinch at this point but costs are constantly rising. It’s hard not to wonder just how much the market will be able to bear based on rising costs. The opportunities are abundant it would seem, it’s the sustainability of costs that is going to be the moving target.

  • What is one thing you wish more people knew about your business?

We are craftspeople. We are a red seal trade designation. We are designers, builders, project managers, problem solvers. There are many career options in our industry.  We are in the business of creating unique and functional outdoor living spaces. Often, we are the last ones brought to the table in the conversation of development and urban planning. We are the green industry with solutions for habitat restoration, urban tree management, storm water management, carbon sequestration to name a few. Our profession can truly help homeowners and businesses develop, build and maintain their properties from the idea to the execution all while working in collaboration with any and all other parties.

  • What is the best advice you ever received as a business owner?

I had a professor from college that made an everlasting impression on me. In taking many courses with him, in particular a course called landscape project management, one statement always stood out. “Maximize billable hours”. We often undervalue our expertise as an industry and become complacent on ensuring we can cover direct and indirect costs. Our biggest income is based on installation or maintenance services (billable time). Cut waste, be efficient and maximize billable hours while knowing the numbers of what you need as a company to operate, have a top-notch workplace, and make a living. We have nothing without billable hours.

The second most memorable piece of information that applies to every aspect of our industry is “the bottom builds the top”. There is virtually nothing we do that this doesn’t apply to. The biggest cost to consumers in what we do is often what is never seen. Without sufficient topsoil depth, you have a poor lawn. Without proper foundation depth and compaction, roadways, walkways, patios, decks etc heave, sink and move. Without sufficient soil nutrients and space, a tree doesn’t grow. Just a few example

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