A clean break

Features - Cover Story

When Matt Hall’s employer made cuts, he took it as an opportunity to start his own company.

March 31, 2017

Photo courtesy of Matt Hall

No one wants to help the new kid on the block.

That’s what Matt Hall, 28, found when he started his landscaping company, Deep Roots Landscaping, in June of 2015. While attempting to build relationships with suppliers to get products for his Merritt Island, Florida-based company, he found not everyone was willing to sell to a rookie.

“Because when you’re new starting off, you’re kind of bottom of the barrel,” he says. “So, at first, getting good material in was the tough part – with plant material, things like that.”

Hall also found other landscapers weren’t jumping at the chance to help him with suggestions, so that meant making cold-call after cold-call to potential suppliers.

“I ran into a few times where a few brokers are a little uneasy working with me because they supply a couple of the big guys in the area,” he says.

Eventually, his persistence paid off and little by little, he was able to find some vendors he could rely on. But, even with that problem solved, there would be more that popped up.

A rough start.

Hall got the itch for landscaping working on the installation crew at a nursery in high school and college.

In addition, Hall’s mom owns a landscape architecture firm in the area. “So, growing up, I’ve always been on jobsites, since I can remember,” he says.

“I didn’t really have the back for the work at first.” Matt Hall, owner, Deep Roots Landscaping

But after graduating from the University of Central Florida with degrees in political science and economics, he took a job selling materials to defense firms. When that company started closing branches, Hall took the opportunity to leave and start his own, full-time landscaping company.

“I split off and I wouldn’t say hit the ground running, but got real dirty for the first six months until I could kind of get my feet under me and took off from there,” he says.

And those first six months were rough, Hall says. The first challenge he noticed was how out of shape he was to be working in the industry.

“I didn’t really have the back for the work at first. The Florida heat mid-summer – it was brutal,” he says. “So, transitioning from a sales job to a landscape job was incredibly straining on me. At the end of the day, I was just drained.”

Along with the physical pains, Hall was mentally fatigued from the office work. Since he didn’t start Deep Roots as a side gig, he didn’t have a customer base to build off as a full-time landscaper.

“I was trying to find new work all the time,” he says “And I was – at night – I still do it now – cold-calling, calling people back, things like that, trying to line up more to keep moving forward. And since I was new, I was a one-man shop.”

Hall says connections with his mom helped, but most of the jobs she handled were too big for him. He would get occasional referrals for smaller projects from her, which, coupled with cold-calling potential customers and posting to Facebook, was enough to get a good start.

“I just dove in. So, it was a rocky start,” he says. “I was maybe a job or two a week at first, and then after a few months, it started getting a little more solid with the work. And then six to eight months in, I was pretty loaded with work.”

Name your price.

As opportunities for more jobs came in, Hall realized he had no clue how to bid them properly.

“At first, I just wanted the work,” he says. “I didn’t really have the confidence yet to start charging what, realistically, I should have been charging. Really underbidding jobs and getting myself in binds that way to where my profit margins were very slim was one of the big issues that I had.”

Unfortunately for Hall, he had to learn on the fly, which resulted in a few disasters early on.

“I fell on my face more times than I can count,” he says with a laugh. “It was a struggle. It was a big struggle. I got myself into binds that way. I needed X amount of this to finish the job, and I didn’t have it.

“And we have a signed contract. I’d have to eat that out of pocket, and then go to the homeowner and bring up the situation. If they wanted to make up the difference, they would but I couldn’t expect them to because we had a signed contract that they agreed to.”

Now, Hall says he bids competitively, which does eliminate him from a number of jobs. Once he gets into the bidding process and realizes the job is too big for him and his three employees, he has to move on to another project.

“At first, I was bummed by it because I said, ‘I really want this work.’ And then I just kind of realized maybe someone wants it more than me,” he says. “And maybe they went a little under, and I just bid as fairly and competitively as possible. My goal is to come in, do a good job at a fair price and build a reputation.”

A nice mix.

But Hall is very comfortable with where Deep Roots falls among the competition. Not only does he only do full landscape installations, but he’s also found a niche with jobs bigger contractors don’t want like fine grading and sod installations.

“I wouldn’t say hit the ground running, but got real dirty for the first six months until I could kind of get my feet under me and took off from there.” Matt Hall, owner, Deep Roots Landscaping

“There’s a lot of work out there that homeowners want done that they can’t find someone to do because it might be a little bit too small for a big grading company – just one-off jobs that we could keep busy on during the slow times. And we’ve had slow times for a couple week periods and I just line them up with one- to two-day jobs, and we get through them.”

Hall says he wants to keep his company 100 percent installation, and his customer breakdown is 70 percent residential and 30 percent commercial. He’d like to add one or two employees, but is having trouble finding reliable help.

“A lot of times, I’m waking up at 4:30 in the morning, driving trailers to a jobsite,” he says. “That’ll change. My foreman – he’s ready to get into a truck, and I’ve just got to have the next two guys on before I can go out and get him one.”

He doesn’t have a time frame in mind, but would like to be a multi-million-dollar company.

“I see these landscape companies that have just made a solid name for themselves,” he says.

“They have a nice office. They have a really good group of guys – a couple of crews running and doing installs.

“Everyone has level heads and the right equipment. I think the direction that we’re going is very positive. And we’re building a lot of momentum very quickly.”