Tips from the Top: Jerry Maldonado, owner, Maldonado Nursery

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Jerry Maldonado, owner, Maldonado Nursery

September 6, 2013
Chuck Bowen


My dad had us mowing yards when I couldn’t even push a mower. It was just horrible.

In 1987 we started our company based in Kerville, which is a small town about an hour west of here.

We moved to San Antonio, and my dad was able to buy a raw piece of land. And we cleared it enough to get in there with the trucks. And we slept in the trucks.

Over a couple of years, we built a shack with no water, no electricity and no plumbing. And we slept there for a few years while we knocked on doors around the neighborhood, started to do a little work and then finally were able to start getting paid a few bucks.

We had hot plates, and we would open a can of beans and warm it on the hot plate and just pass the can around.

We were kids. We were ages 21 and 22, 23. There was a landscape company just across the tracks from where we were, sitting there. And my dad’s dream as we were sitting there, just starving, he would say, ‘One day, each one of you is going to have your own crew.’

That was my dad’s extent of the dream. We’ve got 160 trucks out on the road every day now.

I always think about my dad’s dream. My father was definitely the pusher. He was the guy that had the dream. He’s the one that got us here.

I’m the most proud to say we started at zero, been in business for 26 years, and it’s the same ownership, and that’s family.

My brother Oscar and my brother Roy, and my father, Roy Sr., are also still involved in the business and one of the owners. We own 25 percent.

From 2010 to 2011, we dropped down to $15 million, from $25 million. We went from $15 million to $28 million in one year, which is pretty difficult.

Insane, yes. We’re very proud of our folks and the fact that we were able to get that, not only to get through that but get through it successfully, with profit margins in double-digits.

It sounds like it’s an overnight thing. But for us, it wasn’t. We started making cuts well in advance of the $15 million year. We were looking at our coffee supplier. Is he giving us a good deal? Who’s our uniform supplier? What’s he doing?

So by the $15 million year, we were able to get through that because of the cuts that we had made in the previous two years. And we were able to manage. We weren’t profitable, but we paid all the bills.

We didn’t bring all the H2B visas that we had. We didn’t hire many internal folks. But we kept the entire management team – our construction managers, our top-level guys. They were all here.

But we did let go of account managers. We didn’t cut our estimating department because we have always had the understanding that when it’s slow, that’s when you bid more. That’s not when you lay off all the estimators.

The H2B issue for us is huge. We’ve got 175 to 185 guys coming next year. They raised the rate here in San Antonio to $11.50 an hour just like that. Just as we start the season, no warning. That represents about $500,000 on a 40-hour week just for our H2B guys.

We want to get back to the old system, the tier system, where we pay people based on their experience levels. Without the H2B guys, we don’t have people to fill those slots. They’re not available.

San Antonio relies on the Edwards Aquifer for most of its water. And so they guard that thing with their lives sometimes – a little too much, I think. We’re not a desert-scape city. We like green grass. We like trees. We like plants.

My dad would always tell us, ‘Don’t waste your time making somebody else rich. Go out there, learn a trade, go to school, figure something out and then do it for yourself.’

I got a lot of worse advice when we were starting. ‘You guys are living like animals. You guys are crazy. Why don’t you get a job?’ Worst advice ever.

Fear is the number-one limiting factor to success. Do your due diligence, and take the risk. No risk, no reward; everybody knows that. And it’s OK to be scared.