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Formula for Success

Formula for Success

Third generation contractor treats employees, customers like family.

The secret to the long-term success of Coughlin Service Corp. is simple: Treat employees and customers like family, and everything else falls into place.

Serving central Connecticut, the Coughlin family has provided quality property services to facility owners, managers and homeowners for more than 45 years.

“We have good quality people who have been with us for a long time, and that translates to the type of service we provide to our customers,” says Ted Coughlin, owner of the third generation landscape and remodeling company based in Middletown, Conn.

“We make a commitment to our employees that says ‘we need to provide for you,’” Coughlin says. “It’s important that they feel part of this team. And ultimately, our customers become part of that team. Most of them are long-term, word-of-mouth customers. Everyone is pulling in the same direction, and the whole combination just seems to work.”

Coughlin Service Corporation’s primary goal is to address customers’ needs by taking a big picture approach. The company provides home remodeling, landscape design, installation and maintenance, and snow removal services.

“We are not just cutting your lawn; we are trying to do something more than that,” Coughlin says. “It’s a simple concept, it’s almost subliminal—you wouldn’t have the same landscape design at a residential home as you would at a hospital. We try to take an approach that says the landscaping is part of your overall plan.”

The company’s landscaping and ground maintenance division provides service to small local branch banks, residential homes, large condominium communities, new shopping centers, medical facilities and banks.

Coughlin contractors also restore, repair, rebuild or remodel entire homes or individual rooms. They also build overlooks, and rebuild sheds, decks, stairs and handrails.

During the winter months, Coughlin offers snow removal to a roster of regular clients, including the hospital and satellite medical facilities in its home area of Middletown, Conn.

Third-generation firm

Coughlin’s father started the business in 1968 as a property management company. Having grown up in the business, Ted went to school for landscape design and nursery management, formally joining the company upon graduation in the mid-1980s.

In 1996, the company changed its name to Coughlin Service Corp. to reflect the variety of services it offers. Coughlin’s son, Tom, joined the company last year after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in business management, and is pursuing a master’s degree in construction management. Coughlin’s wife, Lisa, recently joined the business and manages the financial side.

“The business has been good to us over the years,” Coughlin says. “We have great customers, most of whom are long term—some of them we have had since I was mowing their lawns with a push mower as a kid.”

Two years ago, Coughlin purchased a Cat® 302.7D Mini Excavator for its landscape division. He likes the compact nature of the machine, which enables crews to use it in places where the company’s larger equipment can’t go.

“We installed a landscape with it recently,” Coughlin says. “It removes all of that old plant material very easily. It has rubber tracks, so we are not damaging the lawns. It’s a quiet running machine, and we are able to be in and out of a jobsite with minimal disruption.

“This has dramatically changed how we operate the landscape business,” he continues. “We have multiple buckets, including a grading bucket and a couple of digging buckets to match the various tasks. And the thumb attachment just adds versatility—I wouldn’t buy it without it. We can pick up large stones with the thumb. We also pull shrubs with it, and it’s good for moving material.

“The Cat Mini Excavator has turned out to be indispensable for us,” Coughlin adds. “We had a need for digging drainage basins and things like that. It has become a valuable tool.”

Coughlin also utilizes the mini excavator on small demolition jobs, such as taking down a small garage.

“We knock it down, pick it up and put it in the dumpster,” he says. “It’s one move, as opposed to handling the product three or four times—so this has saved us a huge amount of time.”

During the winter months, Coughlin uses a Cat IT14G Integrated Tool Carrier for its snow removal operation. The tool carrier is outfitted with a 12-foot pusher to plow parking lots. With a bucket attached, the tool carrier is used to load salt trucks and move snow piles. During the warmer months, the IT14G is used to move and load mulch. A set of forks enables Coughlin to stack tools and equipment, and move large piles of brush.

“We use it around the yard, and it has become indispensable for us, almost like a forklift,” he says.

Next winter, Coughlin plans to add a snowblower attachment.

“The machine is all piped and plumbed for it,” he says. “The last few winters in Connecticut have been very snowy, and this could save us a lot of time and energy.”

When competition increased due to the recession, Coughlin says buying Cat equipment made his company more competitive, as it was able to operate with less manpower while providing customers with the same level of service.

“Both Cat machines enable us to do more with less,” he says. “I think everyone in the industry has to find ways to be more efficient, and do the job at lower cost, because we weren’t going to get any more money for that same job. So we had to find ways to build a better mousetrap. And, a lot of that, especially on our snow side, we did it with equipment. Now we can get more work done in the same amount of time.”

Saying thanks

Last year, Coughlin received a surprise visit from Cat dealer H.O. Penn CEO Rob Cleveland, who was interested in learning about Coughlin’s business.

“What impressed me most was the fact that Mr. Cleveland took the time to personally stop by and thank me for choosing Caterpillar and H.O. Penn,” he says. “It’s that level of commitment to customer service that I strive for in my business, and will make our partnership a long-lasting one.”

Coughlin takes the approach that as long as he treats his customers fairly and provides quality service, the odds are that they will become customers for life.

“We are in the people business—we provide services with people to people,” he says. “And it has worked well for us going on three generations now.”


“Caterpillar has a great reputation for quality equipment,” says Ted Coughlin, owner of Coughlin Service Corp. “The machines are quiet, and that makes a huge amount of difference when one of our guys is operating a machine for an extended amount of time.

“The controls are very simple to use, and training time is minimal,” he adds. “The machines stay together—they are very tight. We’ve been very happy with them. You have to buy the right piece of equipment for the application, but they never seem to be overworked. They are geared right, and sized properly. We have had no problems with Cat machines at all.”


“Our dealer has been phenomenal with little parts that we have needed here and there,” Coughlin says. “H.O. Penn always has the stuff in stock that we need, and they are eager to help. And for those occasions where we don’t need a service tech to come out, they will provide help over the phone and walk us through the repair steps—they’ve been great.”

In the three years Coughlin has owned his Cat machines, he experienced only one small issue with the mini excavator’s dozer blade when he first purchased it.

“An H.O. Penn technician came out and helped us get the blade up so we could move it around,” he says. “Then they obtained the part and did the repair in our shop the next day at no charge.”

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Categories: Landscaping,Mini Excavators