Since my grandfather, King Ewing, first established his career in green industry distribution, my family has been serving professional irrigators, landscapers and other industry professionals with the same principals he founded our company on: honesty, integrity, tolerance, perseverance, courage, responsibility, self-discipline, loyalty, quality work, faith and family.
While so much of our industry has changed since the early 1920s, Ewing has remained committed to those values. For nearly 100 years, Ewing has continued to grow our product offering and nationwide locations to better serve our customers with exceptional service and the quality products they rely on to do their jobs.
As we move into a new era, one with a greater focus on water conservation, regulations and changes in the workforce, I personally want our customers to know they can count on Ewing to be there for them.
For the young professionals entering this industry, trends will change, growth will rise, slow and rise again. But because of the important work green industry professionals perform—bringing beautiful outdoor spaces to the masses—you can rest assured Ewing will be at the forefront of that change to help educate and support your growth and the growth of the industry. I’m excited to see the path our industry’s future pros will take.
The Ewing family is focused on growing this next generation, just as we’ve always done for decades. From the past with my parents to the addition of my son, Jack York, coming on board, Ewing continues to be dedicated to serving the green industry, now and for the future.
Douglas W. York
President & CEO
Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply
When Kurt Bland first sought a full-time job after college, he went to a career day in Mississippi.
While he eventually would return to manage Bland Landscaping, the company his parents started when he was an infant, he wanted to leave North Carolina after graduation because he desired experience at a company that wasn’t owned by his family.
He thinks about this each time he attends or hosts a career fair. He’s looking for prospective new employees who approach these events similarly to how he did right out of school. Bland likens the process of handling a career fair properly to dating. Finding the right fit, whether it’s a significant other or a company, comes down to thoughtfulness.
“If you want to get a date with a quality person and you’re really trying to establish a relationship with them, you’re not going to call them on Friday or hit them up on Tinder and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing in three hours?’” Bland says. “You’re going to be building some friendly rapport and learning about that person, and then making that ask. I think recruiting and even a career fair is kind of the same way.”
Career fairs can help you land a job with a company that fits your interests, or they can be a waste of your time and efforts. Those who have been on the other side of the recruiting booth offer their advice on how to make sure your job-hunting experience is a positive one.
THE IDEAL CANDIDATE.
Bland says professional attire and a smile go a long way, but there’s more to it than that.
“My go-to (question) is, ‘What are you hoping to learn?” says Lisa Hall, employee development and program manager at Yellowstone Landscape. “Is it field work? Is it design? Is it management? We can tuck them into a specific department and help them experience those things. I just don’t want to hear, ‘I don’t know.’”
Milosi Landscaping’s Carynell Carlton says an experienced candidate is noteworthy, and students should be able to discuss some of their previous work. An impressive resume is memorable, and Carlton says the last time Milosi hired somebody right out of school, the candidate was able to show what he had learned outside of the classroom on his resume. His portfolio felt out-of-the-box, and he had pursued clients beyond classwork.
“Experience is just going to be just so extremely important,” Carlton says. “We don’t mind taking people who have minimal to no experience and bringing them up, but you have a better chance (of) landing a position you’re looking for if you have more experience.”
Interviewers also want to hear about your passions, but Carlton says she’s looking for people who tend to be environmentally conscious. Time spent with a leadership coach or class can’t hurt, she adds. Hall also says a passion for being outdoors will help, as will more physical hobbies like rock climbing and hunting, which show a willingness to put in hard work.
Keeping all that in mind, being yourself is most important. Career fairs can be intimidating, but Hall says you should calm down before you even walk through the door. Answering questions honestly helps companies find candidates they like, but it also helps you figure out if the place you’re talking with will be a good fit.
“Students need to know when they’re at a career fair, they need to relax and be themselves,” Hall says. “Experience and skills are important, but we’re looking at behavior. Is this person going to show up to work every day? Is their team going to be able to rely on them? We’re trying to get to know them.”
Within 30 seconds of initial interaction, Bland says he can tell whether or not you’re actually interested in his company. He says sometimes people go to fairs for the social component or because they’re forced to, not because they’re trying to find a job. With so many people to sift through before the day ends, he can only spend so much time trying to figure out if you’re interested.
“You’ve got to stand out from the students who are just window shopping,” Bland says. “There’s nothing more frustrating than to have somebody just sitting there talking to you and they have no intent to seek employment.”
Bring resumes, cover letters and portfolios – that’s critical. Bland also recommends doing research on some of the companies that are going to be at the career fair. Knowing where the businesses are located is important, but what could help you stand out is being able to ask a few questions about some of their previous projects.
Carlton also says showing you’re interested in working your way up through a long-term career path is important, too, because many interviewees say they want leadership positions but aren’t qualified yet. Knowing what it will take to get to that point is important research to have but expecting those higher-paying positions right away might be misguided.
“It’s not just a summer job,” Carlton says. “Instead of wanting to work their way up to office jobs, what they’re wanting to do is immediately come in and make $60,000 a year and they don’t have the experience we’re looking for. We have a good economy that’s going on right now, so people look at labor positions as if it’s beneath them.”
THE RIGHT QUESTIONS.
Hall says career fairs are conversations, not formal interviews, so you should have some questions ready to ask recruiters. She says asking about company culture shows you care about workplace environment, plus it helps you determine if you’d like working at that company.
Asking somebody what they love or would change about the job is effective, as is asking about what an average shift might look like. If you’re not attracted to the company after hearing the answers, it’s still good information because your own interests may change.
“Even though a company may not look like it’s the place for them right now, you never know in the future, three, five, 10 years down the road, that the company might have a position that you’re interested in,” Hall says.
Carlton says inquiries about starting salary are important, but candidates should also ask about benefits like insurance and retirement plans, plus paid time off and overtime opportunities.
“You can make a lot of money and be miserable, but you can also make a little bit of money but just be so happy,” Carlton says. “Landscaping companies are starting to understand that people want to be treated as such: people. It’s not just a pat on the back or a thank you card. They should look for a company that does offer some sort of medical benefits, a good vacation or time off plan because that’s good for mental health.”
Pavers, brick, cultured and natural stone are the foundation of an outdoor living room – literally, these design-build materials create the grounds for building functional, beautiful spaces in the natural environment. The range of products and creative applications implemented by landscape designers allow for surfaces and structures that complement surrounding buildings – or stand out as a statement. No two jobs are the same.
“There’s a lot that goes into planning a hardscape project, but when you boil it down, most of it has to do with the final purpose – what the customer wants in the end and what their budget is,” says Michael Metcalf, a landscape architect at Kimberly Nurseries in Twin Falls, Idaho.
From designing the project to selecting materials and managing the supply inventory, hardscaping can be a labor-intensive and complex division of a full-service landscape business.
But it’s also an in-demand service, says Ben Carter, president of Carter Land Services in Brunswick, Georgia.
Since Carter Land Services started its hardscape division eight years ago, its southeast market has kept crews busy with patio, driveway and walkway projects. This is not to mention the company’s proximity to one of the country’s largest hardscape suppliers. Tremron Pavers is just 50 miles away and provides easy access to supplies. This convenience eases the planning side of hardscape projects, Carter says.
So many options.
Before selecting materials for a project, Metcalf considers the ultimate use of the hardscape space. “If the homeowners are going to be out entertaining on the surface, you’ll want to go with something that is more acceptable for placing furniture or rolling a barbecue grill around,” Metcalf says, adding that a concrete paver would be a better option than flagstone, with its joints and uneven surface.
On the other hand, a walkway in flagstone can add texture and character to a functional feature, so it’s useful and attractive. Natural stone slabs can form steps and add an organic touch to a concrete paver or cultured stone surface – and boulders can create outcroppings that are less manicured than an interlocking concrete block retaining wall.
Designers weigh both function and aesthetics before selecting hardscape materials.
Carter says more clients are asking for 4-by-8 brick, including reclaimed brick for an antique look in his area. “We have a nice market for reclaimed brick in this area, where old building bricks are salvaged and resold,” he says.
He’s also seeing more interest in brick walkways, patios, driveways and fire pits. “Some are sand-set and swept for a really classy look, and we are also doing projects that are specified with brick-and-mortar soldier lines,” he says. “We’ve done entire courtyards of brick and mortar.”
In Metcalf’s Midwest market, more commercial and residential clients are asking for concrete pavers, and they’re using cultured stone for projects like outdoor kitchens. “We can select stone to match the house,” he says.
Hardscape materials provide endless avenues for creativity, and Metcalf says delivering interesting designs is what separates Kimberly Nurseries from other contractors in the area. “We have designers in-house who come up with creative, custom hardscapes – not just a concrete pad or a monoculture of pavers,” he says. “We spice it up by incorporating seat walls, steps and changing up the patterns and elevations. We also include boulders into our hardscapes so it’s not all concrete block or concrete paver.”
But, you can’t forget the softscape and water, Metcalf says.
“We’ve taken water features and had them disappear into the paver patio, and we try to use specimen plants for focal points,” he says. “The main thing is to be sure the whole landscape works together so it doesn’t look like your patio is sticking out like a sore thumb. You want to soften up the edges.”
The inventory game.
While hardscape materials are readily available in Carter’s area of the country with a major supplier nearby, Metcalf says sourcing materials is a little more challenging in Idaho.
“In the Twin Falls/Magic Valley area, there is a limited supply chain, so we try to go with materials that are made locally in the region,” he says.
Metcalf has sourced materials from the East Coast where there is more variety, he says. But that can drive up the cost of a project.
Ordering hardscape materials on a per-project basis prevents a buildup of inventory, which is basically money sitting on the shelf. Metcalf and Carter both source hardscape pavers, stone and brick as needed. “We naturally have material leftover from projects, so we created a very small amount of inventory that we can pull from to complete orders,” Carter says.
Carter Land Services has two locations with a total of about 3.5 acres of yard. Carter is always checking on the buildup of extra product so those materials can be worked into upcoming projects. “We try to get rid of them within a few years because after they weather you can’t match them anymore,” he says.
As for basic supplies to get jobs done – masonry sand, crushed aggregate, polymeric sand, etc. – keeping these products in stock is convenient, and since most projects require the same “ingredients,” those materials are eventually put to work.
Edging material depends on the project and location. Because of the freeze-thaw activity Idaho experiences, Metcalf says Kimberly Nurseries prefers aluminum edging for exposed edges because it stays in the ground better in dicey weather. But in southern climates, this isn’t such an issue, Carter says. That’s why Carter Land Services applies concrete edging (not plastic, he says).
“It all starts with what the customer needs and wants.” Michael Metcalf, landscape architect, Kimberly Nurseries
The cutting edge.
Hardscape services are competitive, and between the growing DIY market and more contractors embracing property owners’ desire to create outdoor living spaces, landscape companies playing in this space recognize a need to maximize efficiency without sacrificing quality. Also, because innovative designs fetch a higher fee than basic surfaces, staying up on the latest materials and techniques creates a market advantage.
“We go to trade shows and look at magazines,” Metcalf says, adding that his hardscape teams are certified with the Interlocking Concrete Paver Institute and have the Landscape Industry Certified designation from the National Association of Landscape Professionals.
“We are always working on improving efficiency, and the biggest thing we have focused on in the last 10 years is making sure that our people are certified,” Metcalf says.
Carter’s team is also ingrained in the industry, attending seminars and tapping into vendor education offerings, he says. “We keep up to speed on the latest products and installation methods,” he says.
Hardscape is a creative base for stunning outdoor living projects, and landscape firms that are growing into this space or elevating their team’s skills will continue to redefine the market.
Metcalf describes a project his team is about to kick off for the Clif Bar & Company headquarters. “We are doing bike pathways out of recycled, crushed concrete,” he says of one small piece of the sustainable landscaping initiative on that site.
The best thing about hardscaping is the possibilities. But, Metcalf says, “It all starts with what the customer needs and wants.”
Like many landscape architects, Scott Lankford once relied primarily on word-of-mouth referrals to drive business to his firm, Lankford Associates. Then, several years ago, Lankford tapped into a new source of potential clients through Houzz – a “community of more than 40 million homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals,” according to the website.
At the recommendation of another architect, who was attracting quite a bit of business through the online platform, Lankford set up a Houzz profile about seven years ago. Impressed by the site’s user-friendliness, he used it as an interactive project portfolio that could connect him with prospects who were searching for landscape architecture and design services.
“We get an awful lot of exposure from people who search online because Houzz is at the top of the search results. Whether people are looking for a landscape architect in Seattle or looking for us in particular, the Houzz site pops up above our website,” Lankford says.
Since then, Houzz has become Lankford’s “most successful marketing tool,” bringing in about 30 to 40 percent of his residential clients. With a solid five-star rating on the site, Lankford has received “Best of Houzz” awards every year since 2013, garnering recognition for both client satisfaction and design.
Houzz users can search the photo-centric site for products and services related to home improvement, décor, landscaping, lawn care and more – and then save photos and details to “Ideabooks” to inspire their next home project.
“Like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words,” Lankford says, “so our overall strategy (on Houzz) is to be very visual.”
Early on, Lankford took his own project photos, but now, he insists on hiring professionals. “The images are the most important thing you can put (on Houzz),” he says. “It’s very important to use professional photography.”
Since 90 percent of Houzz users are homeowners, Lankford focuses primarily on residential projects (which make up about 80 percent of his business) and saves commercial, municipal, mixed-use and multifamily work for his website.
Variety is important: While your biggest, most expensive projects might look impressive, they could drive away clients with smaller yards who presume you’re too big for them if that’s all they see.
As critical as images are on Houzz, Lankford says it’s equally important to post well-written explanations with each photo. Incorporating the appropriate keywords into these captions can help get your photos in front of homeowners searching for specific features or services.
“The hardest part is to do the write-ups on the individual images,” says Lankford, who writes these descriptions himself. Although he’s passing down some Houzz duties to another associate on his team, these descriptions are difficult to outsource to someone who’s not directly involved with projects.
Lankford leverages keyword research to spotlight certain design elements (like stone walkways, pools, patios and retaining walls) and garden concepts (like low-maintenance, drought-resistant, or salt-tolerant) that homeowners might search for.
“Don’t be too wordy,” he says. “Just use simple descriptions.”
Collaborate with clients.
Although Houzz’s greatest value is as a marketing channel to generate leads, Lankford also uses it as a design tool to collaborate with his clients. He encourages them to create Ideabooks on Houzz by saving images of garden styles that appeal to their preferences. Then, he uses their examples to guide his recommendations.
“If they’re mentioning a stone patio, well, there’s an awful lot of ways to build a stone patio,” he says. “The more images we have that (show what) the client likes, we can pick up the feel and style that they’re after.”
Lankford’s Houzz profile boosts his firm’s presence, both locally and internationally.
“We’re exposed to folks all over the world,” says Lankford, who has seen articles featuring his firm’s work as far as Russia, Scandinavia and Asia.
Lankford knows that word-of-mouth and websites alone are not enough to grow a business in today’s tech-connected world. To generate and close more leads today, landscape professionals need a strong online presence on platforms like Houzz that can accelerate their exposure to more prospects.
“We flat-out tell our contractors to get on Houzz,” Lankford says. “It’s been the most successful marketing tool we use. It’s much less expensive than creating a custom website, and it’s very easy (and free) to set up. We tell everybody to set up an account on Houzz, and they’ll get the exposure they need.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.