Klaus Schmechtig arrived in America from Germany in 1955 with little but the dreams he had of making a better life for himself. Like other immigrants in that era, he knew that any future relied on cultivating skills in a trade, so he went to work for a man in the landscaping business.
As fate would have it, that man was the uncle to a woman, also a German immigrant, who would become his wife just two short years later.
“My dad worked with my mother’s father. The uncle’s business was located in Northbrook. Mother was from Stuttgart, Southern Germany, and dad immigrated from Breslau, which was in East Germany then but is now Poland,” explains Michael Schmechtig, who continued his father’s dream and legacy with Schmechtig Landscapes, which was founded in 1960, the year he was born. “Mom’s father was a Master Gardener in Germany, but it was my uncle that gave my dad his first landscaping job. He asked him for a raise to help him support his new family. When the raise didn’t come, he decided to start his own business.”
The rest is, as they say, history.
Schmechtig Landscapes has thrived on the same old-world traditions Klaus and Gabriele brought with them from the old country—handed down to Michael and recently Michael’s son Matt Schmechtig, who represents a third generation on the family business.
The company’s success is building on a philosophy of treat the landscape of a client’s property as an extension of their home, combining design solutions with experienced horticultural landscape maintenance services. These long-term client relationships are the backbone of that success, with a reputation built on referrals.
“I wish my Grandfather was around to see this,” says Schmechtig. “He was also a landscape contractor. He did not work with my father but you could say that Matt is the fourth generation to practice the trade.”
Schmechtig, who turns 60 this year along with the business, says he was cutting the family lawn as soon as he was tall enough to push a lawnmower.
“I started working for my father during my freshman year in high school. He would drop me off at swim practice every morning and pick me up after practice to work with him. I enjoyed working outside, getting a tan, getting a good work out. Clients with swimming pools would invite me to take a dip. I never did,” he said. “There’s one story I can’t share but I did get to meet some celebrities.”
When Michael graduated from high school, his mother said he should “go to school and get a real job.”
“Like a good son, I listened to her. I received a bachelors degree in computer science and math from University of Illinois,” says Schmechtig, explaining that both he and son, Matt, joining the family business wasn’t necessarily their first choice. “Matt received a degree in culinary management from The Art Institute of Chicago. But we both realized we loved working outside, working with plants, and creating functional and beautiful outdoor spaces and environments, so we both came back to the landscape profession.”
They also both pride themselves on taking what Klaus built, and bringing it into a new century.
“My father passed on many great industry and business philosophies and procedures that we still follow today,” says Schmechtig. “His main concern and motivation was always to do whatever was in the best interest of the client, which is to provide a functional and aesthetically pleasing living environment. He also believed in doing the job the right way and not to cut any corners. We want our work to stand the test of time.”
And stand the test of time it has, in ways that go beyond the North Shore.
Today, the company’s creations can be found from Chicago to Lake Geneva and have been seen on HGTV and on WGN’s “Bring It Home.” A member of the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association since 1988, the company was also the first landscape design firm to design the outdoor space at the Merchandise Mart’s DreamHome, has won the Best of Houzz Award eight years in a row since 2013, and is a proud supporter and board member of Designs for Dignity.
“Our mission has always been to be a leader in the industry. Our work is always a team effort and getting recognized for what we do is very rewarding and develops a sense of pride within the company,” says Schmechtig, who also served as president of Illinois Landscape Contractors Association in 2017. “We are happy to share our work and horticultural knowledge with the public. Our goal is to educate the public regarding proper landscape design and maintenance practices, making the environment a better place for all of us.”
Schmechtig Landscape’s work with Designs for Dignity, a Chicago nonprofit that has harnessed the power of design to transform spaces for the marginalized and at risk for 20 years, is very near and dear to the core of what the company is all about.
“Helping nonprofit organizations create functional and aesthetically pleasing indoor and outdoor environments that they can be proud of affects so many people,” says Schmechtig. “We feel it is our obligation to give back to the community and this has been a great avenue for us. You always get back way more than you give. It is truly a pleasure working with so many talented people and worthy organizations.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has postponed plans to celebrate Schmechtig Landscape’s 60th anniversary until 2021, Michael Schmechtig says the family still has a lot to look forward to this year.
“I just moved into a new home and I am excited to renovate my landscaping … it needs it,” he explains. “I will be putting in a new front walk made with natural stone. First impressions are important. I will also create a new backyard outdoor room to entertain family and friends. The space will feature an outdoor kitchen, dining area, and lounge area with a fire pit. I have a deck off of my family room where I started my first container garden. I am also growing vegetables and herbs. It’s been a lot of fun using what we grow when we cook. The best part is that the chipmunks, rabbits and squirrels haven’t found it yet.”
The company has continued serving clients throughout these unprecedented times, and if any thing, business is booming.
People are spending more time at home and are making more design and maintenance improvements to increase the use and value of their homes,” he says. “This is why we are in business, to improve the use and the value of a homeowner’s property. With so many people working from home it has made it easier for us to find time to meet with them.”
Schmechtig is also excited about the promise and the new energy that his son brings to the company his father started all those decades ago.
“To survive and be successful, a company must always reassess and evaluate itself to stay relevant. Matt brings us a new perspective and ideas on what we can and should be doing,” he adds. “I am so impressed with his attitude, ideas, and knowledge regarding running the business. He has introduced us to a new software package to help us run the business that we will be implementing this year. We are working on new procedures and systems in all areas of the business and we are already seeing results. I am looking forward to seeing this progress continue.”
Schmechtig Landscapes is located at 20860 West Indian Creek Road in Mundelein. For more information, call 847-566-1233 or visit schmechtiglandscapes.com.