JOPPA, Md. - With roots in the green industry dating back to 1876, the Akehurst family tree has grown to include five generations of family members involved in the family’s business.
JOPPA, Md. - With roots in the green industry dating back to 1876, the Akehurst family tree has grown to include five generations of family members involved in the family’s 125-year-old Joppa, Md.-based business.
Started as a horticulture business that raised vegetables and flowers, Akehurst Landscape Service Inc. has changed its focus several times throughout its history to become a design/build company offering a full range of landscape design, installation, grounds maintenance, interior landscape, holiday décor and snow removal services (see Plantsmen For Five Generations below).
SURVIVING THE YEARS. Celebrating the company’s 125-year milestone this year, William E. Akehurst, president and CEO, said the key to the company’s survival has been adjusting to the changing needs of consumers. "As a family and a business, we have adjusted with the times," he noted. "[The business] has grown with what the demand and the marketplace was."
A prime example of this adjustment was the company’s temporary shift from supplying nursery plants to producing corn and raising chickens for egg production during World War II. "Nursery stock wasn’t a popular item for making money unless you had overgrown material that could be used for camouflaging some of the defense plants," Akehurst explained. So the family adjusted by replacing nursery fields with corn and converting open property to chicken pens in order to make income during the war.
The economy has certainly fluctuated in the past 125 years, causing the need to adjust through periods of growth and recession, most notably the Great Depression. Despite several down economic times, Akehurst Landscape Service has endured those hardships. "When the economy got tight, we adjusted to watch our expenditures. We did not do a lot of expansion or purchase a lot of new equipment. We kind of tightened the belt and rode it out," Akehurst related.
Akehurst Landscape Services Inc. management (left to right): William E. Akehurst, Brian Akehurst, Jay Tarleton, John Akehurst and William K. Akehurst.
FAMILY TIES. An educated family with a variety of specialties has helped the company stay in business for so many years, too. "[Family] gives you strength, particularly in times when there may be downturns," Akehurst said. "There’s strength to draw on one another, and each one adds their own strength to it."
He said that each member of the family is responsible for its own segment of the business, and that separation even tends to work its way into everyday events, such as at the company’s Aug. 23 anniversary celebration in White Marsh, Md. At the ceremony Akehurst’s three sons and a nephew presented him with a gold shovel. "My oldest son Bill makes the introduction, my youngest son John does the wording they had put together to make the presentation, and then Brian, the middle son, he pulled it all together," Akehurst explained. "That’s typical of the family operation. Each one has his strong points, and not everybody’s strength is in one area. By pooling those strengths it makes a stronger unit."
|Plantsmen For Five Generations|
FIRST GENERATION: Charles Akehurst started the family horticulture business in 1876 with his son C. Edward. The business started by raising vegetable plants, carnations, violets, bedding plants, tuberoses and other flowers. The company’s first greenhouse measured only 12 feet by 18 feet, and more greenhouses were added as the business grew. Wood-burning furnaces heated these wooden-framed and glass-covered greenhouses. In 1883, the father-son team started growing rose bushes in the field.
SECOND GENERATION: In 1888, C. Edward bought out his father’s interest in the business and concentrated on growing carnations as a cut-flower crop. He developed new carnation varieties, including the popular ‘Mrs. Akehurst.’ In 1918, he converted a large portion of his greenhouse area to produce roses for cut flowers and reduced carnation production due to weakening prices in that market.
THIRD GENERATION: C. Edward’s four sons - Raymond, Ernest, D. Elmer and Carville G. - started working for their father, which resulted in the company name changing to C. Edward Akehurst and Sons. The third-generation sons built a new range of greenhouses in 1927 devoted almost exclusively to production of cut roses and rose bushes and operated the greenhouses under the name Akehurst Brothers.
Branching out from Akehurst Brothers in 1930, Carville G. started Carville G. Akehurst, a company dedicated to growing azaleas and other nursery stock. His company later changed its name to Akehurst Nurseries and was incorporated in Maryland in 1972.
FOURTH GENERATION: Carville G.’s three sons, Carville M., William E. and Lauren, joined their father’s company in the early 1950s. During their years at Akehurst Nurseries, the company produced container-grown plants and added landscaping as a service.
In 1976, the Akehurst family’s centennial year in business, Akehurst Brothers and Akehurst Nurseries merged into one family owned and operated business known as Akehurst Nurseries.
In 1983, the company discontinued its rose-growing operations and refocused its flower-growing areas to the growing of container nursery stock.
FIFTH GENERATION: In 1985, William E. bought out the interest of his brothers, Carville M. and Lauren, and introduced the fifth-generation of Akehursts to the company: his two sons, William K. and Brian. Also during that year, the company discontinued its nursery operation and shifted its focus to design, landscape construction, landscape installation and grounds maintenance. The change in focus prompted a name change to Akehurst Landscape Service Inc. to more accurately depict the company’s services. The company later rounded out its services to include interiorscaping, holiday décor and snow removal.
In 1992, William E.’s youngest son, John, also joined the company.
Lauren, William E.’s brother, had previously branched off from the core business to form his own residential landscaping company, Akehurst Landscaping Inc., but rejoined the core business in spring 2001 when Akehurst Landscape Service purchased his company.
Akehurst Landscape Service’s current leadership includes fourth-generation family member William E. as president and CEO and fifth-generation family members William K. as head of its landscape department, Brian as head of its grounds maintenance department, and John as head of its interiorscape department. Additionally, William E.’s nephew, Jay Tarleton, joined the firm as administrative officer.
- adapted from "Akehurst Landscape Service Inc. - A family owned and operated business" by William E. Akehurst
FULL SERVICE. Akehurst Landscape Service relies on a comprehensive service offering to maintain its success in the competitive Baltimore, Md., area. "We can provide our clients with the whole ball of wax from the design to the installation to maintaining it. And then the snow removal, the interior and the holiday decor round out those services," explained Akehurst.
He said the company introduced that latter services as a result of customer demand from its commercial accounts, which include residential communities operated by property management companies. "That was part of reason we got into snow removal. They said, ‘Look we want you to do the whole thing,’" Akehurst related.
The company’s interiorscaping division also developed from requests by commercial accounts. Ironically, it grew on its own and helped the company grow some of its maintenance accounts. "[People] would call us and tell us they wanted us to maintain an office building, and we weren’t maintaining the outside. So it’s kind of gone hand-in-hand because we’ve picked up some exterior maintenance accounts as a result of having the interior and vice versa."
Akehurst Landscape Service’s clientele has fluctuated between commercial, residential and a mixture of both over the years, including a recent focus on commercial clients. However, the company recently revived its residential business by purchasing a previous offshoot from the family business - Akehurst Landscaping Inc., which was owned by Akehurst’s brother Lauren and served a predominantly residential customer base.
NOSTALGIA. Born in 1935, Akehurst remembers the later years of the Great Depression and recalls stories his parents told him about the business. "I can remember when my father, if he brought $2 a week home, he was doing good," he said.
In preparing for the company’s 125-year anniversary celebration, Akehurst’s sister found some early paperwork from the business that shows how much times have changed throughout its history. "My sister had some things she had gotten from when my father passed away, and came in with an invoice. Pop had installed a landscape job for a home, and it was something like 15 or 19 shrubs with a total price of $86 including labor," Akehurst related. "And his profit margin on it was very good!"
Additionally, he recalled looking through old payroll records that showed greenhouse workers making 15 to 20 cents an hour.
A FAMILY INDUSTRY. Although Akehurst is unsure of the reasons behind it, he has noticed that the green industry is populated with many multi-generation family businesses. "In this industry, you probably find more of them than you do in most industries," he noted. "I know different companies that are third and fourth generations in their businesses."
Those companies and Akehurst Landscape Services have survived through a number of generations due to perseverance, Akehurst related. "The biggest thing would be: adjust as need be, and don’t look at obstacles as roadblocks, but rather look at them as opportunities and move forward," he said.
The author is Internet Editor of Lawn & Landscape Online.
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