Contractor Profile: Pierre Bridger

Green Industry Pros Editor Sarah Webb chats with Pierre Bridger, director of operations at Vibrant Outdoors in Indianapolis, Ind., about how he got into landscaping, giving back to the industry and more.

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Pierre Bridger

Director of Operations, Vibrant Outdoors

Green Industry Pros: How did you get started in the landscaping business?

Bridger: I started mowing my neighbor's lawns when I was probably 12 or 13, and it just kind of snowballed. At the same time, I would go knock on doors and take my shovels in the winter and go clear driveways because I grew up in northern Indiana, and we were about a 60-inch snow market. When I got to be about 14 or 15, I got a landscaping job in a really wealthy neighborhood, and I got a referral from that and then more and more.

I graduated high school and went to college and studied criminal justice and sociology and got degrees in both of those, but I never used them. I took a flyer and interviewed at TruGreen and started there as a salesman, then became a sales manager for a couple locations, was a service coordinator and pretty much did everything except branch management in those 17 years.

I came to this company November 2001 and have been here ever since. 

Green Industry Pros: What are the successes or challenges you’ve encountered along the way?

Bridger: From a challenges standpoint, our business model is very different than most landscape management companies. We don’t mow, we do very little of our own irrigation, we do about 25 percent of our gross annual snow removal and we contract out probably 75 percent of our hardscaping, so our business model is really heavily leveraged on subcontracting.

I have talked to friends and peers and they said, ‘You don't deal with the labor problems like I do’  when in fact, in some cases, it's exacerbated because, for instance, with mowing, you not only have to find a mowing contractor that’s going to provide quality service and meet clients' expectations, but also price that has got to be such that you can add an admin fee.

On the success side, I've been here 20.5 years, and two or three of my subcontractors have been with me more than I've been here. One has been with me 22.5 years, and another one's been with me 25 years. Another one’s been with me 18 years. I pride myself on treating labor well. I think we've done a good job recruiting contractors and making sure that they're taken care of. With our business model, we're not the cheapest, and I don't want to be the cheapest. We provide a service, and we know what we do very well.

Green Industry Pros: What advice would you give your younger self starting out in the industry?

Bridger: If you're starting out, network as much as you can with bigger companies that know more than you do so that you can learn from them, do some work for them and show them some value. Then as you grow, you can move on from that. Your mowing services have to stand on their own; all your services have to stand on their own. If you're just starting out, make sure you understand all your costs.

Green Industry Pros: What’s your favorite part about the industry?

Bridger: My favorite part of being in the industry is the people. Our internal team came back last Tuesday, so I had a meeting with them. And my first comment was, “I'm glad to see you guys.” That goes hand in hand with my customers. I’m of the opinion that you need to be very upfront with customers, and you need to have conversations with them that they don't like, but I love that about the industry where you can work with clients, have those difficult conversations and still move forward with the relationship.

Green Industry Pros: What do you like to do outside of work?

Bridger: I like motorsports. When I was younger, I went to probably seven or eight IndyCar races a year. I talk to my daughter who is in the Marine Corps every day or every other day and try to talk to my son who is 18 as much as I can. I love to travel.

I also enjoy giving back some value to the industry. I’m involved in many associations, and in my spare time, I like to try and figure out ways to get more people involved in the industry.