Scott Grams might be a relatively new face to the green industry – his introduction to the industry came about a decade ago when the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association hired him as its executive director. But ILCA members and colleagues say he’s gone above and beyond his job description.
“He brings so much more to (the job) than what a typical paid person would bring,” says Mark Utendorf, president of Chicago-based Emerald Lawn Care and ILCA board of directors member. “He’s created a tremendous sense of community within the association and within the green industry.”
Utendorf describes Grams as a “consensus builder” because of his ability to unify the association’s board of directors. With a more cohesive board, Utendorf says the association looks much more professional.
“There’s a tendency within the marketplace where people think that there’s a lot of landscapers who aren’t as professional as they should be,” Utendorf says. “But the level of professionalism Scott brought to (ILCA) contrasts that negative image.”
Prior to stepping in as ILCA’s executive director, Grams held a few other association management roles. He interned at the Illinois Road & Transportation Builders Association and once he graduated, he was the education manager at the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association.
While Grams intended to pursue a career in local government, he says his internship prompted him to focus on a career in association management. So, when ILCA posted a job opening for the executive director role in 2008, he knew it would be a great fit.
Grams had no experience in the green industry. He jokes that he didn’t even have a landscape when he was hired. However, he did have a soft spot for helping small business owners. “I liked the environment of being able to take a strategic plan, dissect it and use resources and volunteers to hopefully get closer to achieving those efforts while also making the industry better for the people who are in it,” he says.
When he joined ILCA, the economic health of the association was struggling. Grams says ILCA had many educational programs, but it relied on just one to profit: its Mid-Am trade show.
And in Grams’ first week on the job, ILCA met with Mid-Am trade show management to discuss the show’s declining revenues.
“The management company basically said, ‘The show is starting to decline, and booth sales are drying up,’” Grams says. “It’s my second day in the office, and I’m being told to make a decision on the largest revenue-producing event that we have.”
Grams suggested Mid-Am integrate more top-notch educational sessions to draw people to the show. And it worked. The show went from 200 to 600 attendees as a result. Mid-Am survived a little longer, but trade show management decided to make the 2013 show its last.
The day after the last Mid-Am, Grams and ILCA decided to create a new trade show for 2014 that they dubbed iLandscape.
Although Grams only envisioned iLandscape to be a small educational show to replace Mid-Am, the show grew much larger than anticipated. The show has grown from about 4,500 attendees to 6,300 in 2018 with 450 booths and 30 educational sessions this year.
Smoothing out relationships.
Grams has also helped to improve relationships within the association. When he started, Grams noticed that relations among ILCA staff, the board of directors and ILCA members lacked good rapport, so new ideas were seldom implemented.
Lisa Fiore, vice president of operations at Don Fiore Company in Lake Bluff, Illinois, and immediate past president of ILCA, says Grams is always responsive with communication. “He’s always providing us with spreadsheets of updates on progress,” she says. “He’s really good about trying to get back to us on time-critical matters.”
In addition to improving relations within ILCA, Utendorf says Grams also helped merge smaller associations into ILCA. In 2016, Utendorf says the Illinois Professional Lawn Care Association approached Grams about merging with ILCA.
“With IPLCA we had a group of guys doing everything but not enough bandwidth to get things done,” says Utendorf, who was a founding member of IPLCA. “Scott put together a terrific blueprint to fold IPLCA into ILCA. That’s not easy to do.”
Grams kept many of IPLCA’s programs in tact after the merger, and he warmly welcomed those members into ILCA.
Pulse on policy.
Along with being a team builder, Grams has been instrumental in gathering industry professionals together to lobby for legislative issues. As Grams started his career with ILCA, he says there wasn’t nearly as much legislative advocacy work being done.
In 2011-12, he helped members navigate a prevailing wage issue.
“Prevailing wage is a wage that has to be paid to anyone working on a public works contract, which in Illinois was $56 an hour,” Grams says. “So, when a landscape contractor was doing a public works job, every single employee, every single hour was getting $56, which was very difficult for a company that would normally be paying employees $15 an hour to try to navigate.”
And just last year, Grams helped ILCA fight against Senate Bill 9, which would have placed a 6.25 percent service tax on landscape industry companies, as well as companies in other service-based industries.
Grams created and shared a packet of information with phone scripts and emails to ILCA members to make it easy for them to get involved. He also did a lot of radio interviews to promote the issue statewide.
After a few months of lobbying, the landscape industry was removed from S.B. 9.
“He really understood the lingo and how to talk to people to make an impact,” Fiore says. “When Scott is advocating for us, he’s right in the throes and passion of the industry not as a landscape business owner, but still a lover of the industry.”