We had the wonderful pleasure of speaking with inspiration Kimberley Martin, Owner of Cyneburg Scapes, on her experience of working in a male dominated field, and gaining respect from colleagues and clients. Throughout the podcast Kimberley speaks on the importance of learning how to treat your clients well.

*Header image credit: Kimberley Martin, Cyneburg Scapes

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Full Podcast Transcript

Grace Mase  0:08

Hi, this is Grace Mase, and we're super excited to have Kimberley Martin with us. She is the CEO of Cyneburg Scapes, and so she's based in Seattle. Welcome, Kimberley.

Kimberley Martin  0:09

Thank you.

Grace Mase  0:10

All right. Well, I know you for a couple of years now. And I heard your story about how you got started. And I just love for you to share this with our audience. How did you get started?

Kimberley Martin  0:26

It's a little crazy. It was more of a fluke than something I really kind of went to, I was actually just doing a different industry and decided that I didn't enjoy that industry much, kind of looked around. I had a friend that was willing to kind of give me some grunt labor, and I kind of learned some of the basics. And it just kind of exploded from there. I mean, my great grandfather was a carpenter, master carpenter. So I had it in my blood and found that I really just loved working with my hands.

Grace Mase  1:04

Well, working with the hands and actually committing and being an industry and really working through the details. And along the way, obviously, your journey took a bit of a turn but turned out to be the best for you. Well, I suspect along the way, you faced some challenges, too. And what were they and how did you overcome them?

Kimberley Martin  1:22

Yeah, a number of challenges. I mean, the first is, obviously being a woman in the industry. It's one of those that when I was working for another company before I started my company, you know, I worked with guys. Pretty much, I was the only woman out in the field. And I felt like I had to prove myself at every job site that I went to.  I had to re-prove myself every time, which was a huge challenge. And it gets a little old, but I'm also one of those that persevere and kind of went, "you know. I'm just gonna keep plugging away, I'm gonna keep learning." And eventually, I really gained a lot of their respect. It took a while. And then when I started my own business and kind of went into the deck building industry, it was the same thing. A lot of the homeowners that I meet with there are guys, and they're like, "So you're the one meeting us and you have people that do the work?" I'm like, "No, I actually do most of the work myself." And it really surprises them. But usually, by the end of the project, I've won over most of the husbands. The wives are easy, but I win over most of the husbands because they see how detail-oriented I am. I show up when I say I'm going to show up, I get the job done, but it is still proving yourself every time you meet with a new client.

Grace Mase  2:33

Right, but you talked about having to win the husband and the woman or the wife seems to be easier? Why do you think that's the case?

Kimberley Martin  2:44

Women relate very well to women, right? And women know, intuitively it seems like that women can get the job done. And when I go in and deal with it, not that the husbands aren't great, don't get me wrong. A lot of them are really great, but it's one of those whose initial reaction is like, "Oh, you're a woman, and you're gonna be working with tools?" You know, because a lot of times I know more about tools and how to use power tools than a lot of them do. It may just make them a little uncomfortable or a little like, okay, I haven't really thought about, gosh, I have daughters would they may be interested in doing that. Because it just doesn't, it just doesn't seem to register. It's normal for a guy to go in and work with his hands. Not as normal for a woman to do it.

Grace Mase  3:29

But talking about it just your level of attention to detail was what caught their attention. And how that won them over.

Kimberley Martin  3:36

Yeah, I'm kind of a perfectionist, and I think a lot of women are. So once I kind of talked about my process and stuff like that most of the guys get right on board, because they're like, "Oh, wow, you actually think about that." I'm like, "Yes, I pre-plan it." I find that makes the job go smoother.

Grace Mase  3:53

Well, that makes sense. Because me any day everyone wants to have high-quality work and the level detail of matters. Sometimes we think about a deck, the whole entire landscape it’s the level of detail is that makes it visually compelling and interesting. And so having that attention to detail, it does get the results to you know, achieve the vision they desire versus when things the details not done correctly, you bound to have that nagging feeling at the end of the project.

Kimberley Martin  4:26

Yeah, well, I do I mean, the client may not say, but I'm like, "Alright, is that really acceptable, or do I need to redo it?" But you know, it shows because I have a number of my current clients or clients that I've had over the last year, that long before their project was ever done, they refer me to their friends. So I'm not even done with their deck and they're calling all their friends going, "Hey, if you're thinking about having your deck re-done, this is who you need to talk to." So, it's great.

Grace Mase  4:56

Well, I think you're doing a fantastic job because that is the cheapest way to get continued projects, their ongoing referrals, word of mouth, that's the most effective and most probably the most rewarding for you as well.

Kimberley Martin  5:11

It is why by the end of, I always say probably kind of by the end of my second year, I was 100% referral based, I don't actually really do any advertising.

Grace Mase  5:23

That's fantastic.

Kimberley Martin  5:25

Yeah. So, it's been great.

Grace Mase  5:27

So I imagine you probably have to deal with some challenging clients.

Kimberley Martin  5:32

Don't we all?

Grace Mase  5:33

You don't need to name names? I understand, but if you don't mind, share some of the stories and how did you overcome, or how did you manage those challenging situations?

Kimberley Martin  5:45

Well, you know, I mean, they're always varied. Because anytime you go on to, and in construction, in general, especially remodeling, there's what's on the plan, and then what really happens in the actual, right? And in between the plan and the actual, a lot of times, usually, the problem children that I have, is you also have inspections going on, right, because a second-story deck or, or a deck that's above 30 inches requires a permit. So it's managing the expectations of the client that goes, look, here's how we're planning it, right? Here's how I plan to build it, but there's this unknown, which is the inspection process. And I can't control it. So usually, a lot of the problems that I have, that come up with my homeowners are because of that process. And it's really about managing expectations, right? Sitting down with them, you know, and go, look, things may change, you know, every city, every county has their little difference every inspector has their pieces that they are really specific about, or are really focused on whereas other inspectors focus on other things. But it's really, you know, I found that, that when I deal with a client that's a little unhappy, or whatever, it's usually about managing those expectations, and really sitting down with them and kind of going, "Okay, where do we fail in the process? Was it the communication was at the timeframe was it . . ." So I try to really be a good communicator with my clients. And I find that that usually solves 99% of the problems I have with any of the clients that I do. And that's a really small percentage of my business, right? Because I've, I've learned also to kind of trust my gut when I'm sitting down with a potential client. I've actually kind of went, I don't think I'm going to be a fit for your project, because I listen to my intuitiveness. And sometimes you kind of know, depending upon the kind of questions they're asking or how they're asking them or the details that they're really focused on. They just may not be a good fit for me, not that their project is not a great project, it just may not be a fit for the way I do business.

Grace Mase  7:51

Right? And let me ask you, how do you in those situations? How do you respectfully decline those opportunities?

Kimberley Martin  7:58

Usually, I go to them and I go, you know, I asked the kind of if they have a specific timeframe in mind when they're trying to have their project done. Because a lot of times that doesn't necessarily fit into mine if they're trying to do it for a party or something like that, which I do find. But more often, it's, it's more of a look, I think you have a great project, I think this you know, this could be really, really great for you guys. But based upon where I'm at with my business, I just don't think, you know, this project is a good fit for my portfolio with where I'm going in my business. But I can refer you to a couple of other companies that it may be a better fit for.

Grace Mase  8:37

Okay, great. So be honest, and forthcoming with them from the very getgo. And also give them clear referrals for them to have the next steps. So they're not ending with you.

Kimberley Martin  8:49

Yeah, I don't want them to go out on, not that I pay attention to Yelp and stuff. But a lot of my clients do that go out there and go, you know, we know this person, she's kind of a jerk. That's not what I want out there. You know, it's because there are projects that are either a little too small or, you know, I just don't think they're a doable project. And I don't really want to tell the customer that I think they're kind of pie in the sky with where they are money-wise. I had a client, potential client the other day that's like, it's a big deck and it's got railing because it's, you know, it's five feet up off the ground and railings not inexpensive. They're like, yeah, we only want to spend about, you know, this amount for it. And I'm like, hmm, not sure that's doable to have a no-maintenance deck for that price tag, but I didn't say him. I said, Look, I'll vet it out. I got a couple of options for you. Let's see where the numbers lie, and then have a conversation about it. But in the back of my mind, I know that the amount they've set aside for it isn't going to be enough not to do what they want.

Grace Mase  9:51

And I love how you talk about managing expectations. What would your top three tips for anyone who is interested to understand what's the best way to manage expectations? You already mentioned how to be respectful, and also give them clear information, educating them so they can manage their way through.

Kimberley Martin  10:11

It's communication? Right? It's really staying in good communication with the client. Being as clear as you can, I find that sometimes we a lot of times in the industry, we talk in jargon, most of your potential clients aren't going to know that our clients don't know the jargon. So you got to kind of dumb it down and do it in basic, what I call basic English. So but it's all about just staying in communication with your clients, right? And yeah, it's just intuitive for me to be you know, you will always want to show respect for your clients, because you don't know who they know, right? I never want to burn a bridge if I can avoid it, right. So I, you know, be respectful and take the time to get back to them. And set the expectations kind of right at the beginning. I let my clients know, it can be up to 48 hours before I get back to you because I have other projects going on, may not be able to answer the phone when you call. So, but communication is the big key.

Grace Mase  11:09

That's great. And I love that you just talked about that it really comes down to having a sense of self-awareness. Be able to read the other person or your homeowner clients to making the assessment to have that empathy to understand, they may not understand the jargons or terminologies. How do I break it down simplify in terms where they can understand they can relate to. So educating them the way they want to be educated, so they can make the right decision for themselves?

Kimberley Martin  11:42

Yes, it all comes from past experiences, right? Where I was saying one thing, and the client thought I was saying something else. I mean, learning to educate the client and respecting myself, being the expert at what I do so that I can educate them. You know, that's all from past experience, right? I've had, I've made all the mistakes, right? Where I didn't communicate with the client where it wasn't respectful where I didn't educate them to the point where they actually understood it. So you know, I grow and learn from every project and every client that I deal with.

Grace Mase  12:13

That's awesome. Well, the reason why you grow your company so well over the years is that all these things that you just described, being respectful, educating, but all these came from good learning through the experiences.

Kimberley Martin  12:25

Yes, yes, absolutely.

Grace Mase  12:28

And be able to be nimble and adjust as you go along as you grow your business. And every client teaches you some valuable lessons, and taking those lessons in heart and modify some behaviors to make sure that you continue to do the best you can.

Kimberley Martin  12:44

Yeah, yeah. And that's, that's really what it is for anybody in the industry, not just women in the industry.

Grace Mase  12:49

Now, do you have a favorite project? If so you don't have to name names, either. I understand all your projects, probably favorites, just like talking about kids, but is their favorite project that you just think about and just makes you smile?

Kimberley Martin  13:03

There's a couple. One was a full front yard/backyard landscape that I did for a couple here in Bothell, the area that I live in, and they were really open to almost everything that we discussed because it was, he had kind of some thoughts of this is what I want to do. And I said well what about these options, she was really open to it. But you know, we did a full front yard/backyard landscape, we did water features, we did a bluestone paver patio, we did an integrated firepit just a lot of really unique pieces. Obviously, some of the drudgery, you know, irrigation systems and the basics. But the clients were so stoked at the end of it, right? That was just, I mean, he wrote that last check, and he's just smiling the whole time. He's like, I know it's expensive, but god I love my backyard.  So that was one of my early ones, I did kind of a two-deck system with some paver patio between the two. They had a small deck they wanted to build off there directly off the back of their house for the hot tub, right? And then further out in the yard they had another deck because they had quite a slope. So the deck gave them more usable space, right? But they didn't want to connect the two and make their whole backyard a deck. So we did some paver patios, there and some natural grass and stuff. And again, just phenomenal clients, right, just phenomenal clients that were super stoked, you know, happy to look at different options we talked, you know, we ran into a few problems, some dry rot and some things that were unexpected, and they just kind of were like, we trust you, we know you're going to build it, you know, to code or beyond code and make sure it's really safe for us. And, you know, I'd take pictures along the way to make sure that they're well educated again, but it was just a really fun project and just great clients.

Grace Mase  14:55

Well, I think you just touched the fact that you spend the time educating them and help them to feel clear or confident to make those right decisions, and plus the craftsmanship you deliver, really delights them in the end.

Kimberley Martin  15:11

That's you know if they're happy and smiling at the end that means I did my job.

Grace Mase  15:16

That's awesome. Now you kind of talked about the landscape piece of it. I'm kind of curious, do you see the trend that's evolving over time? Like, Zeroscape, sustainable landscape, hardscape? What's a trend that you're seeing now? How do you think is going to evolve for the next couple of years?

Kimberley Martin  15:34

Well, you know, it's, it's one of those that the zero...everybody uses the jargon. So let me keep it very, very simple, perfect, but the sustainability of your yard with minimal maintenance is really the direction I think a lot of people are going, that doesn't necessarily mean all hardscape, it just means a yard that they either bring service in, you know, once a month, or a couple of times a month to do the basics, or something that they can do, you know, a couple of hours in a weekend, every other weekend, because people just don't want to be tied to their yards, right? Unless you got kind of that avid gardener. So you really have to incorporate all the pieces, which is, you know, the irrigation. So they're not out there having to water their lawn, right. I mean, that's, let's face it, nobody really likes to move their hoses around every day. It's also creating I find a lot of people want to create kind of different areas. So they don't want everything to look the same. But maybe they like this little pocket worry. You know, if they have the yard for it, we create this little bench in this little hidden pocket where they can kind of disappear into their yard and find a lot more of that. And water is becoming huge, you know, fountains, you know, creek beds, you know, something to do with water, almost every landscape I'm doing incorporate something of that, even if it's as simple as some sort of a birdbath. And then I try to find plants that really fit into and educate the client plants that are native to the area that we're in. And then probably the last piece I’m seeing, almost everybody, even on decks is doing lighting now, right? They want to be able to enjoy it after it turns dark, right? So low voltage lighting is a big piece of almost every landscape I do and definitely became more and more every deck that I'm doing.

Grace Mase  17:24

That makes sense, because now with the West Coast and Seattle area, evening time can be quite pleasant as well. And so to be able to extend the outdoor living space as part of their lifestyle makes complete sense.

Kimberley Martin  17:38

Yes, and you're seeing it across the country. When I talk to other people that they’re in the industry and stuff is across the country, people are trying to, to move more outdoors. Well, okay, unless you're in Arizona in the summer. But it is, you've seen a lot more people doing, you know, big barbecues or outdoor kitchens, or creating kind of that outdoor patio room. Right, and that's really the trend.

Grace Mase  18:05

That makes sense. And then I imagine also the front yard, the curbside appeal, you hear this from realtor quite frequently.

Kimberley Martin  18:14

Realtors are focused on that. Yes, absolutely.

Grace Mase  18:17

What are things that matter, if let's say people are ready to get the property for sale before the summer starts. Things that clearly curb appeal definitely is an important value that adds to the property. What kind of things would you advise people to consider?

Kimberley Martin  18:36

Making sure that your address can be seen from the street so you know, big letters that people can see as they're driving by lit up, making sure your trees don't obscure your house or your shrubs aren't overgrown. Right, just keep it neatly trimmed, maybe replace them with dwarf varieties or something like that. And then a neat, tidy well maintained walkway up to your front door is really nice.

Grace Mase  19:03

That makes sense. Just as it caught my attention I realized that when you think about outdoor living, pets are part of many family's lifestyles. Oftentimes I understand for dogs specifically outdoor living is critical to make sure they also have their own space and when you're designing for a family with pets, how do you advise them? What do you suggest they consider?

Kimberley Martin  19:27

You know, it's one of those that do they you know with their dog is it spend more time indoor or outdoor? Do they have a dog door so it has easy access? Obviously, make sure the yard is fenced to keep the dog you know contained. Especially if it's a runner dog, you know, not every dog will disappear from a yard. You know, the invisible fence in some places is really really popular. The problem is most people ended up cutting the wire at some point unless it's really buried deep enough or well-marked because they got to plant something and they cut through that it's a very thin wire. I find I do more fences than invisible fences. But the other piece that I talked to the dog owner, you know when you're doing a yard is, does your dog like to roll in grass? And let's make sure there's some grass for them to roll in, you know, do they have a specific place they go and do their duty? Poop town? Let's make that an area that's just dirt with you know that maybe we screen it off a little bit I mean, so there's a lot of things to consider with pets.  It also depends on the size of the pet. Do they like to play fetch and chase? Do you get a lot of sun in your backyard because I had a client that their dog doesn't play, I mean, we literally removed all the lawn in the backyard because it was a soggy mess. They got no sun back there. Right? So we ended up creating and their dog was small that they didn't really need a space for the dog to run. But that's not doable for everybody. So it's just again, communication with the pet finding out, you know what the pet does? Do they take their dog to the park? So the dog doesn't tear up their yard? Right? Yeah, and then signing it for that, for that specific needs of that pet.

Grace Mase  21:11

That makes sense. Just even thinking about landscape, outdoor space, there's a lot of different considerations to make sure all pieces come together to result in a positively delightful experience outdoor.

Kimberley Martin  21:27

Yeah, and what I'm finding actually one of the trends for a lot of dogs that for people again, it's a convenience factor, as there's now a couple of turf companies, they're specifically making pet-friendly turf. That's a little bit hypoallergenic for the dog so that you know, when it rains well and stuff like that it's easy to clean up their poop town area. But it gives the grass an area that they can roll and play in without having a lot of maintenance or having you know, sun and other issues going on in their yards.

Grace Mase  21:59

The years I know you and I always find you so supportive of all the woman. This is a bit of a shift here. I kind of curious, have you received any supports from other women in the industry?

Kimberley Martin  22:11

Yes, I always look at it from the perspective, I'm part of a national association of homebuilders, Professional Women in Building, which basically is a great group that helps give support and anybody come in, in the industry, especially women. I always recommend trying to find a local chapter because it's a great support system, right. So I also look at it from the fact of is I have a specific mentor that had been in the industry for 20 plus years gave me some really great knowledge. When I was getting my business started gave me the support to go, yes, you can actually start your own business and survive on it. Let's face it, there have been years where you can't so you know, it's one of those. So it was great when I was getting started that she gave me a lot of support. But I also look at it when anybody that I meet that's out in the industry, I always look at it from the perspective of they give me support, because there's always something I can learn, right, because not everybody does what I do or has the same history that I do. So maybe something from their background, or the specific industry that they work in, could give me some knowledge. It gives me knowledge, it may be something that at some point, I may be able to apply to my own business. So I look at it as I learned something from every woman that I meet that's in the industry.

Grace Mase  23:32

That's very impressive. And I know from my experience working over the years with you is you done the same thing for me, you inspire me, you will continue to find ways to help me to understand things and including me and lifting me up and I see that with you with other how you support other PWB community.

Kimberley Martin  23:51

And I try I mean, I've always, you know, even from a young kid with my folks and stuff we were taught, it's better to give than to receive, right? And I've always felt that way. And it's something that I've applied into my business world. It's like I'd rather try to support somebody else and give something else. It eventually will come around for me when I need it. But I'm not looking for what can I get out of this. It's what can I give to somebody else to bring them a little higher, get them better knowledge and get them the next job.

Grace Mase  24:23

You definitely talk the talk and walk the walk without giving back and I see this over and over. So thank you so very much Kimberley for all you do.

Kimberley Martin  24:35

You know it makes me happy. Right when I see other women successful, whether they're in this industry or just successful in general. It just makes me warm and fuzzy inside.

Grace Mase  24:47

Really you're awesome. Well, if anyone wants to get in touch with you, I'm sure a lot of people would like to get in touch with you and learn more about what you do. How would they contact you?

Kimberley Martin  24:57

There's a couple of ways, email is always good. As long as they understand I don't necessarily get to it every day. And it's kim@cyneburgscapes.com. And it's not the easiest to spell, but at CYNEBURGSCAPES.com. And then I do have social media. I don't know what it is offhand. You can contact me through my website, www.cyenburgscapes.com. Or you can always give me a call and my cell phone number is 425-829-1286. Again, with the caveat that if I don't recognize the number leave me a voicemail I will get back to you.

Grace Mase  25:43

Hey, Kimberley, I'm kind of curious. What's the story behind your business name?

Kimberley Martin  25:47

It's actually a derivative of my first name in Gaelic, which is my history.

Grace Mase  25:52

Oh, is that right? That's interesting.

Kimberley Martin  25:54

Yep. Once somebody knows it, they don't generally Forget it.

Grace Mase  26:01

I know I won't. Well, it's been really awesome to speak with you. And thank you so much for taking your time, Kimberley. Yeah, I very much appreciate it. Thank you for listening to this episode Revivify Podcast, and we'll see you next time.