Business as Unusual

What sets DK Landscaping apart from the many yard work companies dotting the landscape? It’s their philosophy, Business as Unusual. David Lee, co-owner of DK Landscaping, considers how he can have a positive impact on society. “The norm in this industry is to hire illegal workers and pay them under the table,” says David. “It’s much cheaper, and if you’re thinking only of your bottom line, it makes sense. If you’re thinking of a better society, it doesn’t.” Undocumented workers aren’t covered by Worker’s Comp, a major expense for a business. If they get hurt and go to a community clinic or hospital, taxpayers pay the bill. They are not paying into the Social Security system, which is slipping toward insolvency and threatening the retirement prospects of millions of Americans.

DK employees, born in Mexico, are in the U.S. legally. DK provides all permanent employees with stable, living wage jobs. They are protected by Worker’s Comp, liability insurance, and the complete package of DK benefits, including medical coverage and paid vacations and holidays. They are raising their families here, paying taxes, spending their money locally, and helping to build the local community. They’re Americans. The company could cut its labor costs in half by doing what most other landscaping companies do. David won’t hear of it. He takes pride in his way of doing business.

Even through the economic downturn of recent years, DK has not laid off regular employees or cut pay or hours. David believes that if his workers are happy and don’t feel squeezed, they will do an excellent job and make the customer happy.

One concern of David Lee’s is that we are tearing down our society by putting maximum profit before all else. Shipping jobs overseas is one example. Not only jobs, but whole factories are shipped to foreign countries, seriously harming the job prospects of their former employees and the next generation of hopeful employees. This harm is done in the name of saving money, although even that benefit is in question when we look at the society-wide damage done. The jobs and the product quality and social benefits that are lost are thought of as collateral damage.

This is not David’s approach. “Live what you believe,” is his motto. His clients have this philosophy, too. They could hire the “guy with a truck” to come mow their lawn at a lower price. But for them, it’s not all about the bottom line, either. They want to have trust in the people they hire, know they’ll show up when they promise to, do the job they promised to do, and charge the rate they agreed to. They want to be able to communicate with workers in English. These clients are also willing to pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everyone working on their property is covered by Worker’s Comp and liability insurance and won’t be seeking redress from them if anything happens. Some have had the experience of paying for a job twice, once to someone who did the work in a shoddy manner, and the second time to someone who did it properly. They realize they come out ahead paying once, even at a higher rate.

Is it actually a higher rate? “We charge the same as other legal businesses,” says Lee. “We provide the best value in Sonoma County because we do it right the first time. We back our service with a money-back guarantee. It’s hard to go wrong with that.”

We don’t realize the ways illegal, unlicensed operations are harming our communities. Carrying commercial insurance for the company truck is one example. If you get hit by a truck without it, and the insurance company finds out that the truck was on a job when the accident occurred, they won’t pay. Commercial insurance costs two to three times more than personal auto insurance. But we all pay in the long run.

In big ways and small, David Lee is focused on doing Business as Unusual. An example that seems small, except to the neighbors, is the kind of leaf blower he buys. He’ll spend  $20 to $50 more for the quietest blower available, in order to be a good citizen and not annoy the neighbors.

David Lee has sympathy for immigrants. He is one himself. He was born into poverty in Hong Kong, where he lived with his family of seven in a single room with no electricity. Buckets took the place of plumbing. When his mom managed to bring home an apple, all five siblings shared it. Toys were a distant dream. So he can relate to people struggling to make ends meet. He loves seeing people succeed and is always doing what he can to help them. His charitable acts are legendary, and he has won a “Charitable Business of the Year” award and many kudos for his gifts and services to those in need.

David’s wife, Kathy, explains their philosophy of giving. “We’re far from wealthy, but we’re thankful for what we’ve got. We’ve been down, and we take nothing for granted. If we have a little extra, I’d rather give someone some comfort—food, a sleeping bag—than go shopping for myself. It makes us feel good.”

Says David Lee, “It’s not about cutting lawns. It’s about changing the world. Please join hands with me to make the world a better place.”


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