Tips from the top: Jeremy Hittle

Jeremy Hittle, President

December 11, 2014
Chuck Bowen

My father started this business in 1973. And I took over operations in the late ‘90s and took ownership in 2006.

I went to Purdue for a while, wanting to be a mechanical engineer. I decided to come back and work for dad’s business. And considering going into the bubble, and nobody really knew it in the early ‘90s, but it didn’t take too long for it to be a great place to be working in the construction industry.

And I’m glad that it worked out that way.

When I took over operations it was probably $3.5 million and then through the bubble in the early 2000s it grew up to, I would say we were at $7.5 million in 2006, $9 million in 2008 and then the tumble in 2009.

We lost a third of our sales in the downturn and then we’ve grown back up to $15 million. Now, those are landscape sales. Our snow removal operations are done under a separate corporation. Last season was $2.9 million.

The Indianapolis market was a little over 12,000 permits on residential construction and new home construction per year and we dropped down to about 2,500 and we’re back up a little over 5,000 now. I don’t know what the numbers are up there but the impact in Chicago was probably 300 percent what we experienced.

Geographically I would say we are heavily concentrated in the north half of the Indianapolis metro area. But for our larger customers, we certainly go to the south side of the metro area.

I think we’re probably the only landscape company in the Indianapolis market that is as diversified as we are, strong in all aspects, maintenance, residential, design/build and very few large landscape companies play in the national homebuilders arena. I think it’s considered to be a tight margin and maybe volatile. But for us, we’ve found that it has helped feed our other divisions. It really enhances our diversity.

Looking back from where I sit today, I learned because of all that cost accounting, the importance of it, divisional profit and loss statements, diversity, building brand recognition.

Those are all some of the things that after fighting that fight over these several years, those are some of the things that stand out that we did well at that helped us get through it and get us where we’re at today.

It’s thin picking when you’re looking for good workers because the college-aged kids or the kids that don’t want to go to college sometimes aren’t all that interested with their career path and their work ethic.

They’re still there. You can find them but it might be one out of 10 who really want to stick around and work. I mean, it’s a lot of turnover to find good people.

And I think just over the last two years, I’ve felt like maybe whatever it is that allows us to be big draws to potential workers, we’re starting to run dry. And I think a little of it is because all the landscape companies are growing and the construction industry is back growing.

We’re focused on better training programs and just constantly searching for the next most creative way to get ourselves out there as a viable employer.

I’m sure we could add 50 percent to the top line over the next couple of years if there were plenty of workers that wanted good jobs and were hardworking people.