Landscape Structures founder releases new book tracing the successes and challenges of the company’s unusual history
By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Like the strong, innovative playground equipment Landscape Structures creates, founder Steve King’s life has been filled with plenty of colorful twists and turns.
He’s written about them in a new book, “A Legacy of Play,” which is available at no charge to anyone who tours the facility (601 7th St. S. in Delano), or for purchase at Amazon.com.
“As any entrepreneur will tell you, starting, running, and nurturing a business is an all-consuming and sometimes scary task. But it’s incredibly rewarding, too,” Steve writes in the book’s intro.
Landscape Structures’ sales exceeded $100 million in 2008, but worldwide success didn’t happen overnight. Steve’s book honestly recalls the early years, when he and his wife, Barb, struggled to make ends meet.
“We ate popcorn and macaroni and cheese, Spam on a good day that was about it,” Steve wrote. “I vividly remember still feeling hungry after dinner.”
The young family sold their furniture to raise money, nearly lost their home to foreclosure, and worked up to 18 hours a day.
Steve remembers feeling exhausted and lightheaded often, and his weight dropped 10 or 15 pounds.
“We decided we had to think hard about getting real jobs, so we flipped a coin,” Steve wrote. “Heads, we get jobs. Tails, I’d spend all my time finding money for the business.”
The coin toss came up heads, but the couple decided to make it two out of three. Realizing that they weren’t ready to give up their dream, Steve and Barb pressed on, and eventually, things began to turn around.
“A Legacy of Play” chronicles the journey of both business and family meeting Barb on a blind date; the birth of their daughter, Erin; the adoption of their son, Adam; the company’s first profitable year (1976); development of a business philosophy; and expanding to overseas sales, to name a few.
Steve dedicated the 150-page book in memory of Barb, 61, who passed away in 2008 after battling cancer for several months.
“In her final years, she worked more hours than I did she loved it here,” Steve wrote.
Barb helped create a distinguished company culture at Landscape Structures, with an informal, family-style management approach and pride in workmanship.
“… We gave people authority and responsibility, and we made sure we didn’t give responsibility without authority,” Steve wrote.
In 2004, Barb and Steve created an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), so that as the company grows, the number of shares employees own also grows.
As of the end of 2012, Landscape Structures is the only US playground equipment company that’s 100-percent employee owned.
“I’m confident that employees will continue the legacy that Barb and I started,” Steve wrote.
“A Legacy of Play” includes a group photo and names of all current employees. It also features a multitude of eye-catching playground photos from 1970 to today, family photos, quotes from customers and employees, and much more.
Steve originally began the book to educate employees, but it grew into a project of wider notice for anyone with an interest in innovation, history, success, relationships, business, and, of course play.