A creative drive

A creative drive

Features - Design/Build

Joe Pavlovicz wants to do more than just install plants for customers.

April 4, 2014
Kristen Hampshire
Industry News

His truck is a think tank. The time spent stalled at a red light is sometimes used to scrawl down a note or two. Great designs happen on the move. Joe Pavlovicz, owner of JTS Landscaping in Seville, Ohio, says, “I’m thinking of ideas all day long – and I feel like 90 percent of my ideas come when I’m driving around in my truck.”

Or lying in bed. Or walking the properties while his installation crews are practicing their craft, laying intricate outdoor living spaces using interlocking paver systems or creating organic-feeling gardens the freestyle way, using natural stone.

For the love of design, Pavlovicz began this business as a high-school graduate living in his parents’ house, and he has grown it in 25 years into a firm with 15 employees, and a portfolio of work that speaks to this flair for creativity.

Craftsmanship and client service separate JTS Landscaping from the pack. “A lot of people can put plants down,” says Pavlovicz, who was working in a garden center after school, long before he had a driver’s license.

He has grown a team of experts who have helped cultivate JTS Landscaping into a strong and growing business.

“I’ve always looked at the business this way. If our employees are happy and continue to do good work, our customers are happy, our guys get more work, we get different opportunities and everyone is happy – it keeps going ‘round and ‘round.”

Growing his own.

“You’re not going to work for me the rest of your life – what are you going to do?”

That’s what the owner of the garden center where Pavlovicz had worked since grade school asked him one day. Pavlovicz replied, “Well, I don’t know.” His mentor planted the seed: Why don’t you do your own thing?

“He gave me a tip to start my own business,” says Pavlovicz, who was 18 when this conversation happened.

“He bought a truck and said I could use it and just make the payments on it. Within three months, I bought the truck off of him.” Pavlovicz started working for this owner when he was eight years old, essentially working as a farm hand before the guy ever opened a garden center.

The little outfit raised produce and perennials, so young Pavlovicz picked veggies and did whatever else was necessary to keep the plants growing.

When the owner opened a garden center, Pavlovicz carried potted plants out to customers’ cars, and eventually he worked in the nursery selling plant material.

“I can remember having a Dirr’s book, and people would come to the garden center and ask what a plant does, and I’d read the book to them,” he says. “That is how I learned about plants – by selling them.”

Pavlovicz continued to work at the garden center through high school before starting his own company out of his parent’s house with three guys and two trucks.

Put your stamp on it

When you win a client’s trust, you can earn the freedom to express creativity in a landscape design. Such was the case at a property where Joe Pavlovicz had been working since he was a teenager. In the last 25 years, he has helped the homeowner completely revamp the property three times.

So when the client called and said he had found a bronze fountain and needed Pavlovicz to “figure out how we are going to put this somewhere,” Pavlovicz knew he would have some artist’s license to create a proper space for the outdoor artwork.

In this case, Pavlovicz removed some problem-area turf and tied the fountain into the rest of the gardens with walkways and hedges.

Pavlovicz loves a design challenge like this, where a client basically turns over the keys to his or her property and says: Do your thing. Part of earning those jobs requires building strong relationships with clients and proving yourself by performing on projects they request.

That’s why the client jokingly refers to his own landscape as “JTS’s place.”

He took classes at The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, Ohio, during winters for the first couple of seasons he was in business.

But the housing boom in Medina, Ohio soon sucked up all Pavlovicz’s extra time – in a good way. It was the mid-1990s and Medina was rapidly developing county. “There was more work around here to do than you could really perform,” Pavlovicz says. JTS Landscaping embraced the boom.

And at the same time, Pavlovicz and the firm sought out opportunities to make a mark in the industry.

“Our business was evolving at the same time that interlocking concrete pavers were coming out,” he says.

The company is known for its hardscape designs, Pavlovicz says. “There are two parts to a hardscape.

“There is the precision aspect where a patio might be 16 by 16 feet with (interlocking paver) design work.”

And there is a side of this type of work that involves using natural stone and designing as you go.

JTS is equipped with two craftsmen who are accomplished at each technique. “One is like a carpenter and the other is more of an artist – he doesn’t know what (the job) will look like until it’s done,” Pavlovicz says.

“A lot of times, a job begins with a pile of dirt and rocks – the (competitor) may have the same pile, but will he be able to do the same craftsmanship? It’s all about what you do with the materials and how you put it all together in a landscape.”

Cultivating a team.

“The green industry is still green, in my opinion,” Pavlovicz says.

He’s talking about business acumen and the constant need to learn new skills to keep up with product introductions and emerging trends.

“We have all seen landscaping evolve from a couple of shrubs to all of this hardscape and structures and pergolas and low-voltage lighting and artwork – the industry is growing,” Pavlovicz says.

Pavlovicz invests in training by sending employees to trade shows and taking advantage of vendor education opportunities. And, there is a big focus on recruiting talent. Three key managers at JTS have been with the firm for the last 10 years. “They are the backbone of the company,” Pavlovicz says.

Danny Rutherford came to Pavlovicz after graduating from high school. He told Pavlovicz, “I’m graduating in June, can I come work for you?”

Pavlovicz said, “Sure.” Sixteen years later, Rutherford is landscape foreman, but he also assists with design and sales.

“Danny’s there with a pile of flagstone and brick and boulders, and there is this pile of rocks that he makes into a patio or a fire ring, a natural walkway or a seating area.”

Pavlovicz’s first employee, Tommy Baltic, was working for a roofer who passed away. Baltic needed a job, so he came to work for Pavlovicz.

He started planting and eventually moved into hardscaping and is now the firm’s lead designer for those projects.

Matt Blynn, project manager, also began working at JTS while in high school. It was a summer job. He attended college, earned a landscape degree and came back to the firm to work.

“We all click,” Pavlovicz says. “Everyone has the same priority of getting the job done and getting it done right.”

Pavlovicz’s role is to pair each job with the right person in the firm.

“Projects don’t come in the door and we say, ‘You’re next in line to go do it,” Pavlovicz says. “It’s about putting the pieces of the puzzle together and putting people on the jobs where they will perform the best.”

For Pavlovicz, that means being “on” the job, but not working in it. And this is an adjustment for a hands-on guy.

“I have to rely on the guys to take (the business) to the next level,” he says.

He does that by giving them the freedom to make choices.

“Everyone is going to stumble at first, but if you don’t let them make their own decisions they will never learn,” he says. “They focus on the positives, and we all keep moving forward.”