What this dog can do for you

What this dog can do for you

Features - Cover Story

TurfMutt is one of many programs designed to promote the value and positive effects of the landscape industry. Here’s how to tell your own story.

March 5, 2015
Kristen Hampshire

Jeffrey Johns posted a plaque on the wall of Coastal Greenery 15 years ago. Inscribed on it was a mission statement – empty words that held little meaning in the field. It said something like, “Provide the best landscape services possible to enhance your surroundings.” Johns can’t remember the exact words.

“It did absolutely nothing for company morale and there was no buy-in from the team – and that went on for 10 years,” says Johns, president of the company he founded in 2004. His Brunswick, Ga., firm has grown to $3.2 million in revenue and 63 employees in that time. Meanwhile, his vision and core values have sharpened.

“We want to be recognized as a leader in landscape management throughout coastal Georgia,” Johns says. The company’s mission statement is to provide the finest in landscape management services while building and enhancing relationships one client at a time. The core values make these big ideas real in the field. Those are quality, relationships, leadership, safety and profitability.

“We are using those five core values every day to get to that end result, which is the vision statement, the destination, and that is how we talk to our crewmembers about our goal,” Johns says.

Johns and Coastal Greenery have a more precise story to tell to clients, prospects and team members. Of course, this required some soul searching and systems. “Five years ago, as my company was growing, I realized that morale was so important, so I pulled together a team of nine people in my company that I hand-selected based on their attitude and the support they gave to the company,” Johns says.

This group became the Green Team.

“I told them, ‘We as a company are growing and pushing, and we need a team to figure out who we are and where we are going,” Johns says, noting that he hired a facilitator to lead the meeting. Johns sat in the back and kept quiet for a full day and a half.

The Green Team ultimately wrote the vision and mission for Coastal Greenery. They determined the core values necessary for reaching those goals. And, for the following three months, 24x30-inch sheets of paper filled with ideas from the session were displayed on the walls of the company conference room. Eventually, every employee had an opportunity to review and add his or her thoughts to what the team developed. The conclusion was a company-wide meeting to hash out the team’s feedback and how to reach the ultimate vision and mission.

“I want my team to be career-minded and involved in what we are doing and figuring out how we are going to get there,” Johns says. This team-intensive exercise built the foundation for the ongoing buy-in. Showing employees opportunity by having them help “write” the story of Coastal Greenery changed the way employees view the operation, and the way they present the company to clients and prospects.

Having a story to tell clients, the community and team members helps a business stay on track to meet its goals. A story – the vision+mission+core values package – steers employees toward the right decisions and calls for accountability.

Finished product

Below are the words Coastal Greenery, Garpiel Landscaping and Greenscape developed as visions, missions and core values that best told their stories to their employees and their respective communities.

Coastal Greenery

  • Vision: To be recognized as a leader in landscape management throughout Coastal Georgia
  • Mission: To provide the finest in landscape management services while building and enhancing relationships one client at a time
  • Core values: quality, relationships, leadership, safety and profitability


Garpiel Landscaping

  • Vision/mission: To provide exceptional landscaping with exceptional people
  • Core values: quality, trustworthy, integrity, delivery and commitment



  • Vision: The Green Team Way: We are passionate about serving our community through understanding their needs and providing green services for the outdoor environment in North Carolina. Our focus on building long-term relationships with clients, employees and vendors sustains the strategic growth of our business through higher retention and referrals. Guided by our principles and values, we are committed to continuous improvement by training and developing our people, resulting in greater career opportunities.
  • Mission: Outstanding results through great service
    There are many landscape management companies in North Carolina. Prospective customers may assume that all are the same. If they base their comparison on services alone, they will not see what makes Greenscape Inc. and Weed Man different. It is our job to communicate our mission through our actions so that current and potential customers truly understand how we are different and why we are the best choice. Our Green Team members are the face of Greenscape Inc. and Weed Man. Actions speak louder than words. Keep the mission in mind as you represent the company.
  • Core values: communication, learning, experience, appreciation, teamwork (CLEAT)

“We are constantly having our team members think about what they are doing and how that applies to our core values,” says Rob Garpiel, president, Garpiel Landscaping, Saginaw, Mich.

At Garpiel Landscaping, the core values are quality, trustworthy, integrity, delivery and commitment. These characteristics propel a mission to, “Provide exceptional landscaping with exceptional people.”

Garpiel’s personal vision is to give others the opportunity to dream. And so the way he operates his company – by delegating to managers and supervisors so they can grow careers – and the way he communicates to his people, using “we” and never acting as a boss, helps team members understand their contribution to the company.

“We engage our team and ask them during weekly meetings how they used our core values on the job,” Garpiel says of ingraining the story into the company culture. After all, a company story is only as good as the characters that play roles.

Nailing your story.

At Greenscape in Holly Springs, N.C., the company’s three “impact makers” on clients’ properties are the foundation of its vision and core values. Those are to focus on seasonal color, irrigation and lawn care. “That’s what creates the wow statement,” says Gregory Smith, business development manager.

By focusing on these three core areas of the landscape service, Smith says the company can deliver the best return on investment. Greenscape, which posted $8 million in revenue in 2014 and employs 160 people, does not want to be seen as one more line item in a property manager’s maintenance budget. “Greenscape wants to help grow clients’ businesses,” Smith says.

“What we provide is more than just landscaping. It’s marketing,” Smith continues, emphasizing that discussions with clients center on positioning Greenscape as a business growth partner.

Why the focus on these three aspects? Smith says that crewmembers can clear out weeds or prune shrubs on short order and improve the appearance of a property. But if irrigation, lawn care and seasonal color are not tended to with attention to detail, improving a problem can take up to two weeks.

Digging deeper into how the company supports its three “values,” Smith says that dedicated specialists focused on these three service areas separate Greenscape from competitors. “We don’t have your everyday landscape management crew handling all of those aspects. There’s a detail crew that does all of our mulching and pruning, a horticultural crew for seasonal color, and we have irrigation and lawn care technicians,” Smith says.

The company, Smith says, has kept its story relevant through the years because the leadership principles and core values have meaning to each employee.

Specifically, its core values are communication, learning, experience, appreciation and teamwork (the acronym CLEAT). Greenscape provides business cards for employees that include the vision statement and core values. “We are constantly preaching it and appreciating people when we get a comment back from a client,” Smiths says.

For example, positive actions in the field are categorized based on the core value. So when appreciation is expressed to the team member who went the extra mile, that praise is communicated by noting how that employee lived out one of the firm’s core values.

Greenscape’s delivery promise is: “On time. Done right. Landscaping services connecting people, businesses and communities through great outdoor spaces.” And rather than just telling the community what it stands for, the company participates in outreach projects to show how it takes its values to the field. For example, Greenscape volunteers for charities like the Boys & Girls Club, helping maintain its green space. “The community sees our core values and principles, and that is how we market that,” Smith says.

Getting buy-in.

When a manager at Coastal Greenery sees a win in the field, he or she takes a picture or makes a note that is filed at the office. When a client gives a team member a compliment, it is logged. The feedback is organized on color-coded scorecards and categorized by core value. The office manager tracks “points” for each employee, and recognition is awarded on a monthly basis in the form of gift cards: $50 for having the most positive marks for a given core value; and $200 for the most feedback earned across all core values.

“At every morning safety meeting, we talk about those core values and tell the whole team what members did the day before,” Johns says, adding that the same practice occurs in weekly sales and production meetings, and quarterly company meetings, where a PowerPoint presentation shares scorecard highlights.

A similar reward system is in place at Garpiel Landscaping. For example, one team member rolled a client’s garbage cans up from the curb and placed them beside (not in front of) her garage. That displayed quality and commitment. Another crew properly set up safety cones and wore appropriate protective gear while working on a municipal job. The manager took a picture. It was a portrait of safety, a core value, and shared at the next tailgate meeting.

On the other hand, an employee at Garpiel Landscaping who was flagged as having an attitude with managers was showing lack of commitment. When managers can pinpoint a problem and relate it back to a core value, they can have productive discussions with problem employees about why a certain behavior is not acceptable at the business and what expectations are required.

Garpiel says one key to helping team members embrace the company story is keeping the vision, mission and core values simple. At Garpiel Landscaping, people are the foundation of its story. So when hiring, Garpiel advertises that the company hires for attitude and trains for skills. That’s a big part of attracting people who want to play on a team and embrace the company culture, he says.

Then, when the team understands, buys into and lives the core values, the company can grow and meet other strategic goals. Garpiel says, “For young companies, the owner-operators that finally put two guys in a truck and are out there mowing lawns or installing landscapes, that is the time to begin telling their people who you are, what you are here to do, and why you need their help to get to that point.”


Time to get involved

There are plenty of organizations that can help you be an advocate for the green industry. Below are some of those groups, along with some events and initiatives they organize, and information on who to contact if you want to join.

Come Alive Outside. The Come Alive Outside initiative was started in 2010 to inspire landscape companies to play a more active role in reconnecting communities with the outdoors. Executive Director Andy Paluch says the green industry is perfectly positioned to advocate the benefits of the outdoors like reducing obesity and stress through staying active outside.

“What we focus on as an organization is putting together programs that bring the landscape industry in as an essential partner in creating the opportunity for people to live healthier lives outside,” Paluch says.

The group is also reaching youth through the Come Alive Outside Design Challenge. The program, which rolled out in the 2014-2015 school year, creates the opportunity for college, high school, elementary and pre-school students to work together with landscape professionals to design and build engaging outdoor learning environments at schools and childcare facilities.

Paluch says the Design Challenge is part of Landscape Ontario and was part of PLANET’s Student Career Days in the past.

PLANET’s Academic Excellence Foundation. PLANET is taking on the green industry’s labor shortage with the Academic Excellence Foundation. Originally conceived as a scholarship fund, the foundation is expanding its scope to become an advocate for the industry to the general public. AEF’s new primary goal is to improve the perception of the green industry and make it a more attractive career option.

“We need to influence people before their kids select a major, before they decide their career path. They need to be aware of what great fun the green industry is and really how well you can do financially,” says AEF Board President Tom Fochtman.

That’s exactly what happened to Colorado State University graduate Eric Sabin. He says his AEF scholarship helped him land a well-paying job in the landscape field. And thanks to the financial assistance he received, he was able to focus on his coursework to learn as much as he could before entering the workforce.

Donors can decide if their dollars will go toward a scholarship or into the general foundation fund to help spread the word about all the green industry has to offer. Money allocated to the general fund is used for projects like sponsorship of career fairs around the country to spread the word about the benefits of a green industry job.

Project Evergreen’s GreenCare For Troops/SnowCare For Troops: Launching nine years ago, GreenCare For Troops brings together landscape contractors and members of the military. SnowCare For Troops is in its fifth year.

The volunteer services are offered to families of deployed military personnel and wounded and disabled veterans.

Contractors go to the website and fill out an online form indicating what services they would like to offer, how many families they’re willing to help and what their service radius is. Families sign online and make a profile indicating what services they’re looking for.

When a match is found, the name and contact information for the contractor is given to the family and it is up to them to contact the contractor and get the service set up.

Executive Director Cindy Code says the program is for the families who are in a very stressful situation while their spouse/parent is deployed.

“Their green space, their landscape, is their haven, so we want to provide a green space where they can go outside and de-stress,” Code says.

OPEI's TurfMutt: The Outdoor Power and Equipment Institute organization wanted people to realize that grass didn’t need to be removed in order to keep your yard environmentally friendly from a water standpoint.

Along came TurfMutt.

“It’s a program at elementary schools to kids before their minds are made up,” says Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI. “TurfMutt teaches that environmental responsibility starts at home.”

Since its inception, TurfMutt has reached 38 million students, teachers and families with weekly readers, online activities, contests, classroom curriculum, a television PSA and a partnership with Scholastic Education.

Kiser says the program is also valuable to landscape contractors because it is educating the next generation of home owners and environmentalists, as well as the parents of the current students.

“It values the landscape,” he says. “It values the homescape. But it’s not just ‘plant less Kentucky Bluegrass and water it every single day.’ There are ways to work with your lawn and flowering this and flowering that to help. We believe it helps landscapers in that you’re going to want a landscape tailored to your environment and your home.”

Legislative Day on the Hill/Renewal and Remembrance. Legislative Day on the Hill, the annual Washington fly-in, is an opportunity for landscape and lawn care industry professionals to increase their knowledge about legislative issues that affect their businesses and to participate directly in the political process. Industry professionals from across the nation are welcome to take part in this event. The Legislative Day on the Hill event is free and includes legislative briefings, an address by a key-note speaker, visits to Congressional offices, as well as dinners, receptions, and networking opportunities. Legislative Day on the Hill will take place July 19-21 and is held in conjunction with Renewal & Remembrance, an event that allows PLANET members to work on the ground of the Arlington Cemetery.

Day of service. Day of Service is a program designed to unite the landscape industry around the country, for a day of giving back to their communities. The purpose of the event, which normally takes place on or around Earth Day in April, is to give members of the lawn care and landscape industry an opportunity to plan, organize, and carry out projects to benefit their communities. Healthy and beautiful green spaces are a vital part of our parks, schools, and public grounds. The lawn care and landscape industry plays a vital role as a steward of the world's green spaces. This program is held on or around Earth Day each April.