In 1973, Mike Harris launched Harris Landscape Construction. He was young — recently graduated with a degree in ornamental horticulture and a few years of experience with the Washoe County Parks Department. And he was ambitious — determined to build a company that would be known for quality craftsmanship that lasts a lifetime. In the close to half a century that would follow, and even as the company changed hands, that philosophy would remain the foundation of HLC.
More than a Tagline
“Quality craftsmanship that lasts a lifetime” became a tagline for HLC. But it wasn’t dreamed up by a slick advertising team. It was the vision that Mike had from the very beginning. He built his company on a specific philosophy — “that we would do the highest quality work that we could possibly do, with the best materials, and with the best qualified employees.” Notably, it wasn’t built on offering the most inexpensive work. “We weren’t the cheapest by any means,” Mike explains, “but we did this phenomenal work for the people who wanted quality work” and not just the lowest price. “That’s what we built our name on.”
That’s not to say his customers didn’t get a good deal. “When you walked off the job,” Mike says, “our customers were always really happy that they got more than they bargained for. And that was important. They absolutely got their money’s worth.”
In the late 2000s, business was booming in more ways than one. With a thriving new business — Lavender Ridge, the retail store-turned-event-venue — Mike found himself at a fork in the road, and he made the decision to sell HLC to Dan Cozzi. They’d known one another in passing for years. Mike had a lot of irrigation projects over the years, and Dan had a plumbing business. Their sons ended up playing football together in high school, and a professional acquaintance become a friendship. And when Dan approached him with an offer to buy HLC, Mike accepted. “He went on with the same philosophy that I built my company on, which was really great,” says Mike. “I’m glad he kept that quality in mind.”
Dan did indeed run HLC with the same focus on quality. He continued what Mike had established, which included cross-training employees and paying them weekly, with higher wages than comparable businesses. “I took good care of them,” Mike says. “I didn’t keep one guy on the shovel and one on the rake. I cross trained them to do pavers, fences, decks, all kinds of aspects of the industry. They appreciated it, they learned different trades and it reflected in their work. They’d be successful, and I owed my success to them. That’s how it worked out for me.”
That’s how it worked for Dan, too. And when Adrian Testa, Dan’s future son-in-law, joined the team, he started at the bottom and began working his way up, learning the ins and outs of the industry like any member of the team. That element of cross training creates competent, well-rounded employees — it was an excellent way of doing business in the 70s and it’s still effective more than 40 years later. It would prove to be particularly valuable in 2019, when Dan passed away unexpectedly. His daughter Audra inherited the business and together, she and Adrian took the HLC reins. As they navigated the dual complexities of suddenly running a busy business and grieving the loss of a father and a father figure, one thing never wavered — their commitment to maintaining the quality craftsmanship that made up the foundation of the company.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed. “It’s great that Adrian is carrying the ball,” says Mike. “He has top quality employees and continues to do just phenomenal work. He’s doing a great job of it. Dan kept the same philosophy and as the person who sold his business and to see it so successful and just continuing on, it really makes me feel good.”
The Tradition Continues
Ask any contractor, and they’ll tell you that a rock-solid foundation is essential for a successful project. When Mike began HLC back in the 70s, that’s what he built — a foundation that would support the business for a lifetime. Nearly 50 years later, through new ownership and tragedy, HLC remains one of Reno’s most established landscape construction companies.