Get serious

Features - Cover Story

The duo leading Glen Allen Grounds Management decided to quit their jobs and go full time with their own venture.

March 31, 2017

Photo by Allison Kuhn

The local bar can be the site of a lot of great stories and chance meetings,but for Eric Ellington, 28, left, and Will Lane, 29, it was the spot where they began their dream of owning a landscaping company. “I was sitting there drinking beer,” says Lane, president and director of grounds management operations.

“Eric comes in with a computer and didn’t drink a beer. We probably talked for an hour to an hour and a half. It was just funny because I was all casual, and he was serious as could be.”

Even though the two went to the same high school and their sisters are best friends, they’d never met. But when Lane’s sister mentioned to Ellington that Lane was interested in starting a landscaping company, they decided to meet.

The meeting was a telltale sign of how the two would operate as a team at Glen Allen Grounds Management in the greater Richmond, Virginia, area.

“Will and I are on the complete opposite ends of the spectrum, and that’s probably one of the main reasons we’ve gotten to where we are right now, says Ellington, vice president and director of landscape operations.

“Will is definitely more mechanically inclined than I am. I have a knack for analyzing data and speaking with customers.”

Part-time start.

Ellington was working at a Caterpillar dealership and Lane was selling food commodities like sugar and starch when they launched the company. But they both had a passion for working outside and running their own business, so they started landscaping after 5 p.m. and on weekends to build a customer base.

The first year, they maintained five properties along with side jobs, and in the second year they reached about 25 properties.

“It was to the point where we were working 80 to 90 hours a week between our full-time jobs and the side gigs,” Lane says. “It was either dissolve, stagnate or go balls to the wall, if you will.”

Over the winter of 2014, Lane decided to focus on the company full-time in March of 2015. The first week wasn’t ideal.

“It snowed that first week, and we didn’t do snow removal, so we were like, “‘Oh, crap,’” Ellington says.

Lane continues, “The first day I actually went out, we had one employee working with me, and we went out and pruned a bunch of trees and shrubs with still, probably, 3 inches of snow on the ground. And then he quit that night. It was a kick in the shorts right off the bat.”

While Lane was working at the company full-time, Ellington was using lunch breaks at his job to answer emails and field some phone calls. By July of 2015, the workload began to interfere with his daily job.

Around that time, Ellington sold a hardscaping job, which was the company’s biggest at that point. In fact, Ellington told the customer he’d quit his job and join Lane full-time if the customer signed the contract. Ellington officially started full-time at Glen Allen in October of 2015.

“It was difficult because I’m leaving a full-time position in October when our season typically starts to wind down,” Ellington says. “Both my managers looked at me and they’re, like, ‘Do you really want to do this now?’ I told them, ‘If I don’t do it now, it won’t happen.’ And then I ended up selling what then became our next biggest job that took us all through the winter.”

Now it’s real.

When the company was part-time, the duo could use some of the equipment they used in high school that hadn’t been touched in seven years.

“Eric had a small trailer, a STIHL backpack blower, a STIHL weed eater and a very low-quality walk-behind lawn mower that we got rid of almost immediately,” Lane says.

But with Glen Allen as a career, they’d have to invest in newer equipment and find somewhere to put it.

“We had a customer who had a farm and we still maintain her (property) to this day,” Ellington says. “She let me keep my trailer at her barn. A lot of the lawn equipment stayed at my parents’ house. When we started to grow a little bit, we started to transition to Will’s garage, and that became our shop. And then on Feb. 1, 2016, we moved into a two-bay office.”

But finding capital to continue to grow has been a problem. Ellington has met with five to six banks trying to obtain funding, but hasn’t had any luck. All of the equipment they’ve purchased has been on zero percent interest rates, and last year they secured a line of credit, which Ellington says helped tremendously, but it’s nowhere near what they need.

“We’ve done a lot with cash and part of the reason we’ve had such trouble coming into capital is because of our pattern of growth,” Ellington says. “Our first to second year in business we did 2.5 times what we did our first year. Same again second to third year.

“And then this past year, with us both being full-time, we tripled. So, the pattern of growth is there, but banks don’t like to hedge their bets on lending us money based on a year or two of good growth.”

With north of $500,000 in revenue last year, Ellington says $1 million is a reachable goal in the future. But the focus must be on a quality work environment and customer service. “When you do that, the revenue comes and the profit comes,” Ellington says.

While Ellington has a clear vision of where the company can go in five years, Lane, true to their dynamic, isn’t as sure.

“I have no clue,” he says with a laugh. “I can tell you there’s going to be five years of hard work between now and then, and I’m excited to see what it looks like.”