Most landscape companies lament about the difficulty in finding solid people who want to work in this industry. There is also a general frustration over the lack of uniform professionalism throughout the industry. In turn, public misperception can get in the way of some companies' aspirations of improved pricing and greater value.
Industry associations—both state and national—are working hard on various initiatives to help address some of these challenges. Many landscape companies are doing their part too.
Outdoor Expressions in Canton, GA, is a Landscape Industry Hidden Gem for the second straight year. The company—co-owned by Brian Beavers, Ray Wiedman and Richard Marks—grew 74% from 2012-14. Sales grew another 26% last year. The company is on pace to finish this year up another 10% or so.
The full-service firm is seeing much of its recent growth in commercial construction. "The nice thing is that 90% of those jobs lead to ongoing maintenance contracts," Wiedman points out. "The unique depth of services we provide helps us stand out. Our scope of services is customized for each project. Anything from construction management for entire recreational areas to renovating residential backyard landscapes, our capabilities range from initial design concept through completion and ongoing maintenance."
Outdoor Expressions employs roughly 85 during the season and 60 year-round. Growing the employee base by nearly 50% for peak season is requiring more and more creativity these days. Wiedman says the company will be looking to utilize the H-2B seasonal guest worker visa program next year—at least to a certain degree. He and his partners do not want to overly rely on that avenue for seasonal employees. H-2B will simply become part of a diverse recruitment strategy.
"For the past couple of years, we've been actively involved with the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) by way of our membership in the Georgia Urban Agriculture Council," Wiedman tells. "CEFGA promotes careers in construction-related disciplines, including landscaping, through education, training, and placement of both high school students and adults in Georgia. Budget cuts have nearly done away with horticulture clubs and classes at the high school level, and student numbers have dropped in numerous college and technical school programs related to our industry."
Outdoor Expressions is an example of a company that is taking matters into its own hands. The company has provided outreach to area colleges including the University of Georgia, Gwinnett Technical College and Chattahoochee Technical College. Wiedman and his staff also connect with six area high schools—all within a 20-mile radius.
"We had six or eight high school students (juniors and seniors) come to us this summer for jobs," Wiedman says. "We start them out on maintenance crews and go from there. We want to expose them to as much as possible; operating various types of equipment, pruning, etc. A couple fell in love with this and have expressed an interest in working full-time in this industry.
"Word has gotten around," Wiedman continues. "Now a lot of high school student athletes are inquiring about summer work. We've sponsored some local high school teams so we're pretty well-known in those circles. So this year we'll be reaching out to different coaching staffs so they can remind their players to apply for summer jobs."
James Martin Associates in Vernon Hills, IL, and Boulder, CO. Jim Martin started his full-service landscape-snow company in 1977 in Illinois. A second branch known as L.I.D. Landscapes was established in 2013 in Boulder, CO. The company now employs roughly 278 peak season employees and 145 year-round.
Martin believes that all businesses go through four phases: survival, survival with meaning, success and significance. Having been around for many years now—and generating millions of dollars in annual revenue—JMA is in the midst of its significance phase.
Gifting is a hallmark of JMA's culture. For example, for every new client the company lands, $100 is donated to the charity of that client's choosing. "Through our donations, we have clients for life, long-term employees, and long-term partnerships with our vendors," Martin relates. Over the last 10 years, JMA has raised more than $275,000 for charitable and community organizations.
JMA also seeks to influence the next generation of landscape professionals. The company has awarded more than $24,000 in scholarships to students who have expressed an interest in pursuing careers in the landscape and horticulture industry.
Environmental footprint is another of the company's core values. JMA points to several ways in which it has reduced its carbon footprint:
- Reduction of 51,000 cubic yards of landscape waste being hauled to landfills, resulting in a decrease in fuel consumption and reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 149,380 pounds (since 2004)
- Uses local, organic mulch by recycling landscape waste vs. non-local shredded hardwood bark mulch which is estimated to be a reduction of 932,110 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions
- Utilization of biodiesel has resulted in reduction of 269,450 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions (since 2003)
- Has saved 7,820 gallons of fuel by keeping services within a 20-mile radius, resulting in a reduction of 14,960 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year
- Reduced equipment use by 20%, saving 18,700 gallons of fuel and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 362,780 pounds (since 2005)
Also on the environmentally friendly front, JMA offers organic-based fertilizer, drip irrigation, native plantings, rain barrels and cisterns. "We work with each client to design the most sustainable approach to meet their needs," Martin says.
Good Natured Lawn & Landscape in Newton Falls, OH. Jack Harvey is a good-natured fella', and for good reason. First and foremost, he is confident that his doctors have figured out a heart condition he's had for the past few years. Secondly, the landscape company he started in 2010 seems to be getting over that proverbial five-year hump—doubling sales last year. Good Natured now employs eight during the season.
"We're taking a bit of a step back this year," Harvey relates. By "back" he means holding sales to a level just slightly above last year. "As the saying goes, 'it's better to fall down walking as opposed to running,'" Harvey continues. "We just want to make sure we can continue delivering quality service and not stretch ourselves too thin."
So far, so good. Aside from its two well-branded box trucks and a little bit of Facebook activity, the company has done no advertising, Harvey points out. Thus far it has been all about consistent service delivery, customer retention and referrals.
"A big reason for our growth last year was that we took on a new, large commercial client," Harvey tells. "The management company heard about us and gave me a call to set up a meeting. I really feel that if I can sit down with the client, I can sell them. I'm not the biggest contractor in the area, but my crew can show up and give consistent quality. That's all most customers are looking for. We must have done a good job last year because now we're in a three-year contract. Apparently we're the seventh contractor this company has had in like 15 years. So I feel pretty good about what we've been able to accomplish—especially being a small company."
Carpenter & Costin in Rutland, VT. Founded in 2005, Carpenter & Costin has been riding a tidal wave of growth over the past couple of years. They've done so profitably, as well, thanks to the fact that they have the right people in the right places—now with a total of 28 employees. And as a graduate of the Working Smarter Training Challenge, the company also runs a highly efficient operation.
But why the strong sales growth as of late? Co-owner Russ Marsan points to his company's involvement with Come Alive Outside, a concept turned movement and now non-profit organization that aims to help landscaping companies engage their communities and reconnect them with the great outdoors.
Marsan and his partners, wife Renee and Matt Cataldo, embraced the Come Alive Outside concept six years ago. Doing so has helped to open closed doors and build strong relationships with influential people—working collaboratively to effect positive change in the community.
We did a podcast with Russ Marsan about this (greenindustrypros.com/12263804). You can listen to him tell how creative event ideas such as Winter Fest, a community snowman building contest, ice sculpting exhibitions, a Harvest Fest and Spring Planting outing all helped to rally his community and employees around Come Alive Outside.
"Our Come Alive Outside efforts are laying the foundation to position our company as the market leader in the outdoor living profession," Marsan says. "We initially utilized Come Alive Outside to connect better with current clients, helping us to be perceived as more than just a service vendor. What we've found is that through the Come Alive Outside events we've done, we have also started to capture the attention of some of the movers and shakers in the community, such as the parks and recreation department and other non-profits. Getting kids back outside is something we all believe in. It makes perfect sense for our company to help lead that charge. Who better than the people who design, create and maintain outdoor spaces?"
Strauser Nature's Helpers in East Stroudsburg and Ephrata, PA. Zech Strauser is another contractor who has embraced Come Alive Outside. He was an avid outdoorsman who particularly loved to bike and ski. As a business owner, he soon found himself chained to his desk and computer more and more, pouring over financial statements, proposals, etc. The stress was taking its toll, and Strauser knew a change had to happen.
We did a podcast with Strauser (greenindustrypros.com/12264448) where he talks about how Come Alive Outside inspired him to make a change—in both his personal life and with his full-service landscaping company. "Our company now has a Come Alive Outside action team that plans, hosts and participates in community events," Strauser tells. "We encourage every team member, from the 'new guy' right on up to the management team, to donate two or more days a year to volunteer opportunities."
Strauser has incorporated the mission of Come Alive Outside into his own company's mission and core values. He shares his personal connection to Come Alive Outside—along with his company's—with every potential new employee he talks to. It's about making the great outdoors more environmentally friendly, functional and beautiful. "That mission is one that potential employees, especially millennials, can connect with," Strauser says.