Southern success

Southern success

A strong reputation followed this Michigan company southward and helped them grow.

July 14, 2011
Lindsey Getz

Doug Trost, vice president, and Terry Trost, owner, of Trost Irrigation.



Terry Trost values his employees. In fact, he values them so much that when the Michigan economy took a turn for the worst in recent years, he was unwilling to lay off his loyal workforce. Trost had founded Trost Irrigation, a full-service irrigation company, in the mid-70s, and the company had become close-knit and built a good reputation within the community. But with 100 employees, there was no way a company of that size could survive the rapidly shrinking market share. So Terry Trost made the decision to reinvent the company elsewhere. In 2006, Trost Irrigation not only continued business in Michigan but also expanded into Florida, relocating employees to the new location and maintaining jobs. It was a well-researched decision that proved to be a wise one. And from there, the company only continued to expand.

 When the Michigan economy first hit shaky ground, there were many businesses scrambling to adjust. Many of them weren’t surviving. But Trost Irrigation knew they had to do something different. Terry Trost was not willing to say goodbye to his devoted staff. Lawn & Landscape spoke with Doug Trost, Terry’s son and vice president of the company, who shares the story of how his father came to the decision to consider an expansion.

“At the same time the economy started suffering, a publicly held home builder company was in the process of relocating its employees to the Florida market so (my father) approached them with the idea of expanding with them,” Trost says. “We were able to save the employees’ jobs and move equipment to the South. But a few years later, the economy in Michigan wasn’t doing any better and we were approached with the opportunity to work with the same builder in the North Carolina market. The timing was just right.”

But expanding into the North Carolina and Florida markets wasn’t the only change for the company. Trost Irrigation has continued to expand to this day. Just this past winter, Trost had the opportunity to expand into the Chicago market using some of their existing Michigan connections (people who had relocated to the Chicago area). Already, the company has built a fast-growing division servicing the suburbs of Chicago. Trost attributes much of this to making – and maintaining – strong connections. After all, good business is all about relationships. In fact, Trost says he wouldn’t advise anyone to even consider an expansion unless they had developed connections in the new market they’re exploring. He believes it was the company’s strong connections that helped make their own expansion successful.

“The opportunities to expand were there, but so were the connections and the relationships we had built,” Trost says. “The homebuilder we expanded with knew that if they continued to use Trost Irrigation, they would be hassle free. The same goes for our Chicago expansion, where we used connections to help make it happen. We have built up strong relationships over the last 35 years in the business and customers know that when they call Trost, they don’t have to worry. We will get the job done right and on time.”

With Trost Irrigation having its hands in so many markets, it might seem like a lot to manage. But with three sons in the business, Terry has had all the help he needed – already in the family. While Doug, Terry’s youngest son, helps continue the Michigan legacy and handles the new Chicago market, his eldest son Jeff runs the Florida division while Bob, the middle child, took over the North Carolina office.

Since the company has always been family-run, the decision of who would take over the new businesses was an easy one. “As a family-run company my brothers were given the opportunity to head up the southern market, leaving my father and myself to continue the Michigan legacy,” Trost says. “The businesses don’t need close monitoring from Michigan because they all really operate on their own. With it being a family-run business, it’s easy to trust one another and to let each company do its own thing.”

In fact, each company has become its own entity – adapting and fitting in with their specific market. “The two southern markets are totally different companies than back here in Michigan,” Trost says. “One of the nice things about the southern market is that they work year round. So rather than laying employees off in the winter, we have the opportunity to move them south and work until they are needed back in Michigan.”

While business is going well, there’s no question that the economy is not where it used to be. And with Michigan being so hard-hit, Trost Irrigation continues to make changes into present day. “We still make changes to this day in terms of dealing with the struggling economy,” Trost says. “We are a leaner and smarter company and have cut out our wasteful spending and overhead costs. Overtime is the biggest issue we face. We’ve made our name on our customer service. When someone calls, we jump right on it, but this is a tough issue since overtime is one of the largest expenses we face. We try to be creative in working guys on different days and still control the man hours while also meeting the customer’s needs in a timely manner.”

But Michigan isn’t the only struggle. Most recently, the North Carolina market has gone from slow to non-existent, requiring some major changes in the near future. “As North Carolina’s economy has started to take a turn for the worse, we have begun the process of relocating those employees to the Florida operation and have now opened offices in Tampa and Pompano Beach,” Trost says. “We are in the process of shutting this division down as the work has come to a halt with the larger builder we work for there. They have relocated those employees to the Florida division as well. But with both of my brothers now operating the Florida division, we have seen a 75 percent growth in the past two years and the market there is still very strong with many more opportunities.”

Though the market hasn’t fully returned in Michigan either, Trost says that he and his dad have confidence that the market will one day thrive like it did before. And since Trost Irrigation has built a loyal customer base and developed so many great relationships, it’s poised to remain strong, even with the North Carolina division closing. “Reputation is everything in this business,” says Trost. “We’re proud to have such a strong reputation that it’s followed us even during our expansions. That’s really made a big difference in our success.”