Back where he belongs

Alex Heffelmire knows what it’s like to work at a desk. He’s glad he’s back outside.

Photos courtesy of Alex Heffelmire

Alex Heffelmire and his brother grew up on 2,000 acres of farmland and tended to corn, beans, wheat and the various Belgian draft horses that wandered the property.

So, when Heffelmire wrapped up his time in the military and wasn’t sure what was next, it seemed like a no-brainer to start a landscaping company with his brother. He didn’t expect it would grow so big — and he didn’t anticipate being bought out. So, when he was forced into another transition in his life, he landed in an unfamiliar spot: behind a desk.

For four years, he worked at an insurance agency, but his resume remained online. That’s when Jeremy Stacy, the owner of J. Stacy Landscaping in Carmel, Indiana, dialed Heffelmire’s number and told him it was time to come back outside.

“I love being outside. I love learning new things, learning all the new plants, especially in different areas,” Heffelmire says. “I’m a very business-minded guy, so being able to run companies, operate them, manage them, has been something that’s always been my knack.”

At a crossroads.

Heffelmire says that while he was figuring out what to do with his career, Stacy was at a similar crossroads with his company. Stacy and his wife, Stephanie, had founded the company in 2005, though Stacy was handling jobs as an AP Physics teacher at a nearby high school as well as leading his own company.

About seven years into owning the company, Stacy and his operation manager decided to part ways, leaving the quality of work – and, to some degree, the company — in jeopardy.

It was in the middle of the season, so finding somebody to fill that role was particularly tricky as the best in the industry had already landed positions for the summer. At one point, he was making plans to liquidate the company entirely.

Stacy calls it a “miracle” and a “Hail Mary” on Indeed that two days after initially posting, he found Heffelmire’s contact information.

“Knowing Jeremy, who’s one of my best friends in the world now, I’m sure it was an extremely difficult time for him,” Heffelmire says. “Do I throw away 10 years’ worth of hard work or am I going to be able to find somebody?”

For Alex Heffelmire, his coworkers at J. Stacy Landscaping have become a second family to him.

Now, Stacy and Heffelmire have a saying that in everything they go through, things seem to work themselves out. “I just happened to be around at the right time,” Heffelmire says. “I honestly never regretted the decision (to leave my office job) at all. It’s been the best opportunity of my life in terms of waking up, getting up and being excited to get out. Work is an escape. It’s something that I really enjoy doing.”

Four years after hiring Heffelmire, J. Stacy Landscaping has opened a new facility and doubled its revenue from that turbulent time. Stacy says at this point, he looks at Heffelmire as another owner. Heffelmire will even make recommendations to Stacy and say “your company,” and Stacy says he has to remind Heffelmire that it’s “our company.”

“The hardest part of finding an operations manager is finding someone who treats the company like their own without their name on the truck,” Stacy says. “He’s my best friend. He’s part of my family.”

His wife and co-founder, Stephanie, agrees.

“Jeremy was so blessed when he met Alex and it immediately was a perfect fit,” she says. “(Alex) shares the same vision (as Jeremy) and works hard and diligently to be the very best.”

Out in the field.

Andrew Huntsman believes he’s found the best boss he’s ever had in Heffelmire. Case in point: When Huntsman was working on a property and trimmed bushes he shouldn’t have, Heffelmire didn’t scream and shout. He didn’t publicly ridicule Huntsman for the mistake. He simply waited until they returned to the office, where they had a brief and calm meeting about it. He’s seen Heffelmire take up the same level of patience with others.

“If it’s on the jobsite, he’ll pull me aside to teach them how to do it more efficiently, or they’ll pull them into the office to tell them to do things better this way,” Huntsman says.

Of course, this isn’t to say the expectations aren’t high. Huntsman says every detail has to be precisely correct before plants even go into the ground. Sometimes they’ll plant up to 70 in a day, but they have to look up to his standards before the crews start digging holes.

To help show what needs to be done, Heffelmire is one to also pick up a shovel and lead by example.

“He’s not afraid to get out in the field and do stuff,” Huntsman says.

Heffelmire admits it’s a cliché, but he wants to work in the field with his employees because it’s a matter of respect.

“The number one thing that I live my life is the Golden Rule,” he says. “Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself.”

All about family.

When he’s not working outside, Heffelmire says he still finds himself doing something with his family outdoors. He and his wife, Danielle, recently purchased a camper, so their frequent camping and fishing trips are about to get a little more comfortable.

Danielle runs an auto repair shop now, and they both make time for their two children – nine-year-old Christian and six-year-old Landon. Heffelmire says he helps Christian manage some aggression issues stemming from autism, so work-life balance is especially important.

“Work is work, home is home,” he says. “We ask about one another’s days, but that’s about it. Let’s talk about our next camping adventure or things going on around the home.”

Heffelmire remembers that when he was growing up on the farm, his dad seemed very black-and-white about the work-life relationship: When you’re at work, you’re focused solely on work so that when you’re at home, you can focus solely on your family. This is why Heffelmire’s dedicated to his work, even when the going gets tough.

“It was work comes first, we’ve got to get things done so we can provide for our family. Whether you’re seeing it or not, this is what puts food on the table,” he says. “We always want to do better for our children than what we had. You just kind of keep it in your mind that (hard work is) not necessarily for you, it’s for them.”

A found foundation.

Heffelmire says it’s hard to envision ever leaving J. Stacy Landscaping: His loyalty to Jeremy and the company is strong.

That seems to be apparent at all levels of the company, as Huntsman remembers one winter where Heffelmire stepped in and helped Huntsman manage 50-60 properties that season.

“He treats everybody like family. As soon as you meet him, you’re pretty much friends,” Huntsman says. “He’ll help anyone out any way he can.”

It’s not just employees at J. Stacy who are treated like family: Heffelmire says he prides himself on building solid relationships with clients. If they’re looking to build a new patio for instance, Heffelmire won’t simply ask “how big” and “how much.” He’ll ask them what types of social gatherings they envision on the patio; do they want to keep it open or closed and more.

“I feel like if you don’t do something other than just show up and give them a cost… that’s everybody’s spiel,” he says.

Heffelmire says he’s incredibly fortunate to have stumbled into J. Stacy Landscaping. Though he and J. Stacy Landscaping found one another at unique crossroads in their journey, things have certainly seemed to work themselves out.

“I don’t think I’ll ever leave Jeremy,” he says. “It’s the way he treats people at his company, the way that we treat people like family. Whether you’re Mr. Roberts or Mr. Jacobs, you’re family to us.”

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June 2021
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