Student Spotlight brings you the perspectives of horticulture students and insights into the future of the industry.
The one class that changed Haley Peterson’s entire life was a last-minute addition to her schedule. Had she chosen differently, it’s largely possible she would be studying to become a teacher, not a landscape designer. When she was a senior at Pekin Community High School in Illinois, Peterson figured “What the heck?” and squeezed a hands-on landscaping class into her schedule. She had no idea it would spark an interest that grew strong enough to change from education into her current major of horticulture landscape management at Illinois Community College.
Now approaching her final semester at the two-year school located less than a half hour from her home, Peterson is thankful for that high school class. She fell in love with the project she and a classmate spearheaded, which was a plan to beautify a dirt patch on school property. The class assignment involved budgeting, drawing plans and physically implementing their landscape design.
They created a 3-D model and a computer-assisted drawing sketch, then pitched the idea for eventual approval to the school board. Once that was completed, Peterson and her partner even implemented the designs on school campus, where it still stands today.
The project was Peterson’s first experience working with landscaping, let alone planning and implementing a whole project.
“It meant a lot because I was shocked (my teacher) put so much trust in me and my classmate, who was my partner in it,” Peterson says. “He kind of let us run the show. We just approved everything through him. He guided us through and made us do all the work, so it just kind of got my foot into the door.”
Even today, Peterson prefers the hands-on experience outside a classroom, which includes her maintenance job with the greenhouse on campus and various laboratories, trips and seminars attended by the horticulture club. Though she completed her final season this fall, Peterson even balanced her classwork and related activities with a spot on the ICC volleyball team. This proved particularly difficult when she’d be away for tournaments on most weekends, plus the practices and weekday games cut into how much time she had to work on post-class activities.
Still, Peterson says she’s glad she learned to handle a stressfully busy schedule since it will help her after graduation. “Some days were long days, but I got through it and there’s nothing I regret,” Peterson says. “It was the greatest time of my life, I should say.”
Peterson says she intends to take at least a year off school to work professionally, or she’ll transfer from ICC to a larger school to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. She’s interested in Southern Illinois University, roughly four hours south of ICC.
For students who are interested in horticulture, Peterson recommends they extensively research the career path and consider all the different possibilities. ICC alone offers two variations of a horticulture degree, including Peterson’s choice that focuses on landscape management. The other is turfgrass management, which deals more with lawn and golf industries.
Options are out there, Peterson says, but it was only a few years ago that she didn’t know they existed in horticulture.
“You should have a general idea of what this field’s about and what you’ll be asked to do,” Peterson says. "If they’re not up for that calling, then maybe they can do a different field within (horticulture), but there’s specifics they’ve got to figure out. You’ve just got to figure out what you like.”
Adam McGuyrt faced a few career options in the spring of 2011 as he was in his fourth and final year of service in the Marine Corps: he could re-enlist for another four years, work for an established company or start his own business.
A few months before his final year of service ended, he told his officers he planned to leave to start a business in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. Starting a business was a financially riskier option than staying in the Marine Corps, but he says it was something he was more passionate about.
“I enjoyed the Marine Corps,” McGuyrt says. “But I really wanted to start a business.”
McGuyrt’s Plan A was to start a homebuilding business like his father. As a kid, he enjoyed watching and helping his father with his work. However, McGuyrt says the market didn’t seem strong enough in 2011 to start a successful homebuilding venture.
So, he turned to Plan B, which was to start a full-service landscaping business, which he named Turf TitanZ.
“I had to think more practical, considering the market at that time,” he says. “I did some landscaping work in the past, and I worked around some of my dad’s houses as he was building them with the landscapes, maintaining them. So, I rolled with landscaping, which was also something I really enjoyed.”
Year of change.
When McGuyrt started Turf TitanZ, he says it wasn’t too different from any other landscaper’s story – it was him, a mower and a pickup truck. However, McGuyrt had the additional challenge of juggling the launch of a new business along with serving his last couple of months stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point near Havelock, North Carolina.
For McGuyrt, 2011 was a year full of change – he got married, he ended his service with the Marine Corps, built a home, enrolled for a two-year turf management program at North Carolina State University and started Turf TitanZ.
Despite the “chaos,” McGuyrt says Turf TitanZ gradually gained some recurring customers that spring through flyers and word-of-mouth marketing. Most customers agreed to let McGuyrt mow their lawns on weekends when he was wrapping up his service in the Marines.
However, if some customers needed service during the weekdays, McGuyrt recruited his younger brother Tyler to help them.
If any customers needed maintenance services on weekdays, Tyler would perform those jobs as soon as his high school let out. Oftentimes, one of Tyler’s friends would join him to earn extra money. McGuyrt says their efforts helped the business get its start, ensuring customers were taken care of.
“They held down the fort, that’s for sure,” he says. “They never whined once. I probably wouldn’t have grown as quick if it weren’t for their help.”
During the summer of 2011, McGuyrt worked full-time to grow Turf TitanZ. Yet, he experienced more change and a crunch for time once his college classes started that fall at North Carolina State University. He says he would go to class during the day, then perform maintenance jobs in the evenings and on weekends.
The business managed to gain 30 recurring customers that first year, but McGuyrt says working long hours on top of taking turf management courses seemed to be too much for him in 2012. He also noticed he was getting behind on equipment payments.
“I had always been one who was squared away with finances,” he says. “I was always a saver. But I got to the point where I had to put a truck payment on a credit card. I remember doing that in between classes and thinking, ‘Something’s gotta change.’”
So, he decided to drop out of college and devote his time entirely to growing the business. McGuyrt used this new time to find additional workers for the company since there were only three full-time employees.
Although the first couple of years in business proved to be demanding and cash flow was tight, McGuyrt says he and his wife Kaylyn made it work for their new family.
“It wasn’t an easy ride,” he says. “Going from the Marine Corps where you get a paycheck every two weeks and benefits are paid for to starting your own business where the customer’s not paying you on time was a tough transition. Somehow, we made it work.”
Rebuilding a team.
As Turf TitanZ grew, McGuyrt says jobs were easy to win but good laborers were hard to come by.
His brother Tyler and his friend left the business in 2012 after they graduated from high school. McGuyrt hired one solid employee to replace them, but otherwise he says he was short on man-power. So, McGuyrt needed to hire more reliable workers to the team.
To recruit people, he placed “now hiring” signs around town. He put magnets on trucks and trailers. The company hired a few employees through these efforts, but McGuyrt says he wasn’t selective enough in the hiring process.
He also sold more work than the company could handle.
“The way that I started to build the business was sell, sell, sell,” he says. “The way I hired, I just found someone, put them on a truck and got them to do work.”
“I went through and got rid of all the people causing nonsense, not showing up.” Adam McGuyrt, Turf TitanZ
This business model led to problems. McGuyrt says some equipment broke due to careless mistakes made by employees.
Some employees wouldn’t show up to work, so McGuyrt had to call customers and apologize for being unable to make it to their property that day.
By 2014, McGuyrt says he decided to become more selective on who worked for the company. He fired five employees who were causing problems that fall.
“I went through and got rid of all the people causing nonsense, not showing up,” he says. “I stuck with my loyal guys who were dependable and grew from there.”
By late 2016, McGuyrt says he was finally confident with both the company’s workloads and the team he had on board.
Since then, the company has grown slightly but he’s stuck with the same business model of selling work his current crews can handle. However, the company is growing and broke $1 million for the first time in 2018.
“Today, we’ve got a solid group of 23 guys,” he says. “I have never been more proud of the team we’ve got. My biggest focus now is taking care of the good people here and to condense, tighten up and make the business more efficient.”
BOB-CAT Predator-Pro 7000 Commercial Zero-Turn Mower
The pitch: The Predator-Pro 7000 highlights enhanced performance, operator comfort and serviceability.
- The Predator-Pro 7000 features a 19-mph transport speed.
- Serviceability improves with a swing-away bumper for easy access to the engine.
- The Predator-Pro 7000 is backed by a limited warranty of 6 years/2,750 hours.
For more info: Bobcatturf.com
Cub Cadet PRO Z 972 SD
The pitch: Comfortably mow a straight line, execute zero-degree turns and operate on up to a 25-degree hillside slope with the PRO Z 972 SD from Cub Cadet.
- The PRO Z 972 SD features a 72-inch fabricated steel cutting deck with top, bottom and side reinforcements.
- Oversized dual rear wheels provide a higher level of stability and precision for the perfect stripe.
- The drive system with four-wheel steering provides ultimate control.
For more info: Cubcadet.com
Exmark Lazer Z Diesel Zero-Turn Riding Mower
The pitch: The 96-inch Lazer Z Diesel allows for increased productivity.
- When equipped with the available 96-inch UltraCut Flex Wing rear-discharge cutting deck, the Lazer Z Diesel enables one worker to cut more than 10 acres per hour.
- Exmark RED Technology-equipped Yanmar liquid-cooled diesel engines deliver increased fuel efficiency.
- Available with a choice of 60- or 72-inch UltraCut cutting decks.
For more info: Exmark.com
Greenworks Commercial Lithium Z Zero Turn Mowers
The pitch: The Lithium Z line offers zero-turn maneuverability with zero gas and zero emissions.
- All four models are powered by an 82-volt 13.8kW lithium-ion battery and feature three 1.5KW Brushless Blade Motors and two 1.7KW Brushless Drive Motors.
- Greenworks Commercial Lithium Z mowers offer 4.5-6 hours of cutting time per change and 2,800-3,600 RPMs.
For more info: Greenworkscommercial.com
Husqvarna Z500 Zero-Turn Series with Yamaha Engines
The pitch: Designed to ensure a long product life, Husqvarna’s Z500 zero-turn series is focused on productivity, durability and cut quality.
- This series features a weld-reinforced 2-inch by 3-inch tubular steel frame and 7- or 10-gauge cutting decks.
- Improvements include an automatic parking brake, easy-to-fold ROPS and easy-to-view deck height adjustment.
For more info: Husqvarna.com
John Deere Z994R ZTrak
The pitch: The Z994R offers enhanced comfort, increased productivity and a longer engine life.
- A single 11.5-U.S. gallon diesel fuel tank offers increased productivity.
- Three seat options with adjustable armrests and the ComfortGlide fore/aft suspension enhance ride quality.
- Available with three deck options: 54-inch and 60-inch side-discharge decks, and 60-inch Mulch On Demand deck. The Z994R is also compatible with the Michelin Tweel X Turf airless radial tires.
For more info: Deere.com
Kubota Z700 EFI zero-turn mower
The pitch: The Z700 EFI was designed to deliver exceptional performance for challenging conditions.
- Up to 11.2 mph speed and High back seat delivers excellent performance and comfort for more productivity.
- Kawasaki EFI engine with E-GOV and ECU system keeps the drive wheels and cutting blades working at peak productivity.
- The wide 6.5-inch caster tire and 24-inch low profile rear tires deliver greater traction and less ground pressure.
For more info: KubotaUSA.com
Mean Green Mowers EVO-72 Evolution Series
The pitch: The EVO-72 mower was designed for all day mowing with up to nine hours on one charge.
- The 72-inch commercial, electric ZTR is designed with an aerospace chassis contributing to low weight and a low center of gravity.
- It features maximum torque from the start with comparable horsepower exceeding 38 hp.
- The electric unit means low noise, low maintenance, zero gas and zero emissions.
For more info: Meangreenproducts.com
Spider remote control mowers
The pitch: Spider remote-controlled slope mowers are designed specifically for the safe maintenance of steep, hard to mow areas.
- The 4-wheel drive, 4-wheel steer system with a zero turn option allows 360 degree mowing on slopes up to 55 degrees.
- Wheel drive (not tracks) ensures Spider mowers are gentle to the terrain, eliminating erosion and damage on slopes.
- The mowers can operate at speeds of 1 mph to 5 mph.
For more info: Slope-mower.com
Walker H37i zero-turn
The pitch: The H37i is a high-production Walker Mower that was designed to leave a beautiful cut.
- The mower is powered by a 993cc big block Vanguard EFI engine.
- The H37i features a high-capacity air cooling system and a large 5-inch diameter Donaldson air cleaner.
- An optional Model H deck Power Tilt-Up makes maintenance and storage even easier.
- Ideal applications include commercial properties, rural areas and field cutting.
For more info: Walker.com