Golden Growth

A college dropout started his company in 2018 and has grown it to $2 million in revenue.

Marcus Celiano, owner, Golden Wolf Landscape & Design

A five-year-old sits at the window completely enthralled with the landscape construction work going on in his backyard. Crews are busy installing a pool, plants, lighting and more.

The boy asks his parents if they will take him outside to watch the work up close and in person. They agree. He quickly makes friends with the foreman, Jose, and gets the chance to sit on some of the machines while Jose moves materials around and installs pavers.

That boy is now 24 years old: His name is Marcus Celiano. His company, Golden Wolf Landscape & Design, based in Long Valley, New Jersey, reached over $1 million in revenue in under one year.

Building blocks of a business.

Getting there was no easy feat. Celiano says he’s been working on achieving this goal since 2018.

“The summer after my freshman year of college…my mom is a real estate agent and she had a client who wanted the front of their property spruced up a bit,” he says. “So, I went out did the work and had my hourly rate at $15 an hour. I thought I was striking it rich back then.

“I really enjoyed going out to a property that was all messy, and in shambles, and making it look so much better,” Celiano adds. “That reminded me of when I was five years old and really enjoyed being out there in this field.”

The following summer, Celiano again set out in his Honda Civic with a couple shovels, rakes and a wheelbarrow.

Marcus Celiano as a young boy while his family’s backyard was redone.

“I went job to job. I knocked on doors, I posted on Facebook, made flyers and then through word of mouth, things just grew,” he recalls. “That summer I made $17,000 and I thought I struck it rich yet again.”

Celiano says he started to feel his hard work and dedication was paying off at that point. Feeling like a true entrepreneur, the next summer he brought on a few high school friends to take things up a notch. He called his new endeavor Celiano Landscaping.

“Like what most landscapers do, I took my last name and plopped landscaping on the end,” he jokes. “We were a little bit more official, so I sold the Honda Civic and got my first truck. We started doing larger jobs and more installations rather than basic maintenance. That was 2020, and we did $150,000.”

At this point, Celiano was a college student studying at Alvernia University majoring in business management. There, he realized he wanted a new career path.

“I realized that in a matter of four months, I made what most people make in a year or even more,” Celiano says. “I began to think about what would happen if I did this full time, and if I bit the bullet and just dropped out of college…I went back to college, but I was so distracted in class.

“I was creating budgets or watching industry leader videos or reading professional growth books. I was so zoned in I couldn’t even focus on school,” he adds.

After a difficult discussion with his parents, Celiano made the decision to drop out.

“Over the course of the winter months, I took out all the money I had made and my investments and sold everything,” Celiano says. “I invested it all in the business. Buying trucks, equipment, apparel, marketing efforts — anything and everything you could think of to get a new business off the ground.

“In March 2021, I had no employees,” he remembers. “Then I was posting Indeed and Facebook ads and was finally able to get three or four employees to start the season with… that year we ended up doing $1.4 million.”

And in 2022, Golden Wolf raked in just shy of $2 million. The company is projected to do about $2.45 million in 2023.

When Celiano decided to dive into the green industry full-time, he started out as an owner/operator before quickly gaining a trusted group of employees.

Marketing matters.

Celiano says one of the first things he did when transitioning full-time into his business was removing his name from the company. Celiano Landscaping became Golden Wolf Landscape & Design.

“I knew I wanted to change my branding and marketing. So, I did a deep dive into that on how one can differentiate themselves,” Celiano says. “I wanted to detach my name from the business and make it more about the company than just about working for Celiano, I wanted it to be that we’d all be working together for Golden Wolf. I also wanted to stand out in a very heavily saturated industry.”

For Celiano, investing greatly in marketing has been one way he’s been able to reach such staggering growth. Golden Wolf has hired an outside marketing company to lead all its efforts.

“Marketing has always been something I’m passionate about and I see it as the forefront of bringing sales in. And we know that return sales are the oxygen to the business,” he says. “We do have an outsourced marketing company because I believe in putting professionals into certain roles where they can thrive and do what they do best rather than just myself doing it half right.”

Celiano’s marketing strategies include Google Ads, geofencing, billboards, postcards, flash mailers, social media ads, text and email marketing, yard signs and more.

“All that leads back to the end goal of marketing — to bring leads in,” he says. “Be able to use multiple different strategies and don’t just get stuck on one, because it takes a few touches to get in front of someone, so being on many different platforms can help it look like you are everywhere.”

Celiano says a strong focus on branding and marketing has contributed to his company’s growth.

Celiano adds the little things make an impact on marketing, too.

“Just being able to have our trucks and trailers around town with our big, beautiful logo have made people drawn to that,” he says. “Company apparel also plays a role. I know it might not sound as important but how we present ourselves is a form of marketing as well. We invest into our appearance.”

While it may seem like an unnecessary expense or difficult to relinquish control, Celiano says he has no regrets with hiring an outside company to run point on marketing.

“I was hesitant in transferring all my marketing budget over to this company, but I just had to trust them,” he says. “At the end of the day, everyone only has so much time. Being able to not be afraid to hire someone to handle it is important. Because it’s an investment and a time saver as well. They can do a lot more, more efficiently with your marketing budget than you could because that’s their profession.”

Seek out success.

Celiano says he also credits a great deal of the company’s growth to having an exceptional industry mentor.

When trying to decide whether to drop out of college, Celiano sought out several well-known landscaping companies in the Reading, Pa., area to seek advice. He instantly connected with one.

“I reached out to four companies and only one person was willing to invite me into their facility — and that was Brad Stephenson at New Castle Lawn & Landscape,” Celiano says. “Brad is an extremely knowledgeable and passionate person and very giving.”

Celiano says Entrepreneurial Operating System helps monitor employee goals.

Celiano says when shadowing New Castle, he was eager to learn all he could.

“When I walked in there, I was like a kid in a candy store seeing their fantastic facility and all their employees. It reminded me of when I was staring out the window at five years old in awe of all the machinery,” he says. “I went out on a couple of jobs with them, and they were nice enough to let me shadow some of their foremen, operations managers and sit in on some meetings. They are an open book and are just looking to help.”

Celiano says Stephenson’s advice over the past few years has been invaluable. He recommends anyone looking to grow in this industry seek out the mentorship of someone wiser and more experienced.

“Having that foresight of someone who’s been in the industry for 20-plus years, and to be able to harness even a little of that and bring it into the current issues I’m facing, has done wonders,” he says. “As a new business owner in this industry, you can never 100 percent predict what’s going to happen. So, with instances that come up…it’s great to bounce ideas off someone rather than being stuck in your own head. It’s been extremely beneficial to me.”

Celiano sits down with his mentor regularly and knows he’s always a phone call away as well. Additionally, he stresses that Stephenson isn’t doing anything physically to grow Golden Wolf but it’s more about giving advice to the young owner.

In terms of what attributes a good mentor should possess, Celiano says it’s simple.

“Someone who is open and honest is key,” he says. “The first day I sat with Brad at New Castle, he showed me anything and everything I asked about and let it be a resource to me… and I respect him for that.”

While their working relationship is great, Celiano notes it’s not always sunshine and roses between the two.

Marketing has always been something I’m passionate about and I see it as the forefront of bringing sales in. And we know that return sales are the oxygen to the business.”

Marcus Celiano, Golden Wolf Landscape & Design

“He’s definitely had to raise his voice at me at times and be 100% honest, but he knew if he wasn’t honest with me, that could’ve led to other things that wouldn’t have been the best for me to do,” Celiano says. “He wants to keep me on the right path to success and streamline it and not deviate around it.”

Celiano says being able to have the difficult conversations and then move past them is also crucial when seeking a mentor.

“There’s been instances where I’ve had very difficult conversations with Brad and even though they were difficult, they were the right and truthful conversations that needed to be had in that moment,” he recalls.

Additionally, Celiano says he never feels obligated to listen to his mentor’s advice verbatim.

“There’s definitely been instances where I didn’t agree with what he said and I ended up doing my own thing,” he says. “You don’t have to follow their footstep step for step, but it’s someone to bounce ideas off and gain further insight from.”

Review, report, adjust.

Having Stephenson as an ear to bend is great, but it’s not the only influence on Golden Wolf’s substantial growth the past few years.

Whether it’s keeping a keen eye on the numbers or ensuring employees are buying into and Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) system the business has implemented, growth is at the forefront of Celiano’s leadership strategy.

“We have adopted the EOS system and that’s something that Brad shared with me,” Celiano says. “Because I saw their success from adopting that system… the EOS really portrays a vision into the company and gives people a greater meaning and purpose with their job.”

With an EOS, everyone is assigned goals. These goals are quantifiable, and they are to achieve them over the next three months.

“Being able to have everyone buy-in and take ownership into their position has been great,” Celiano says. “It’s developed better leaders internally. It’s grown our people. Instead of just being a pointer, they are leading people and are able to connect on a personal basis which gets people more invested in the business.”

Celiano says his staff meets weekly to address any issues, to-dos and important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) along with checking in on everyone’s EOS assignments and goals.

“In assigning those goals, there are responsibilities that come with it, and someone has to take leadership in order to achieve those in a timely manner,” he adds.

In addition to the leadership skills improved by through EOS, Celiano attributes the business’s success in part to being scrupulous with budgeting and reviewing the financials.

“I think being able to develop a budget and accurately represent your man-hour rate is crucial, because that’s the only way any company can be profitable and achieve the numbers we did in Year 1,” he says. “Being able to understand the difference between gross profit and net profit and tracking that religiously is also key. Gross profit is great and all, but really, net profit is most important.”

Understanding your numbers is the best advice Celiano says he could give any business — whether it’s just starting out or has been well-established for years.

“Knowing cost per lead, cost per job and those analytics are very important because with that you can reverse engineer your marketing plan to directly correlate it to production and sales,” he says. “Just track all your numbers consistently. That way you can adjust and pivot as needed in a timely manner, rather than waiting until you’re so off track (that) you’re doubling efforts to get back on track.”

The author is assistant editor with Lawn & Landscape.

May 2023
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