Emerging Leader: Making an early impact

Kelly Dowell dove headfirst into the industry she grew up in, becoming a leader at a young age.

Kelly Dowell is a pioneer. At 29 years old, she’s created Dowco’s first sales and account management systems, and has helped develop the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Young Professionals group. And she is Lawn & Landscape’s first Emerging Leader Award recipient.

“I see a niche and I fill it,” Dowell says. “That’s the kind of stuff that I get excited about.”

She’s been immersed in the lawn care industry since she was a little girl, watching her parents run their St. Louis-based landscape company, Dowco.

Jim Paluch, president of consulting group JP Horizons, has watched Dowell grow into a successful leader in the industry.

“I can remember her as a little girl, coming along with her parents to seminars and workshops,” he says.

Her passion started early on as she worked alongside industry veterans during her childhood. “She was giving a presentation alongside my son (three years ago), and this was in front of about 70 industry veterans, and there’s these two young kids,” Paluch says. “And (Dowell) had them with her the entire time. She is so passionate about what she does.”

Dowell attended Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri, to study business administration. She was able to make the 30-minute commute to the family business on days she didn’t have class. After serving as an administrative assistant for Dowco, she was given a challenge she couldn’t pass up.

“One of our consultants challenged me to be the best account manager that Dowco has ever seen,” she says. “I didn’t take that lightly. And, I didn’t want people to think I got this job just because my dad is the boss. I really had to do something to make a dent in things.”

She says Dowco was very production-driven, getting a lot of work done, but lacking a sales process to upsell to current clients or find new ones. “So that was somewhere that I was able to jump in and make an impact,” Dowell says.

Once Dowell realized she had a place in the company, she continued working there.

“It’s hard to say where a child will go, but I knew she was going to be successful in whatever it was,” Paluch says.

For Paluch, seeing someone so driven at a young age gives him hope that the future of the industry is in good hands.

A valued leader.

Dowell has three employees who report directly to her, along with her own accounts, online marketing, employee training and even her own freelance marketing on the side, which keeps her skills sharp.

“I freelance all over the country, so I’m always learning about other people’s challenges,” she says.

She also makes it a priority to travel at least nine times a year, even if that means shutting off her laptop and heading to a nearby lake for the weekend.

“I guess one of my goals is to grow a business enough that I can travel for like four weeks in January,” she says.

Dowell works closely with NALP’s Young Professionals group, which started out as a Facebook group.

She does have an extensive travel log with trips to Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean to name a few.

“I always thought I was a beach girl, but I really love the mountains,” she says. “There’s just something amazing about them. Colorado is my favorite state.”

Dowell has done a lot for herself in terms of career advancement, but it’s also what she’s done for others that makes her a valuable leader in the green industry.

Clay Martin, CEO of Martin Recruiting and Consulting, met Dowell at his first visit to GIE+EXPO last year. He was the new guy, and he says Dowell could sense that he wasn’t too familiar with things yet.

“At the expo, she kind of took me under her wing,” he says. “She knew I needed some guidance and she didn’t hesitate to step up and help me out.”

Martin credits Dowell for helping him get his business on its feet, including help with his website.

Emails from Dowell urging him to make sure he is following a certain business technique, or even some helpful advice pop up from time to time.

“She’s just a great person to know. She always goes beyond and does more.” Clay Martin, CEO, Martin Recruiting and Consulting

“She’s just a great person to know,” Martin says. “She always goes beyond and does more.”

While Dowell excels in the professional world, Martin says she also has an admirable set of morals and values. “Aside from her business skills, her core values and morals are similar to mine,” he says.

Outside the workplace.

Dowell has been a “big sister” through the Big Brother, Big Sister program for two years. Her “little sister” is 14, which Dowell says can be a challenge, but the experience has been very rewarding.

“I find out she’s doing well in sports and in school,” she says. “So that makes me happy.”

Dowell also led the creation of the NALP’s Young Professionals group, creating a way for young people to network.

While she enjoys taking multiple trips each year, Dowell says the mountains are her favorite place to visit.

She saw a hole in the industry for young people, and knew she wanted to help fill it. The group started on Facebook in 2016 and now it’s up to nearly 200 members.

“She is very involved, and she always, always follows through, which is something that is great for these young people to have,” says Brett Lemcke, vice president of RM Landscape in Hilton, New York, and NALP board member.

Lemcke worked with Dowell to create the Young Professionals group and the two are continuing to work together to expand the program.

“I really want to get it moving for the first two years and then shift my involvement more with the NALP group itself,” she says. “They really want to get me on that membership committee, but I haven’t committed to that just yet.”

While Dowell seems to have a lot going on, Lemcke notes that she is very smart with the time she has.

“She knows when to take something new on, and is aware of that. She knows how her time can be best served,” he says.

Dowell spends a lot of that time with the employees of Dowco. She’s the person the new employees (and pretty much anyone else that comes to Dowco) start with.

“I like to make that good first impression,” she says. “And I like to relate the people that work for us with the clients that we do business with.”

Like many in the industry, Dowell has experienced the challenges that come with finding good employees. She set up several events through Dowco Academy, a program that offers workshops and online training for Dowco employees, to educate the employees in areas outside of work.

“It’s not showing them how to cut grass with a 52-inch mower,” she says. “But it’s something like, ‘Here’s how to save enough money so that you can afford the house you want, or buy a new car, or go on a trip with your family.’”

It’s been a challenge to get everyone on board with the training. There were times when Dowell wasn’t sure if the programs were even worth it.

Yet even the smallest payoff motivates her to keep planning.

“All you need is one smile, one person to buy that car,” she says. “And that’s all that matters. You’ve made an impact.”

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