2024 State of the Industry Q+A: Peter Lucadano, RedTree Landscape Systems

Peter Lucadano, CEO of RedTree Landscape Systems, provides his thoughts on the current state of the green industry.

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Peter Lucadano, CEO of RedTree Landscape Systems, provides his thoughts on the current state of the green industry.

Green Industry Pros: What’s your take on the current state of the industry and can you give insight on how 2023 went for your company?

Lucadano: Sure, 2023 was a challenging year nationwide. In Florida specifically, we had several challenges we were working with. We had the worst drought conditions in over 10 years, and that placed a significant amount of water restrictions on our tropical climate. Many of the landscapes maintained by commercial contractors suffered through that time period.

We’re trying to educate clients that irrigation is a supplement, but it can’t be a 100 percent replacement for precipitation. We tried to grow our irrigation portion of our company by adding on additional staff and vehicles to better accommodate demand, while also offering supplemental water via water trucks where possible.

Green Industry Pros: What were some of the other challenges you saw throughout the year?

Lucadano: Florida enacted very significant immigration laws specific to Florida that may have scared a lot of the Hispanic workforce. The Hispanic workforce is a backbone in our state for the green industry, and even though many of those folks were properly credentialed, they became very concerned about the severe standards put in place by Florida, and many families wound up relocating to states that were less restrictive toward immigration.

We’re very fortunate that we have a diverse mix of ethnicity that works for us—we always encourage that. We tried to get ahead of it and hold a lot of workshop meetings with not only our employees, but with families, and offer them help and better understanding of the laws. Where some of (our employees’) local communities were panicking, we tried to reassure our staff and their families that a lot of their concern was unfounded. It turned out tremendously well for us because we were able to retain most of our workforce, whereas many of our large competitors lost quite a few workers.

Green Industry Pros: What successes did your company have in 2023?

Lucadano: We saw growth—the market is a little tentative, but construction is still reasonably surging in Florida. It seems like obviously everybody's waiting to see what happens in the next election. We were able to still get a tremendous amount of word-of-mouth business. We’re looking at 10 percent growth over the course of the year, which is great for us.

Green Industry Pros: What are some of your expectations going into 2024?

Lucadano: We want to do more focus of right sizing pricing for our industry. Every industry was hit with price hikes—just like at the grocery store to the average American. So far us, fertilizers, herbicides, equipment, trucks—everything just shot up.

Like most green industry companies, it would be impossible for us to pass on that level of increase to our maintenance clients, but for 2024, we’re trying to reposition some of our maintenance clients to understand the value of annual increases, and we’re reevaluating our maintenance clientele.

Simply put, those clients that are not improving their properties with landscape enhancements will no longer be a maintenance client fit for our company. If clients decide we're not going to invest in their property, they're not going to buy mulch, they’re not going to trim the trees, or they’re not going to do new plantings in certain locations, then that means that they can't justify the investment we make to have

Green Industry Pros: What’re some of your expectations for the next three to five years?

Lucadano: We’re seeing a lot of consolidation. That's the other side of recurring revenue is that it’s very attractive, both to equity groups and to companies that are trying to encourage tuck-unders. We're just seeing that run wild across the board. I think that might stabilize a bit.

There’s just less market presence overall, in the larger property commercial world, because the barriers to entry and barriers to continuing successfully are our real challenge companies, so we're seeing less competition.

Green Industry Pros: Are there any other major trends you’re seeing within the industry?

Lucadano: I see more and more autonomation. We need more creative engineering to reduce manual labor and increase autonomation.

For example, there is existing laser technology for weed control in the agriculture industry. I think there’s a real opportunity for that to fade into the green industry—it’s environmentally friendly, it reduces labor and weeds are a huge issue, especially in Florida. That’s technology we’d like to see development and investment in.

Green Industry Pros: Switching gears, what would you say is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Lucadano: I’ve been thankful that I’ve received a lot of good advice over the years, and after 40 years in the industry, I like to think I’ve made almost every mistake you can make.

The best advice I can give is that you have to good care of your employees. Nothing happens in your business, long term successfully, if you don't retain, and not only retain your people, but encourage a positive, caring culture. If you don't care about your employees, they won't care about your clients, and it becomes systemic. I’ve seen many, many companies fail. They have all the investment in the world and all are great business ideas, but all the equipment will sit still without great people to run the equipment and put forth the effort needed to go the extra mile in taking care of your clients. 

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