Young guns

There’s a new breed of landscape contractor in the market place. Actually, he or she should be referred to as a landscape entrepreneur. I like to call them “young guns.”

Jim Huston

There’s a new breed of landscape contractor in the market place. Actually, he or she should be referred to as a landscape entrepreneur. I like to call them “young guns.” I see an entrepreneur as being in a different league than that of a mere contractor. All landscape entrepreneurs may be contractors but not all contractors are entrepreneurs. It’s a matter of perspective. Entrepreneurs tend to see their businesses from a strategic, larger perspective. Too many contractors may have a business license, but they often see and run their business as if it is just a job, not a dynamic business entity. They get mired in the details and often do not see the big picture. Young guns see and do things differently.

The profile. Green industry young guns are highly motivated, tech-savvy, eager to learn, ask lots of questions, are enthusiastic and possess a great work ethic. They also love to work outdoors, create beauty, build and maintain things.

One of their best attributes is their positive, can-do, attitude. However, as so often happens, a greatest strength can become a weakness. Entrepreneurs, are often blinded by their positivity to potential pitfalls like spending too much on equipment. Without the proper help, entrepreneurs can quickly get over their heads.

Chase Coates, 25, got started early in the landscape business. His father, Blair Coates, now owns, along with his wife Michelle, Coates Landscape Supply in Rexburg, Idaho. Blair had a landscape business in Phoenix, and Chase would accompany his dad to work prior to attending kindergarten (but he wasn’t allowed to operate equipment – yet). Once in school, he’d work beside his dad each day after school let out.

“I’ve always been fascinated with creating and building things … and seeing what you can turn something into,” says Chase, who now owns Outback Landscape in Idaho. He loves the variety of materials and projects that landscaping provides. No two days are ever the same. He likes being his own boss and being able to make decisions to try new things without having someone looking over his shoulder all the time. “I started landscaping on my own when I was fourteen, started Outback when I was fifteen and incorporated when I was sixteen,” he says.

Growing as an owner. The early years for Chase saw steady growth. Dogged determination combined with a great work ethic, served him well. However, he knew that in order to grow Outback Landscape, he needed some industry-specific coaching in key areas such as finance, budgeting, estimating, accounting and job costing. He also knew he needed industry-specific benchmarks for his business. He needed to identify, track and monitor key standards for his company. Otherwise, he could easily get outside of healthy parameters without knowing it. Next, he needed to build a management team.

I started working with Chase three years ago at the end of 2009. The recession was in full swing and, due to growth and the economy, Chase was having a challenging year. He knew that he needed some coaching.

You can’t teach height. In basketball, they say that you can’t teach height. Well, in business, you can’t teach talent. You either have it or you don’t. Chase has loads of talent primarily in the form of a teachable spirit propelled by strong entrepreneurial motivation. Like most young guns, he has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

Together we prepared budgets; tore through financials; priced all of his services and products; established company and division (installation, maintenance and snow management) benchmarks for costs for equipment, direct labor, labor burden, materials, general and administrative salaries and overhead. At the end of the next year, all of Chase’s hard work paid off. His net profit was up significantly and he felt more in control of his company than ever before. He knew how and in what direction to focus his energy and his company and it was paying big dividends.

Today Chase has most of the systems and tools that he will need for the remainder of his career in the green industry, though he will certainly add to and refine his entrepreneurial skill set. He now employs 18 staff members at peak season and 11 year-round staff members.

Hold on. It’s a blast to work with green industry young guns like Chase. Fortunately, I’ve worked and coached many throughout my 25 years in this industry. The proper talent base of motivation, enthusiasm, good work ethic and teachability, combined with the right kind of coaching, can lead to long-term, significant success. Talk about a stimulus package – young guns provide just that. The great thing about young guns is that you don’t have to push them. You just hold on tight and accompany them on the ride.

Do you know a young gun? Let us know. We’ll be featuring the best up-and-comers in the industry in a future issue. Email editor Chuck Bowen at


JIM HUSTON runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm. See; mail
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