When Josh Schmieder was 10 years old, he wanted a four-wheeler like it was nobody’s business. His parents told him he had to work for it. So, in fact, earning the cash for that bid-kid big-wheel became his business. “I started mowing the neighbors lawns,” he says, sharing a story that sounds familiar to many industry vets who remember their first taste of fresh, green entrepreneurship.
For Schmieder, founder and president of Josh Inc. Lawn Care and Landscaping, which opened its new design center in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., in 2011 the lawn mowing became much more than a summer job or a side gig to earn some bucks. He did in fact round up the money for that four-wheeler – two of them, actually. (“I bought a couple of used ones that I fixed up and sold for more money so I could buy the four-wheeler I really wanted,” he says.) And then he realized, “I really liked making money.” He wasn’t quite 14.
Next, Schmieder had his eyes on a pick-up truck. He had two years to stockpile funds before getting his driver’s license. So with this goal in mind, he kept moving. His mom, who home schooled Schmieder and his siblings, supported his venture and would drop him off at jobs in town while she ran errands. “My parents were always encouraging my sisters and I to start little businesses and make our own money,” Schmieder says.
Turns out, Schmieder was quite good at that. And so he bought his truck – and a trailer and mower. “And I thought, ‘If I buy a bigger mower, I can make more money,’” he says.
That’s how the bug bites. Schmieder kept itching, kept earning, kept growing. And when he was ready to go to college, his parents told him he had some bigger bills to pay. “I decided I could make $8,000 to $12,000 in a summer (mowing lawns),” he says. So at age 17, Schmieder got his DBA business designation.
Then came the summer after Schmieder earned his high school diploma, and he enrolled for a three-month intensive horticulture and landscape course at Cornell Cooperative Extension. “I didn’t know weeds,” he says. “I just knew how to mow lawns. So I thought, if I’m going to work my way through college doing this, I need to know some basics.”
During that time, Schmieder decided to interview for a landscaping job at a larger firm in his area. He was told he was too young to operate equipment, but he could be on a mulching crew. That wasn’t going to fly for a young business owner who already had a customer list and truck-trailer outfit. That’s when the “aha” hit.
“I thanked the owner and walked out, and that was the real turning point where I made up my mind that I was going to be the best in the region and this was what I was going to do for my career,” Schmieder says.
Today, the company is a $2-million firm with 30 employees, including three full-time salespeople/designers, a full-time mechanic, an operations manager and professional crewmembers.
“We continue growing and working toward our vision of being leaders in the market,” says Schmieder, 28. “We’re focused on defining our ideal client and focusing on what we do best.” And for Josh Landscaping, Inc., that’s building outdoor living spaces and providing a high-end landscape care service.
Risk for reward. Schmieder remembers selling his first big hardscape job. It was the second summer he was in business fulltime as a landscape professional, and he was fresh off training from his supplier when he was invited to bid on a fairly large residential project. It was a waterfront property on the Finger Lakes, and Schmieder jumped at the opportunity. He was 19 years old.
A simple statement can separate you from the competition.
Why brand a pledge like this? President Josh Schmieder says when the firm put up the last version of their website in 2004 (a new version is rolling out this spring), the team discussed how the company could set itself apart from the competition. The JOSH Pledge was one way to do that.
“We were a small company with a handful of guys working for us at the time, and the common perception in the industry of small companies was that they are unprofessional, poor quality, not following through,” Schmieder relates.
Basically, Schmieder made a list of all those industry stigmas and sought to turn them upside down. “We said, we will make the industry weaknesses our strengths,” he relates.
By putting this on paper, Schmieder is confirming the firm’s commitment to quality and customer service. This is an important sales tool, he says. “We wanted to distinguish ourselves from the stereotypical mowing company.”
With the website redesign, Schmieder is not sure if the phrase JOSH Pledge will live on. But the tenants will. And the same principles of quality and customer services apply since the company has evolved to providing full landscape care service and building outdoor living environments.
“I have always built my company on the priorities of delivering high-quality work and customer service, and making sure our clients are 100-percnet satisfied (within the terms of the contract) when we are completed,” Schmieder says.
“I did the estimate, and our supplier rep, who had walked us through installing our first garden wall, helped us with the estimating,” Schmieder says. “It ended up being a $30,000 project, and when I presented it to the client, they liked what they saw.”
Schmieder was only a few months into his hardscaping service. “I walked back to my truck from that lake house and it hit me, ‘What did I just do?’” he says. That feeling would set in many times after that as the company grew. And that has always been a good thing. “Growing my company has always been my drive and ambition,” he says. “I have always taken risks. I want to give the best customer service and the best quality. My parents instilled these values in me when I was little, so this experience was a representation of what would take place in years to come.”
Schmieder is the type of owner who meets a challenge, takes it on, and then says, “Next.” Of course, the ability to focus on these new challenges has required some soul searching. He had to decide what new business was a fit for Josh Inc., and what to leave behind. And, after recognizing that he could not compete with the mow-and-go get-ups that charge as little as $25 to cut a lawn, he made the decision to cut loose his basic mowing jobs about five years ago.
Schmieder sent letters to those mowing clients explaining his company’s decision to focus on a higher-end “full landscape care” service. He coordinated with another area contractor who took on those accounts. “We did write in the contract that if he failed to (properly service) those accounts we had the right to step back in,” he says. And that was indeed the case when some clients were unhappy with the “replacement” service.
Schmieder was able to convince those clients to choose the full landscape care service, which includes mowing, full bed care, pruning mulch, basically maintaining the whole property. It’s more of a specialty service, he says. And it better complements the more profitable design/build offerings.
The decision has freed up the company to focus on its passion: creating outdoor spaces. Leaving behind the mow-and-go business that Schmieder essentially founded his business on was a relatively smooth transition because the firm had already shifted from 80 percent maintenance to a lesser 40 percent.
Today, maintenance is about 30 percent, with 70 percent of the business focused on designing and building high-end outdoor living environments. “That is what we love doing,” Schmieder says simply.
Front and center. JOSH Inc. quickly outgrew the family garage and eventually moved into a few barns, with one 12-by-20 foot outbuilding serving as the office for Schmieder, his salesperson and key administrator. It was a cozy setup. “We were doing about $1.2 million in sales and we just couldn’t grow anymore,” Schmieder says. “We were too far out of our market area where we were doing 90 percent of our work.”
Schmieder had his eyes on a Ford dealership property in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., a nice suburb in the Finger Lakes region. The town is 20 minutes from both lakes, and 20 minutes from other suburbs where the firm was selling lots of work. But the price tag on the dealership was hefty at about $400,000.
Eventually, the real estate went to auction, and in February 2011, Schmieder closed on it for half the price. “It had always been my vision to have a design center,” he says of his plan for the property. And that is exactly what has evolved in the last two years.
In summer 2011, Josh Landscaping, Inc. relocated its operations to the dealership. They continued interior renovations that year, and began on phase one of the outdoor displays, which will provide a show-and-tell experience for clients and prospects. Now, the offices provide a spacious conference area for meetings and curbside visibility that is driving more business in the door.
“Image and branding has always been a huge part of our business,” says Schmieder, who earned his business degree at night while working his landscape firm full-time during the day, and selling jobs after-hours. “People would hear our name and know who we were from our marketing pieces and radio ads, but now we have a physical location right on Main Street in Honeoye Falls,” he says. “That has given us more credibility.”
The firm continues to grow at a rapid but controlled clip, and Schmieder feels a loosening-of-the-purse in 2013 that is translating to more business. “This is looking like a really good year,” he says.
Meanwhile, with the new location and a talented staff under its roof, Schmieder is sharpening the company mission, vision and defining the core values that help the company reach those ideals. “We want to define that ideal client and really stick to the services that we do best,” he says. “And, we are working on our culture and making this an awesome place to work.”
Photos supplied by Heads Up Landscape Contractors