Rock Hard Landscape Supply is a family-run firm that stocks an array of products for beautifying lawns and properties. With four locations in Minnesota, the company stocks everything from mulch, boulders, and natural stone to hardscape items such as concrete pavers and walls, fireplaces, lighting, and pond supplies.
Of these goods, “I would say our mulch, boulders, and bulk products are kind of our bread and butter,” shares Andrea Feist, who co-owns the firm with her husband, Brian Feist.
The company’s services include custom stone fabrication, core drilling, and bagging. Rock Hard can cut steps from fieldstone boulders to create natural stone stairs, whereas core drilling involves drilling into boulders, often to create water features such as bubbler rocks. Bagging refers to placing rocks or mulch into bags so they can be easily transported.
Rock Hard can trace its origins to a lawn mowing business Brian Feist first established in middle school. The business was a hit, and he eventually expanded into landscaping. In 1998, two years after he graduated from high school, he founded Brian’s Lawn and Landscaping, Inc. The transition from lawn-cutting to landscaping was led by his fascination with machinery.
“When he was in sixth grade, he started with his first lawn mowing accounts,” recalls Andrea Feist. “So, he really just kept growing, from lawn mowing into landscaping. They go hand-in-hand, and your clients want both… He kept buying bigger machines to allow him to do more, and then he got into a lot of boulder work.”
Brian developed a specialty in which he set boulders and built walls for customers and contractors for whom he subcontracted. Eventually, he transitioned once again and began selling boulders, stones, and other items to contractors. In 2005, Brian founded Rock Hard Landscape Supply and focused on sales. As a supplier, he stopped doing any landscape work himself, and for good reason. “It’s a conflict of interest when contractors are your main customers. They don’t want you competing against them for work,” Andrea points out.
Rock Hard opened its first supply yard in 2008 in Jordan, Minnesota. The early days were a struggle. “The first couple of years as a hardscape supplier, that was hard because it takes a lot of capital to do that. You’re working to convince customers you’re the real deal… getting vendors to work with us was a challenge, getting people to trust you’re going to do a good job with them,” says Andrea.
Brian also suffered from unfortunate timing; the entire economy underwent a severe downturn in the years 2008 to 2009, which did not make life any easier for the young business. Through a combination of hard work, industry know-how, and constant reinvestment in the company, however, Rock Hard gradually expanded.
The company moved its headquarters to Burnsville, Minnesota in 2010, where it has remained ever since. That same year, Andrea made a career move of her own, giving up teaching (she has a degree in math education from the University of Wyoming) to concentrate on managing the company’s office work and raising their family.
In 2019, Rock Hard opened another supply yard in Farmington. Last year, a fourth location was added in Andover.
Rock Hard’s supply yards are vast, well-organized spaces filled with paving stones, natural stone, boulders, and other products of various shapes, sizes, and colors. It also carries outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and fire tables which can be fuelled by wood, propane, or natural gas.
Landscape lighting, including pathway lights, spotlights, and other forms of illumination are available as well. Such lighting is designed to enhance the outdoor experience and boost safety by reducing the likelihood of tripping over something in the dark while also keeping burglars away. Rock Hard works with various firms to supply fire, light, and rock-related goods.
The company also grinds wood to make mulch, which is then either colored with non-toxic dyes or kept natural. This mulch can be used in gardens, alongside driveways, or in any spot a property owner sees fit. Rock Hard has worked on or provided materials for countless projects over the years, creating beautiful backyards, driveways, and patios featuring paving stones, stone walls, man-made waterfalls, and natural stone walkways with carved steps.
Rock Hard offers deliveries of its materials via its vehicle fleet which consists of dump trucks, semis, various trailers, and a boom truck with a grapple. The company’s larger dump trucks can haul up to 20 tons of material, while its specialty end dump trucks, used for moving boulders, can manage up to 22 tons. The smaller single axle trucks can handle mulch, dirt, and rock loads up to five tons. The boom truck is also used to move boulders, which are then put into place with the grapple. It delivers its wares throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, and into neighboring Wisconsin and North Dakota.
Having multiple locations in Minnesota has been a boon to the company’s bottom line, as contractors throughout the state appreciate the convenience of having a nearby supply yard and will sometimes meet customers at these yards to pick out products, inspect goods, or select colors.
Of course, Rock Hard’s success is attributable to other factors as well. Competitive pricing and excellent products and services helped the company establish a reputation for quality and fair dealing. Brian Feist’s background was also instrumental in building the business. Having worked as a landscaper himself, he knew firsthand what products and services contractors needed and the nature of their work. He also understood landscape industry terminology and conditions.
“People respected Brian when he was installing,” and that respect continued after he became a supplier,” says General Manager, Kevin Becker.
Today, about 80 to 85 percent of the company’s revenue stems from wholesale business with installation contractors, while retail sales account for the remainder. Rock Hard works with a range of contractors, from individuals who do projects for private landowners to commercial contractors who handle larger works.
For all its rapid growth, Rock Hard has not forgotten the importance of the personal touch. “Brian is open to a phone call from any customer. That doesn’t happen really anywhere else, where you can call the owner and ask a question,” states Kevin.
The company’s upward momentum was not stopped by the COVID-19 virus, which reached pandemic proportions in March of 2020. While the firm was determined to keep its staff safe, the pandemic actually resulted in a surprise windfall. “Sales-wise, like all building supply centers, those were definitely boom years for us.”
Due to the pandemic, many businesses went into total or partial lockdown, and employees were often encouraged to work at home. Given that recreational and commercial venues were frequently closed as well, many at-home workers decided to renovate their properties. As a result, hardscape suppliers such as Rock Hard were kept busy during the worst of the virus.
At present, the company has 45 to 50 employees, although staffing levels fluctuate depending on the season. Naturally, it is busiest in warm weather months when landscapers and contractors are most active. Rock Hard used to do snow removal, but ended that service a few ago to focus on better preparing for the busy season and selling bulk and bagged salt and shovels during the winter.
Anyone looking for work here “doesn’t have to have a background in this, but they have to be personable,” says Kevin. A strong work ethic, customer focus, the ability to show up on time for each shift, and a “get-it-done” attitude are also prerequisites, he continues.
Moving forward, the company aims to expand its bagging business and is focused on strengthening its existing capabilities and ensuring that “processes and procedures are tightened up,” and further efficiencies are found, Kevin shares. In terms of new business, Rock Hard relies heavily on word of mouth and referrals from satisfied customers, and having a fleet of branded trucks also helps get the company’s name in front of the public.
The firm faces challenges like any other business, but the future looks promising, says Andrea. “We’ve worked our way up from the bottom of the totem pole of suppliers,” she says, noting that the company wants “to be the top landscape supplier in the market and stay there. We want to hold on to our quality and not compromise.”
“Being at the top of the food chain does bring its challenges too,” Kevin muses. “If you’re on top, then people are shooting for you, but that’s okay. I’d rather be up there than down below.”