Tips from the top: Tony Sposato

Tips from the top: Tony Sposato

Departments - Top 100

Tony Sposato, president

May 12, 2014
Chuck Bowen
Industry News Business/Finance

Company: Sposato Landscape Co.

Location: Milton, Del.

Ranking: 94

2013 Revenue: $14.9


I finished up college in ’91 and did my student teaching. That spring, I started to mow lawns. Then I got hired and taught school for four years.

In ’96, I stopped teaching. At that time we were running four trucks and had 16 employees – and I jumped into it with both feet.

I was just getting married and I needed to make some money. I thought landscaping would be a good summer job. I think we’re going to be running over 300 employees this year.

I was a seventh grade health education teacher, and I coached football, basketball and lacrosse.

Being an athletic coach has helped me. Good coaches surround themselves with good assistant coaches and good players.

Every year, we have a Sposato managers Turkey Bowl, where we go out and we actually have flag football. It’s a fun event.

I always look to hire athletes, too. My director of irrigation was the starting halfback for University of Delaware football. One of our managers just took a head college coaching job at Wittenberg. He’s the head college lacrosse coach up there now.

We’re in a resort area. We have to do a lot of HOA work, a lot of high-end residential work. The area got hit by the recession, but it’s recovered a little better than other parts of the country.

Last year was a big growth year. Right now, it’s like the late ‘90s. The economy’s steadier now. Not crazy, like it was when the boom was going on in the 2000s. It’s not too much, but it’s just right.

The majority of the people that buy in this area are retired. We really don’t have industry down here. Our industry is service.

They’re weekend warriors, or they’ll come here for two or three weeks in the summer. And once they retire, then they’ll live there. We get so many clients just by response time and just by the follow-up. They don’t want to deal with the hassle.

We’ve always had people problems here – labor – just because of where we’re located. Because when we’re gearing up, all of the resorts are gearing up and everybody needs people for those three or four months. I just lost a foreman to a painting contractor who was going to give him 70 hours. Well, I can’t give him 70 hours.

My grandparents were from Italy, and I had an uncle that was an entrepreneur. I’d go up and spend a couple weeks with him in the summertime. His discussions always ended up going back to work ethic and working hard. Whatever you do, you want to do it right. Do it better than the other person.

As an owner, you expect everybody to work as hard as you do. And I probably burned some people out, some good managers.

Some of those people I wish I could have back. When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s hard to not do that.

I’ve learned to really delegate. Not just because the company’s gotten bigger. When you delegate it out, you let your employees do what they have to do and you let them make minor mistakes. And if they tend to be motivated, they will do that. I was a little controlling for years. I don’t even run the weekly meetings anymore.

I would have tried not to do as much myself. I didn’t know the systems then. I didn’t understand the burden — overhead. It’s amazing, the growth we could have done back then if I had known what I know now. It would have been really easy.

Sometimes I look around and it’s, like, “Man, are we actually doing it right here?” Then we get on the Top 100, and it’s justified. Maybe we are doing something right.