Stinkin’ thinkin’

Travels with Jim follows Jim Huston around the country as he visits with landscapers and helps them understand their numbers to make smarter decisions.

I was driving through west Texas and had switched from listening to the audio book, The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. to SIRIUS/XM radio. Country singer David Ball’s 1994 song, Thinkin’ Problem, came on and the lyrics filled the air.

Ball’s song got me to thinking. So many of us do, in fact, have a thinking problem. We limit ourselves by the way we think – or do not think. Successful, happy people think a certain way. There’s a pattern to the way they think. Unsuccessful people also think a certain way, and it reinforces their lack of success. I’ve heard it referred to as stinkin’-thinkin.’ The really successful green industry entrepreneurs that I’ve worked with are very similar in how they think. It’s uncanny, but they’re more similar than not. Here are some insights into how they think and what they think about:

1. They think like entrepreneurs.

A successful businessperson constantly submits everything to a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) process. He or she evaluates an option by adding up the benefits and subtracting the costs. If the benefits outweigh the costs, they move forward. John Dellafiora, managing partner of Pacific Lawn Sprinklers, in Queens, N.Y., comes to mind. He constantly applies CBA thinking to every decision that he and his brothers, Peter and Stephen, make. Every cost is scrutinized to ensure that it adds to the bottom line.

2. They think like coaches.

Successful entrepreneurs constantly recruit and train what I call their internal team. They realize that it’s absolutely necessary to build a strong internal team of crew leaders, managers and field personnel. Brian DuMont, president and CEO of Yard-Nique in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area epitomizes the entrepreneurial coach. He reminds me of Dabo Swinney, head coach of the NCAA college football champion Clemson Tigers. Brian is always upbeat and encouraging as he challenges his team to reach for bigger and better goals.

3. They think in terms of systems.

Henry Ford invented the modern assembly-line manufacturing process. He thought in terms of how to accomplish a task in the most efficient manner possible and in the process, he revolutionized the business world. Chris Maroun, president of the Miracle Farms companies in Moultonborough, N.H., could give Henry a run for his money. Chris has over one hundred employees and Miracle Farms is one of the largest green industry companies in the state. Chris’s ability to plan and execute his plans by means of the systems that he and his team have implemented has allowed him to grow his company while maintaining very impressive profitability.

4. They think outside of the box.

Successful leaders color outside of the lines. In order to keep on the cutting edge, they constantly network with professionals within and without their industry. They build what I call an external team. This external team is comprised of professionals from numerous disciplines, including attorneys, bankers, insurance experts, manufacturers, suppliers, financiers, horticulturalists, educators, etc. Successful entrepreneurs constantly interact and network with a bevy of professionals who feed them the latest and greatest ideas and trends. They also alert them to threats and opportunities. They provide them with an “early-warning system” of sorts.

Brian Lemmerman, regional vice president of Yellowstone Landscape, is such an entrepreneur. I met him about six years ago when he was president of Somerset Landscape Maintenance. Brian dropped out of dental school to focus on building his commercial landscape maintenance business. He did so and grew it into a very profitable multi-million dollar enterprise. He not only built an extremely effective internal team with excellent systems, but he also developed an excellent external team. It was his skill at networking and building an external team that brought him the opportunity to sell his business not just once but twice.


Success or failure in the green industry today is 99 percent determined by how we think (or don’t think). We all have the same opportunity. However, it’s what we do with it that matters. If you and your business aren’t growing, you probably suffer from stinkin’-thinkin.’ The good news is that you can change it by changing your thinking, if you are willing.

As I drove through west Texas on to my home in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, I never did figure out if country singer David Ball ever solved his Thinkin’ Problem. One thing I do know is that, like a good cowboy, he at least took the first step and admitted that he had a problem.

Contact Jim Huston at

October 2019
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