For Cumberland Landscape Group, it has been a year of rejoicing, difficulty and change: Two employees had children and two employees lost their mothers. COVID-19 hit and a few of its employees got sick. As it affected the Atlanta-area, Cumberland experienced a delay in work.
Employees feared for their jobs, health and families, says CEO Billy Van Eaton.
Van Eaton and his leadership team then considered their employees’ needs and how they could create an employee-assistance program. He wanted his employees to have an outlet and a resource in the company for their mental and spiritual needs.
Picking a service.
While gathering ideas, he says he listened to a podcast named “Faith-Driven Entrepreneur” that discussed hiring a company chaplain, who supervises them and how to do it. This was a new idea to Van Eaton.
“I’ve known about chaplains for a long time. I haven’t really heard about them in the business world. I’ve heard about them for sports teams, schools, stuff like that,” he says.
From there, Van Eaton investigated a few organizations and decided to contact Corporate Chaplains of America. After speaking to a few representatives from the company and feeling the organization aligned with his faith and his company’s core values, he met Chaplain Tim Mitchell.
Mitchell worked in the corporate world before going to seminary and becoming a chaplain. He studied Spanish and lived in Latin and South America for years, so he able to communicate well with Cumberland’s largely Latino workforce. “I speak Spanish, not great anymore,” Van Eaton says. “So, the fact that Tim can connect very easily with our guys, I think it’s huge. Again, we want to try to remove barriers as much as possible and language is one of those barriers that exist.”
Speaking Spanish was a requirement Van Eaton had for hiring on a chaplain. After multiple interviews, Van Eaton hired him.
The price is determined by the number of employees and since Cumberland only has about 50 employees, Mitchell costs $600 per month to keep on staff.
By being fluent in Spanish, Chaplain Tim Mitchell was able to connect with Cumberland’s largely Latino workforce.
Making a difficult choice.
Prior to hiring, Van Eaton says he discussed this decision with his leadership team, who was hesitant to hire a chaplain.
Despite sharing a similar faith, his team thought it was inappropriate for the corporate workplace and crossed too many lines.
He stayed persistent, showing them how a chaplain could help as many of the changes in life occurred in his employees. After a couple of months, the team began to support the idea, Van Eaton says.
“I think what really won me over was just understanding the day-to-day stress that everybody has in this environment,” says Pernell Roberts, VP of operations at Cumberland.
“It’s stressful enough because you deal with the elements and everything else that’s going on. And then, you throw in this COVID thing that just that hit and it just kind of shook the foundation for everybody… So, I felt like having that service available now stood out to me more than ever before.”
This idea wasn’t out-of-character for Van Eaton. He prayed before board meetings at a previous company, had led a Bible study at Cumberland and openly discusses his faith in the office, but despite this he still wasn’t completely confident with the idea.
“I definitely felt some nervousness. I just didn’t know how it would go to be honest… my nervous side is less than it was when we started, but we’re dealing with people which are unpredictable,” he says.
He had considered going with a secular option by hiring his brother, a counselor, to help at the company. He says he didn’t want to try out multiple ideas to see what works. Rather, he wanted to “pick a lane” and choose one service to invest heavily on.
“I never pulled the trigger on it,” he says. “I liked the faith idea, I guess.
“I liked that he could be nimble enough that he could be just a counselor, or he could be kind of a pastor and get pastoral care. So, I liked the combo.”
Employees are under no obligation to speak with the chaplain, who is also on call 24-7.
The chaplain’s services.
Mitchell comes in twice a week, both on Mondays: once for the a.m. dispatch crew and again for the branch meetings, Roberts says. He opens the meetings with a thought, which covers a variety of subjects like personal finance, wisdom, love and having a positive attitude at work. He will quote scripture, but Van Eaton says it does not resemble a sermon much. After this, he prays.
Mitchell comes to company to get to know people and build relationships. He doesn’t push anyone to talk about anything personal and he keeps everything confidential.
“(When Mitchell’s there,) he just gets to know people, so there’s no strict format,” Van Eaton says. “He’ll talk to people and ask about their families or their weekend, or, you know, and just kind of guide through conversation and see if people want to go deeper.”
Some want to go deeper in conversation and really enjoy Mitchell’s presence, some don’t and some are still unsure. Van Eaton doesn’t want anyone to feel pressured to talk with Mitchell. He says he wants them to think of the chaplain as a resource if someone needs him, as a counselor or spiritual advisor.
“I think people need to be talking about (difficult situations in their lives),” Van Eaton says. “Those things need to be brought into light so that people don’t feel like they’re carrying them by themselves, and the hope is that (Mitchell) can be someone that can help walk along people and be a comfort for them.”
Roberts says he understands the importance of this kind of service for his employees.
“I think about people that are dealing with mental illness and people are just walking around you every day and you just have no idea of the burdens that carrying and the weight that they have on their shoulders,” he says. “And I think having that service, having that available to them is, to me, it can be life altering for that for them, because they have someone that they can talk to and they can get help if they need further assistance.”
Van Eaton says Mitchell can offer advice on many subjects: how to raise children, how to make a marriage work and how to create a budget for their families. He focuses a lot on finances because he came out of the financial world and is knowledgeable about it.
Mitchell is also on-call. If an employee calls him, he will call back within 15 minutes, no matter the time. If he doesn’t, Corporate Chaplains of America puts a pinging noise on his phone until he calls back. If this doesn’t work, a chaplain in a higher position or a regional manager get involved, Van Eaton says.The new normal. Mitchell has been there for several months now. Roberts says it was a bit odd for some of the employees in the beginning: it was new, they didn’t know who he is, they didn’t know if he was going to push his beliefs on them. They were suspicious and reluctant to speak with him. Now, Roberts says they love him. He knows many of them by name and they respond to him when he comes in and talks. “I think has been a great – the chemistry that he’s been able to build in this short period of time,” he says. “My guys are in and out. We’re talking 15 minutes in the morning, so you don’t have a whole lot of time to build relationships, but he’s able to do that.” The only complaint Van Eaton has received about Mitchell is that the chaplain spoke for too long, about 20 minutes, before one of the team meetings. He feels more comfortable with the service the longer Mitchell is there. He hasn’t seen a big impact on the company yet but is standing by it to see where it goes. “And I think that in some sense, like with the chaplain, it’s kind of like we’re on an adventure,” he says. “We’re going to see what happens.”
Woodland Environment in Ohio joins LandCare
Woodland Environment was founded in 2016 by two industry veterans in Columbus.
In July, Woodland Environment owners Jeff Rupp and Craig Nye sold their company to LandCare, becoming partners in the business.
Woodland Environment was created in 2016 when landscape veterans Rupp and Nye created their commercial landscape management business to serve the real estate industry in Columbus. With over 30 years of combined landscaping experience, they saw an opportunity to offer personal service backed by a strong commitment to quality work and a great environment for employees to grow, according to a company press release.
When they first considered merging their business, they wanted to ensure they found a partner that would allow them to stay connected to the team they had built while providing the support and autonomy to continue to grow within the market, the press release said.
“LandCare gave us the opportunity to continue to run the business as partners, with the confidence that our values and principles would never be compromised,” Rupp said. “When considering the implications of joining a larger company, that was it for us. It was LandCare or continue on our own.”
Independent of LandCare, Rupp and Nye were building a healthy company; however, they found there were aspects of the business that made it difficult to navigate.
Woodland Environment owners Jeff Rupp and Craig Nye will stay on after the company was sold to LandCare.
“LandCare brought us access to resources that really took the day-to-day administrative work out of the equation,” Nye added.
“Now, we’re allowed to focus entirely on growing relationships with our customers and team members while expanding our business at a much higher rate. We are still owners and are still deeply committed to this business, but now we have the backing of a larger support team dedicated to helping us grow.”
LandCare is a national company serving over 20 states across the country. Once publicly traded and subsequently owned by private equity investors, it is now privately held by its leaders.
“We have constancy of purpose,” said Mike Bogan, CEO of LandCare. “We have a long-term perspective on building our company the right way. We focus on organic growth and see these acquisitions as a means of expansion only when we can bring likeminded team members that are aligned to our core values together. I’ve known, worked with and respected Jeff and Craig for many years. They fit perfectly into our team and it’s exciting to work together with them again.”
Woodland Environment has already rebranded as LandCare.
Argonne Capital invests in Schill Grounds Management
In partnership with Schill, the private investment firm is seeking additional acquisitions in the commercial landscaping industry.
ATLANTA — Argonne Capital Group has made a controlling investment in Schill Grounds Management, a privately held commercial landscaping company based in Cleveland.
Proceeds from the investment funded shareholder liquidity and the acquisition of McCoy Landscape Services, a complementary landscaping company in Marion, Ohio. The investment paves the way for Argonne and Schill to make additional investments in the commercial landscaping industry.
Schill was founded more than two decades ago by Jerry Schill, who will continue to serve as CEO and maintain a meaningful ownership stake.
Argonne was attracted to the commercial landscape market because of its recurring non-discretionary revenue model, fragmentation and natural resistance to economic cycles. In partnership with Schill, the private investment firm is actively seeking additional acquisitions in the commercial landscaping industry.
“Jerry Schill and his team have set the standard for best-in-class service in Northeast Ohio for more than 25 years and shown remarkable resilience during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Bill Weimar, managing director at Argonne. “Argonne is excited to be partnering with the Schill team to support the company’s efforts to accelerate growth organically and through acquisitions.”
Since founding the company in 1993, Jerry Schill has led Schill Grounds Management through periods of expansion. The company added multiple locations in Northeast Ohio to serve the year-round landscaping and snow and ice removal needs of over 700 multi-family, commercial, office, health care and industrial properties.
“Argonne will be a great partner to help us execute the next chapter of growth,” Schill said. “The firm brings a significant amount of expertise to our organization and has a history of working with closely-held businesses like Schill to achieve great results. I am excited to leverage the combined experience of Schill, McCoy and Argonne to provide a customer experience that is unmatched in the industry.”
Advisors on the transaction were Jeff Harkness of Three Point Group and King & Spalding LLP. Plexus Capital provided senior debt financing for the investment.
SavATree acquires Jordan’s Tree Moving & Maintenance
SavATree will incorporate Jordan’s into its existing Fort Collins, Colorado, branch.
BEDFORD HILLS, N.Y. – SavATree, which offers tree, shrub and lawn care, has acquired Jordan’s Tree Moving & Maintenance of Fort Collins, Colorado.
Jordan’s Tree Moving & Maintenance is one of the largest local tree care and tree transplanting companies in the Front Range. They have been servicing customers in Northern Colorado and Wyoming since 1984. SavATree will incorporate Jordan’s into its existing Fort Collins, Colorado branch.
Jordan’s service offerings range from tree pruning and trimming to tree transplanting and removals. In addition to current offerings, clients will now have access to a wider range of services including professional lawn care, plant health care, organic options and consulting services.
“We are thrilled to join forces with Jordan’s Tree Moving & Maintenance. Our shared commitment to exceptional service and customer satisfaction will ensure a smooth transition for all clients and allow us to expand our reach in the west," said SavATree’s Executive Chairman Daniel van Starrenburg. "This acquisition builds on the successful acquisition of Mountain High Tree, Lawn & Landscape and Swingle Lawn, Tree & Landscape Care.”
“We have always been very committed to providing the highest quality service to our customers,” said Jordan’s Tree Moving & Maintenance owner David Jordan. “Finding a company with that same philosophy makes this a terrific match.”
Perennial Plant Association honors three landscape designers
The entries comprise 11 categories based on residential, commercial, educational and temporary/seasonal designs.
During the Perennial Plant Association’s 2020 virtual Annual Meeting, three landscape design companies were recognized for their exemplary projects. The entries comprise 11 categories based on residential, commercial, educational, temporary/seasonal designs and price of production.
Initiated in 1992, the Landscape Design Awards program recognizes design projects that are exemplary in use of herbaceous perennials to help create balanced and beautiful landscapes. The “after market” applications of the growers’ products and the design, installation and maintenance of plants in gardens and natural settings are also of special interest to the Perennial Plant Association.
Each year, judges evaluate the landscape designs and select the best entries based on the effectiveness of herbaceous perennial plant material used through the implementation of new cultivars, color combinations, textures and seasonal combinations.
This year’s recipients include:
• Campion Hruby Landscape Architects received two Honor Awards for their Children’s Garden at Hospice of the Chesapeake project and Skywater project. They also received a Merit Award for their Tudor House project. Per the PPA press release:
The judges felt the Children’s Garden at Hospice of the Chesapeake was a truly impactful project. Done with a shoestring budget and generous donations from the local landscape industry, the Children’s Garden is designed to “create a sanctuary of healing, reflection and sharing for families that were suffering unthinkable pain.”
The team “loved the idea of a highly modern structure set into a wild, unruly landscape” for the Skywater project and the landscape architects were able to “influence how position and rotation to take advantage of waterfront views, avoid damaging existing trees and minimize grading.”
The Tudor House project featured an urban property where the landscape architects included “large swaths of native shrubs and colorful perennials (that) drift through the garden, pulling together new and old spaces.”
• Tony Spencer: The New Perennialist received an Honor Award for The New Perennial Pond Garden project. This project was designed in 2016 and “is a local Canadian expression of the New Perennial movement in naturalistic planting design, whose ethos is about making gardens in symbiosis with nature.”
• Richard Hartlage & Garrett Devier with Land Morphology received an Honor Award for their Creekside Contemporary Residence project. This project transformed a former horse pasture into a 5.6-acre garden that “offers a series of garden rooms programmed for family-oriented activities.”
Saunders Brothers helps renovate White House Rose Garden
In June, the Saunders were invited to the White House to consult with a few landscape architecture firms.
PINEY RIVER, Va. – Saunders Brothers and NewGen Boxwood, introduced by Saunders Genetics, were involved in the renovation of the White House Rose Garden, unveiled to the public by First Lady Melania Trump in August.
In June, the Saunders were invited to the White House to consult with landscape architecture firms Perry Guillot and Oehme, van Sweden and Associates on options for boxwood cultivars. This collaboration was the first step in a process that culminated in the selection and installation of over 400 Saunders Brothers boxwood, including 350 NewGen Independence from the NewGen Boxwood collection.
Saunders Brothers advised the project committee in the selection of better Boxwood Blight resistant NewGen Independence for the formal parterre hedges. Identifying Boxwood Blight resistant cultivars for the update was specifically a part of the master planning.
This year has come with a set of unprecedented global challenges affecting every facet of our lives, personal and professional. As a manufacturer it is our duty to closely follow the changing needs of our dealers and most importantly, our customers. In the turf industry, we might not be able to celebrate the strides and successes of 2019, but the good news is the turf segment has shown amazing resiliency to the changing business landscape.
At Kubota, we understand that while work conditions and restrictions vary from state-to-state, an eye on efficient equipment and flexible financing is more critical than ever to allow landscapers to compete, remain profitable, and grow. We are grateful that in most regions landscaping is deemed an essential business, and while we may have to pivot on some fronts, others are moving forward as usual.
We have a long history of engineering equipment that greatly reduces time for commercial contractors, and Kubota continues to refine our equipment offerings with performance and efficiency in mind. Last year, Kubota entered the stand-on mower category with three new machines and this year we added one more model to that series.
Employee retention and performance remains a major consideration for contractors; reducing operator fatigue, while improving productivity will continue to lead product development in commercial mowing equipment. Kubota recently upgraded several comfort features across our mower lines, such as adding a standard suspension high-back seat on our Z400 zero turn mower.
In addition to producing high-quality equipment, Kubota is proud to serve as an overall business partner with our dealers and customers. This year, equipment financing has proven more important than ever for the turf segment. We are proud to offer extremely competitive financing offers. In addition, Kubota is working to add more flexibility to our fleet program, to offer solutions to contractors that will better suit a wide range of changing needs.
Even in the midst of a pandemic, Kubota looks at 2020 with an unwavering commitment to the turf segment. From new products to new finance offers, we will continue to innovate in a changing work and business environment to support commercial contractors.
Let’s remain united at a time when harmony, determination and teamwork will carry us through. We are here for you.
Kubota Tractor Corporation
Senior Vice President, Marketing,
Product Support & Strategic Projects
Gary Morische, owner, Gary’s Lawn & Snow Service, Osage, Iowa
Morische says despite all the uncertainty that plagued 2020, he’s been able to keep things consistent.
“It’s been real steady, and so far, so good,” he says.
Morische says 2019 was a good year overall, but a mild winter served as a bump in the road. He’s hoping for a better one this year.
“I had a slow winter, but summer was really good,” he says. “Like everybody else in this business, it all depends on the weather. We’ll finish up this year pretty good, but it depends on how the winter goes. We always look forward to a new year. We’re hoping COVID will slow down and exit the picture.”
While Morische was able to continue working throughout the coronavirus crisis, it did have an effect on his customers.
“It’s affected some things… as far as people paying their bills it’s been slow, but they’re still coming through,” he says. “I understand it. It’s been hard for people.”
Morische says he’s always been understanding when it comes to a customer’s ability to pay.
“When I started this business, I started it to help people out. I didn’t do it to get rich. That wasn’t the goal for me,” he says.
Additionally, Morische says that the current economic climate has kept him from expanding his business or offering new services.
“We always look for advancements or different opportunities,” he says. “But this year we haven’t made many changes. Because of COVID, we’ve kept things pretty straight and narrow. It’s not really a good time to try something that’ll take more outgoing than incoming.
Morische’s been able to grow his business each year and hopes that’ll continue.
“We just take on work when I can,” he says. “It’s been a good, steady growth.”
Along with adding more commercial properties recently, Morische says having a good reputation is critical.
“The best thing for my business is word of mouth,” he says. “When you do good work, you get people to recommend you to somebody else. That’s a big value as far as I’m concerned.” – Kim Lux
Bill Bumgardner, principle, Bumgardner Landscape, Medford, Oregon
Bumgardner credits the company’s reputation for their growth and success in 2019 and early 2020, but a strategic shift in bidding for new work has also played a role.
“We’ve attempted to bid on more projects and have been a little more aggressive on projects,” he says. “We also added some qualified staff members to the irrigation side. That’s really made our jump. We’re over 120% more in revenue than last year in irrigation repair.”
Bumgardner Landscape finished 2019 up 14.5% from 2018 and was already up about 37% early on this year before the pandemic hit.
“We’re still cautiously optimistic,” he says. “I wish I had a crystal ball and could say either way. I don’t think anybody knows. We’ll stay positive and do the best we can. We’ve got quite a few projects on our books for the rest of the year, so I think we’ll be steady. I don’t think we’ll see too many significant dips.”
Like a lot of landscapers, Bumgardner says his clients that were hit hardest by COVID-19 were commercial shopping centers and retail establishments. However, revenue was up for several other services, so Bumgardner notes it all evened out.
“We made it up in different revenue streams,” he says. “Maintenance might have been down, but irrigation repair and landscape construction were up.”
Bumgardner says that despite the tough couple of months, he’s already getting some contract renewals from his commercial clients for next year.
“They did ask us not to raise rates, so we’re accommodating that and holding the line,” he says. “This current climate calls for that to maintain our customer base.”
Bumgardner’s also been busy keeping up with a trend that seems to be increasing in popularity across Oregon.
“We’re in the Pacific Northwest so we get a lot of people who are fairly progressive in wanting less emissions,” he says. “Electric equipment seems to be getting people’s attention. We jumped into it full speed ahead this year. We have a larger HOA we take care of, and they’re very progressive… so we bought all electric equipment for their site.”
Bumgardner says he doesn’t feel that trend will slow down anytime soon. – Kim Lux
Andrew Sebastian, president, Sebastian Design Build, Silver Spring, Maryland
2020 has been a banner year for Sebastian Design Build.
“We started off to a really good start,” he says. “COVID seemed to have a big impact, but surprisingly, it was a beneficial impact. We’re having our best year ever in 21 years now. It’s been a great year so far, and fall’s looking good, too.”
Sebastian says taking the time to focus on marketing for once has helped him have such a successful year.
“This is the first time I’ve ever had a structured marketing plan in the 20 years I’ve been doing business,” he says. “That, combined with COVID-19 and people being quarantined in their houses, have made it a good year for us so far.”
Having a better online presence has certainly helped Sebastian’s business.
“We’ve been targeting things online and really focusing on SEO,” he says. “I hired a company to pump up my SEO and have some online campaigns going.”
Sebastian says it’s a little embarrassing that it took him 21 years to figure it out, but he says he’s finally got it.
“This year I’ve been trying to get the systems going to increase efficiencies and increase our net profits,” he says. “We’ve really been working on systems in the field, and in pricing and in marketing.”
And all that hard work has paid off. Sebastian says his best year ever is still going.
“The fall is looking fantastic,” he says. “I’m hoping that’ll carry into early 2021. We’re anticipating a strong start to 2021. We’re up about 40-45% from last year. Our gross (income) is up and our net (income) is also up.”
Sebastian says another key to the company’s success is identifying jobs with the most net profit.
“We haven’t had any major, super high-dollar projects, but we’ve been consistently in $20,000-$40,000 projects,” he says. “I’ve been figuring out that that’s where we do the best.”
But there’s still more work to be done, according to Sebastian.
“Building packages is on my list of things to work on,” he says.
Sebastian says he’s also been working to fill middle-management positions. – Kim Lux
Deborah Wade, co-owner, Wade’s Lawn Service, Goodlettsville, Tennessee
Wade believes the old adage is true: Everyone wants a paycheck, but few want to work.
“Labor is something that we struggle with,” she says. “It didn’t necessarily start with the pandemic. It’s really interesting that these jobs are available, but it’s sometimes hard to find dependable people.”
Hovering around eight employees this summer, Wade clarifies that her current batch of employees are dependable and work well together. But in her two decades of business, she says she’s learned that the turnover rate is incredibly high.
At one point in time, she and her husband could have the client schedules mapped out in their heads, and though they wrote it out, they wouldn’t need to do so. But as they’ve grown, they’ve needed more labor – labor that just hasn’t come in a steady stream.
“We’ve always had enough people to get done what we need to get done,” she says, adding that it’s just more difficult than it needs to be with labor being in such short supply.
Even now, the work is there: Wade says the pandemic hasn’t been a blessing, but they’ve been blessed amidst it as they’ve received more jobs than before. She believes people have simply had more enhancement work than she anticipated because they’re sitting around, waiting for someone to come help them beautify their yards.
“We have been extremely busy since the pandemic. I don’t know if it’s the fact that people are sitting at home and they’re looking out the window and thinking, ‘You know, I need to get mulch,’” she says. “I think for the most part, the industry is doing good. Landscapers are still out working, so I think it’s a good industry to be in. I’m happy to be a part of it.” – Jimmy Miller
Francis Connerney, owner, Tampa Outdoor Solutions, Tampa Bay, Florida
Connerney has been a one-man show since 2012, and he couldn’t be happier.
He acknowledges the well-documented labor shortage in the industry, and at times, he had the same issues. But now he feels like he can make more money than before as he relies on himself, and he estimates he’s only in his truck for 25 minutes throughout the day.
“I owned a larger business 10 years ago, and it just became a nightmare trying to keep people motivated, keep them on board,” he says. “In my area, it’s a very transient workforce. It’s just me and I love it that way.”
With that in mind, he’s still got plenty of concerns, largely the economic fallout of a global pandemic. To this point, he’s only lost two clients directly due to COVID-19, but he knows more are going to drop over time.
“It’s not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when,’” Connerney says. “People are just not going to have that free income to do enhancements on their properties.”
To prepare, he’s invested heavily in new equipment and he paid for it all in cash, so when money gets tight later, he’s already got reliable equipment to get him through. He’s still doing the same maintenance work he’s done before, plus he’s seen an uptick in outdoor construction projects, general beautification, and with a bunch of recent rainfall, even some drainage installation.
For the time being, business is actually booming – he just doesn’t know if it’ll stay that way.
“Oddly enough for me, the pandemic has brought about people spending more money at their house,” he says. – Jimmy Miller
Drew Keenum, owner, Heritage Outdoors, Rainbow City, Alabama
Keenum was plenty busy in 2019, rebranding his business from Rainbow Lawn Care & Landscaping to Heritage Outdoors, but despite the rebranding, he says the company has continued to grow.
“We actually did a full rebrand last year,” Keenum says. “We changed the name, logo – everything.” He notes that the rebrand also included opening a landscape supply company.
Keenum says the new name highlights all the services they offer, which include full lawn maintenance, irrigation and design/build.
“People were only relating us to just cutting grass,” he says. “I felt we needed a name that encompassed everything we did and didn’t just lock us down to seem like we were serving just one portion of the green industry.”
The local community even got to weigh in during the process by helping to pick the new name.
“We did a survey and Heritage Outdoors won,” he says. “I also did a competition with one of the local schools for the design of the logos.”
He adds that getting his customers on board with the changes was a struggle at times.
“We didn’t lose anybody, but I had to do a lot of legwork in educating the customers and explaining what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and what it’ll look like,” he says.
Through it all, Keenum says that 2019 and 2020 have been great for business.
“We’ve had our best two years,” he says. “Year over year, we’ve done well. We just past last year a few weeks ago in terms of revenue.”
And Keenum is setting his sights even higher for 2021.
“The goal for 2021 is to expand further south and increase our accounts by 100%,” he says.
Keenum says he plans to target communities just north of Birmingham, where he notes a lot of people are moving to in order to escape city life. His business is about an hour north of Birmingham.
COVID-19 has kept Keenum from making any moves just yet, but he’s cautiously optimistic about the future.
“We’re still looking for expansion into different areas, but we aren’t making any big purchases right now,” he says. “We’re trying to be as conservative with our cash flow as possible.” – Kim Lux
Heath Hurst knows better than anybody that some good can come from an economic downturn.
In 2009, he started to take his part-time work in the green industry full time, in large part because he had few other choices. As he puts it, he was “just trying to make enough money to eat.” Jobs were far and few between, and he had been mowing lawns since he was a kid.
But it was scary then, and the start of the pandemic in March was scary, too. Hurst, now the owner of Heath Outdoor in Indianapolis, says his company spent the first several weeks of COVID-19 fixing up their own property and making small improvements. As restrictions loosened and it became clear they could work out in the field, Hurst says business quickly turned around.
Predicting where the fallout from this virus goes next is too difficult, Hurst says, and his company will continue to roll with the punches like before.
“We’re just going to keep going forward. It is way too global for me to try and anticipate what to do,” Hurst says.
To be clear, Hurst says there will “absolutely” be a recession, but predicting how that’ll hurt the green industry is anybody’s guess. Meanwhile, out west in Phoenix, Ryan Jantz and his company, Sonora Sprinkler, have operated among one of the country’s largest hotspots for the virus. With such an older, extensive retiree population, COVID-19 has affected them greatly.
But Jantz was surprised that the demand for his services are so high at the moment. He’s had to raise his prices because the pandemic accelerated his business in unexpected ways. For the first time in company history, they might crack $1 million in revenue.
“The calls came in so fast that my receptionist couldn’t keep up,” Jantz says. “In this area, everybody had to stay home and focus on their yards. I personally believe there must be more money in people’s pockets than we realized.”
Jantz never had to shut everything down like Ryan Stehouwer in Michigan though. Stehouwer says his company, Sustainable Landscapes, only has two part-time employees and himself, which only complicated things when Michigan shut down for the first two months of the pandemic. Now, he says they’ve fallen so far behind on work that there’s some things they just won’t get around to, not with the cold Michigan weather just around the bend.
“It was terrible. Worst spring we’ve ever had,” he says. “We were at capacity and then we literally got shut down for two months. We have lost revenue just for the fact that there were spring cleanups that we did not do.”
Of course, Stehouwer says his clients were entirely understanding and supportive. But as the economy worsens, his customers may need to cancel services simply because they’ll be out looking for jobs.
“Our worry is not a shutdown, but what we’re starting to see is so many people not working yet,” Stehouwer says. “We haven’t directly lost any accounts yet, but we know that we have a handful where if things don’t go different soon, we’re going to lose a handful of clients because they won’t be able to afford our services.”
Weathering the storm.
Stehouwer says his company has already started to closely monitor their purchases and is making do with the equipment they already have. He says it’s not all “doom and gloom,” but they’re buckling down in case things worsen from here.
“I know in talking with some other guys, things could get interesting here in the next couple months,” he says, adding that companies that focus on commercial accounts in particular are suffering big time in Michigan. Stehouwer’s company focuses 90% of their attention on residential accounts, but as buildings continue to vacate in favor of remote work opportunities, he’s noticed they’re spending less and less with landscaping companies in the state.
The good news is that Stehouwer believes in his company’s ability to rebound, and he says that optimism can be shared industry wide.
“A lot of these companies aren’t going to let things get them down,” he says. “They’re going to find solutions to problems. It seems our industry’s extremely creative.”
Jantz says though his company has excelled in the pandemic, he’s worried about the labor shortage only getting worse. He’s spent hundreds on websites to help him find qualified applicants and has struggled to get people to show up to his yard, even when they’re hired and they say they’ll be there for the first day of work. He’s noticed some client cancellations not because they’re out of money, but because they simply went elsewhere to get their irrigation systems repaired or because Sonora Sprinkler couldn’t get out there in time.
He speculates that with unemployment checks coming in and a natural unwillingness to wanting to work outside in the hot Phoenix environment, he could be in this for the long haul.
“I’m not really worried about the economy. My only challenge is trying to secure quality labor,” Jantz says. “Of all the complaints I’ve had, almost zero had anything to do with price. There’s not enough warm bodies to fill demand.”
Jantz never had to stop work, but he says he’s asked himself what he’d do if the pandemic affects them like it did the restaurant industry. He says his company would offer remote support and cut pricing in half, only to help clients figure out what product to buy to fix their own systems. He could even have them send in pictures so he could tell them accurately what to do.
Back in Indiana, Hurst says the secret to navigating the uncertainty of an economic recession is to simply adapt to the clients no matter what.
“I know there’s a lot of speculation, and I think that’s good because it prepares people for all sorts of possibilities, but the most important thing is that people try to be fluid,” he says. “Everything will work out fine.”