Brian Cressy took a two-year time-out from Green Horizon Landscaping, trading client meetings, design proposals and fieldwork for packing school lunches and carting kids to soccer practice. “It wasn’t an easy decision, but I thought it was the right one,” he says, relating that while he had full custody of his children, he recognized that the household was competing with his business. The home team needed the advantage.
“I was having a hard time taking care of the kids fulltime and running a successful business, so rather than run the business into the ground, I chose to shut it down for a while,” says Cressy, relating a common stress shared by entrepreneurs and anyone in business balancing a family.
The time at home gave Cressy an opportunity to kindle a closer relationship with his kids – and since returning to the business a year and a half ago, he has been digging in to the market with a renewed spirit. “I missed it,” he says. “I have a whole different appreciation for business like this.”
Cressy started Green Horizon Landscaping in1996, after graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a landscape design degree. He grew his Hopkinton, N.H.-based residential design/build firm, also providing maintenance and snow services to a loyal client base. When he shut down, he sent everyone a letter. When he returned from “leave,” he began reaching out to contacts again and relied on social media, networking and some advertising.
“I’m more focused on the business – I’m an entrepreneur at heart and I think that time off really made me appreciate that,” says Cressy, who five years ago started Firepoint Properties, which specializes in real estate acquisitions to improve and renovate them for rental or flipping for profit. His business partner is Justice Rines, a law and MBA student at UNH. This spring, he launched Maple Row Builders, after getting queries from clients who wanted to know if the carpenters Cressy worked with could take on projects. “I’m not one to turn down work,” he says.
Making connections. Mutually beneficial relationships are the core of Cressy’s business and the crux of his growth strategy. He networks with like-minded professionals and builds rapports with city officials, architects, developers, realtors – neighbors, locals and friends of friends. Strong relationships with the right people have resulted in promising deals. In particular, Cressy’s Concord-based business has been growing a presence on the desirable New Hampshire Seacoast.
“Our first job there was for a customer that had a vacation home on the coast,” Cressy says. “He liked the work we did for him in the past and wanted us to do his newly constructed home on the beach. That led to another job … and it slowly evolved from there.”
It helps that Cressy’s other business, Firepoint Properties, buys, renovates and rents/sells properties on the Seacoast. “I have slowly been building business contacts and relationships in that area, and it’s starting to take off for us,” he says.
Cressy approached a reputable local architect, and since then has grown a solid relationship and received work through that firm. The same goes for a developer on the coast. And for Firepoint, Cressy has connected with a number of realty professionals so he can be alerted of hot properties for sale. It takes a network to seep into tightknit, high-end communities on the Seacoast.
While Firepoint and Green Horizon share synergies – Cressy’s landscaping firm can certainly provide complete landscape design/installation and even maintenance for the properties Firepoint buys and rehabs – the two businesses are completely separate. Cressy likes to keep it that way. However, the positive reputation he and his crews/craftspeople cross business lines. And that’s a good thing.
“We have developed a good name, and that speaks for itself,” Cressy says, relating that his staff of about five at his landscaping firm has stuck with him for many years. The firm is about 80 percent residential design/installation, and Cressy says he’s considering getting back into maintenance in spring 2014. This winter, the company will plow snow. “We got out of that for a while, so we’re going to ramp it back up and get it going again,” Cressy says.
Rescuing real estate. He’s been called the “real-life local property wizard” by a local newspaper in New Hampshire. Cressy just enjoys real estate – and he figures his investments will create a nice retirement nest. That’s his sort of exit strategy, and he’s having fun with Firepoint Properties. “I really enjoy it,” he says. “It takes a little bit of work to find the right properties, but I have a lot of eyes out there looking for me.”
Now, Firepoint has seven rentals available on the Seacoast, and another two homes are being renovated that will go up for sale. “We go in and look at the homes, and we try to get a ballpark on what it will take to renovate it,” Cressy says. “If the numbers work out, we buy it.”
Of course, it’s not that simple. “Everyone would be doing this if it were easy,” Cressy quips.
For Cressy, the real estate business evolved organically from an investment he made years back. Then about six years ago, he and a close friend who owned a similar property with a comparable value on the Seacoast, decided to join their investments and create Firepoint Properties.
But after six months in business, Cressy’s business partner suddenly passed away. “It was a challenge personally because he was one of my best friends, and then I was dealing with trying to figure out how to run the business,” he says. “I stayed focused, then a few years went by and I met another guy who expressed interest.”
Actually, it was a client Cressy was working for and had gotten to know quite well who inquired about Firepoint. Rines, a law student, handles the contracts and behind-the-scenes dealings. Cressy seeks out properties and builds their network.
The work involves partnering with contractors who can execute the home rehabs – and that means knowing who to trust. Any landscaper can attest to the complexity of working with subcontractors. Cressy has managed to recruit local talent that is prompting even more referral work (case in point: a carpenter whose work is so well regarded that Cressy began fielding calls to do construction projects).
Meanwhile gradual growth into the Seacoast market is a business boon for Green Horizon. Certainly, servicing clients in that area is worth driving less than an hour to the area, Cressy says. “If the work continues to pick up on the Seacoast, we’d consider opening another location,” he sayss. “But that’s moving down the road.”
Cressy is intent on building slowly and in a meaningful way. The landscape business today is a scaled-back version of its earlier self, before Cressy took some time away. “We want to keep a close eye on quality,” he says, adding that the upcoming off-season will afford more time for careful planning. “It’s a nice time to reflect, regroup and figure out what’s next.”
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