FORT COLLINS, Colo. – While addressing the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the National Collegiate Landscape Competition, Andrew Ziehler told the students in the audience a valuable lesson he learned from starting a business scratch.
He said in the early years of owning his company, Ziehler Lawn and Tree Care near Columbus, Ohio, he was always concerned about keeping information from his competition, but learned that wasn’t the correct way to operate.
“Never do that,” he said. “This industry is built on sharing.”
The NCLC is hosted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals and took place at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.
More than 60 schools and 800 students take part in the competition, which features competitive events in hardscape projects, plant identification, business management and more.
Along with the competition, there is a career fair and the presentation of more than $100,000 in scholarship donations from landscaping and lawn care companies and industry equipment manufacturers.
One of those scholarship winners echoed Ziehler’s lesson about helping the industry succeed as a whole.
Alyssa Brown, who received $2,500 from John Deere, said one of her favorite parts of the event is talking to those she is competing against each year and learning from them.
“We all succeed when one of us succeeds,” said Brown, who is a senior at BYU majoring in landscape management and planning to pursue a graduate degree in environmental science. “We progress as an industry.”
This was the fourth year for Brown participating in the event and she was the team captain of the BYU team. Brown said that she enjoys seeing how the industry continues to give back to the students.
“Our industry has a big sense of community,” she said.
Another theme commonly heard at the event was the continued push to show that the green industry is a place for a successful career and not just a summer job.
Roger Phelps, corporate communications manager at STIHL, the platinum sponsor at the event, said students are seeing the potential in the industry more and more each year.
However, Phelps says that’s not the case with parents and high schools, who are still skeptical.
“It’s most important to show a career ladder to parents and guidance counselors,” he said.
That career ladder is important to the students, but they have more of an immediate focus when it comes to joining a company.
“They want to know – what am I going to be doing when I get out of college?” he said.
Ivan Giraldo, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Clean Scapes, said he heard a lot of students talking about being good stewards for the environment.
He sees an opportunity for the industry to communicate that the green industry isn’t part of the problem but instead part of the solution.
“We need to keep explaining what our industry can do for the environment,” he said.
BYU-Provo’s team defended their title by winning first place again, while BYU-Idaho finished second and Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio finished third.
Frank Vareska from Cuyahoga Community College finished as the top scoring student while Colin Schulte from North Dakota State University finished second and Bradley Hill from Brigham Young University – Idaho finished third. For full results, visit bit.ly/nclc2019.
Sperber ready to make a splash
The former ValleyCrest CEO recently announced his return to the industry. He tells Lawn & Landscape that he wants his new company to have a national footprint. By Brian Horn
While waiting for his non-compete to end after exiting as CEO of then ValleyCrest (now BrightView), Richard Sperber said he spent a lot of time with family and dabbled in real estate. He also came to a realization.
“In the three years I figured out I wasn’t good at anything else but landscaping,” he told Lawn & Landscape. “I’ve always been passionate about the business and I love it.”
On April 1, Sperber, whose non-compete ended at the end of 2017, announced the launch of Sperber Landscape Companies. Sperber says the Calabasas, California-based company will eventually have a national footprint and focus on maintenance while being selective on high-end installation projects.
The company will launch with between 200-300 employees through acquisitions and partnerships he hopes to announce soon.
Sperber says he didn’t want to go the route of working directly with a private equity firm, instead deciding to work with a mix of investors.
“My whole goal is to build a great business again and have values that we had before,” he says. “It’s a people business, right? It’s hard to do that when you have a huge private equity firm breathing down your neck full time and they’re trying to manage you from the 50th floor of a high rise building in New York. Don’t get me wrong, I want to make money, also. But there’s just different ways to making money.”
Private equity firm KKR bought landscaping giants Brickman and ValleyCrest in two separate deals in 2013 and 2014 respectively and merged the two companies in May of 2014. The company was rebranded as BrightView in December of 2014.
“Our families worked hard over the years to build a certain culture, to treat our employees a certain way. It was all about delivering a great experience to our employees and a great experience to our clients. They moved away from that,” Sperber said. “It doesn’t mean they are doing something worse. They just have their own core philosophies, have their own ideas of how to run the $2 billion business versus $1 billion.”
He sees Sperber Landscape Companies eventually having a national footprint but doesn’t have a ceiling on a revenue number.
“As long as there’s no shortage of people that want to have some fun and build a great business, I want to get really big,” he says.
As far as the name of his new company, he says that could still change.
“It may not end up as Sperber,” he says. “I call that my working title.”
He adds that he doesn’t feel any pressure to live up to the expectations created by the Sperber name. Sperber’s father, Burt, was the founder of ValleyCrest and guided the company to become one of the largest in the green industry. He died in 2011 at the age of 82.
“I have a lot of confidence because my dad spent so much time with me and taught me so much,” he says. “There are so many people helping me that liked our company and loved my dad, so I owe it to him to do it. We have to write our own ending and not have someone else write our own ending.”
Stay Green acquires Pacific Crest Landscape
The move helps the family-owned company expand into Orange County in California.
SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – Stay Green has acquired Pacific Crest Landscape of Orange County, expanding the family-owned landscape services throughout Southern California.
“This is an exciting time for Stay Green, and we are thrilled that (President) Donnie Smith and his Pacific Crest team are now part of the Stay Green team,” said Stay Green CEO Chris Angelo. “Donnie shares our core values about customer service and helping clients achieve landscapes that are beautiful, sustainable and efficient.”
Smith has more than 25 years of landscape industry experience and will continue to supervise operations from the Orange County location that he first acquired in 2009.
Smith said he plans a smooth transition as his team continues to provide service to their Orange County clients, and he sees opportunity for future growth as Pacific Crest becomes part of the Stay Green team.
The Pacific Crest clientele now served by Stay Green consists mainly of commercial office parks and retail centers. Pacific Crest also provides tree pruning, irrigation services and more.
The Stay Green headquarters are in Santa Clarita, and its more than 400 employees serve clients throughout Southern California including Kern County, Santa Barbara County, Ventura County, Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, Orange County, Inland Empire, Riverside County and San Diego County.
Stay Green generated $25.4 million in 2018 revenue and ranked No. 81 on Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 list.
Aquatrols hires Lewis as U.S. territory manager
Lewis will be responsible for overseeing the company’s business in the Pacific Northwest region.
PAULSBORO, N.J. – Aquatrols, a manufacturer of soil surfactants and related technologies, has appointed Jay Lewis as their newest U.S. territory manager.
In his new role, Lewis will be responsible for overseeing the company’s business in the Pacific Northwest region, including western Canada and Hawaii. Lewis joins the Aquatrols team from Textron Specialized Vehicles, where he worked most recently as their channel development manager. An Oregon native, Lewis has previously managed distribution in the western region for Jacobsen Golf.
Lewis is the second addition this year to the company’s sales team, led by North American Sales Manager Mike Navel.
“I am confident that Jay’s passion for the industry and continuous drive will be a great asset to our team and to our customers in the Pacific Northwest region,” Navel said.
Weed Man adds mosquito control to service options
Select franchise locations will be implementing the company’s mosquito control this season.
CLEVELAND – Weed Man has added mosquito control to its current list of services.
Weed Man is currently releasing marketing materials for this service and select franchise locations will be implementing the mosquito control this season.
With a mosquito control service, Weed Man will reduce the amount of pests known for carrying and transmitting diseases like Zika and West Nile.
Weed Man now has 21 service offerings customers can leverage based on their individual lawn and region.
“The Weed Man promise has always been to treat every lawn as if it was our own, so we have been working hard to roll out this new service to continuing being our customer’s first choice for a healthy, pest-free lawn worth enjoying,” said Weed Man Chief Operations Officer Jennifer Lemcke.
“Our franchisees have matched our enthusiasm and consumers will soon start to see the offering available to them.”
Administered by service technicians, Weed Man’s mosquito control service utilizes specialized equipment to target mosquitoes where they are or could be living to reduce their populations on the property.
New and improved
Get the lowdown on some of the industry’s latest products
BAHCO Anvil Secateurs
The pitch: BAHCO’s Anvil Secateurs reduce fatigue and the risk of wrist injury with a shock-absorbing buffer.
- Designed with a narrow taper anvil and sharply-angled carbon steel blade
- Highly corrosion-resistant nonstick blade, coated for reduced friction
- Improves accessibility and cutting quality for home, garden or vineyard use
For more info: Snaponindustrialbrands.com
EGO commercial series
The pitch: It’s a new line of outdoor power equipment designed for all-day run time with weatherproof construction and an enhanced recharging time.
- The new program features a commercial grade 15-inch string trimmer; 600 CFM blower and a 25-1/2-inch hedge trimmer
- All tools are powered by the battery backpack and every EGO tool is backward compatible with the Power + line-up
- The equipment operates quietly at roughly 80 decibels per use
For more info: Egopowerplus.com
Leonard sheath kit
The pitch: This kit combines a Leonard Deluxe Soil Knife, a pair of Leonard Traditional Bypass Pruners and a Leonard Dual Leather Sheath.
- The Leonard Deluxe Soil Knife features a 6-inch stainless-steel blade
- This dual-edged blade combines a serrated edge and a sharp edge
- A built-in cutting notch slices through twine and plant ties, and it’s equipped with a one-piece molded composite handle
For more info: Amleo.com
PerfEdge steel edging
The pitch: PerfEdge steel landscape edging allows surface water to drain from unwanted locations, keeping areas dry and usable.
- Permanently delineate landscape beds, walkways and gardens from lawn areas while promoting water movement and drainage
- PerfEdge is available in 10-ft by 4-in pieces in either 20- or 16-GA thickness
- Finishes include raw steel, galvanized, or one of three EcoCoat colors: black, brown, or green
For more info: Coyotelsp.com
Travels with Jim follows Jim Huston around the country as he visits with landscapers and helps them understand their numbers to make smarter decisions.
It was early January when I pulled out of Park City, Utah, onto I-80 heading east to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Unfortunately, 100 miles into this trip, fog smothered the road like a Hudson Bay blanket, reducing visibility down to 200 to 300 yards. I slowed down to an agonizingly slow pace. This wasn’t the way I wanted to start my winter consulting season.
About this time, two pickup trucks passed me going the speed limit. It was obvious they were traveling together. Like a lead dog, the truck in front was setting the pace and ensuring that the road ahead was safe. The vehicle had heavy-duty fog lamps and excellent visibility because it sat high above the tarmac. I’ll come back to this trip later in this article.
Lost in Idaho.
It was right about the time of the 2008 economic crash when I started working with Chase Coates, president of Outback Landscape (OLI), in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Chase was coming off a rough year and he knew that he needed to make some adjustments. Unlike so many young landscape contractors, Chase not only sought out new methods and advice, but he also implemented them.
We got together and began a process of budgeting, benchmarking, pricing and strategic planning. Upon departing his office (then in Rexburg, Idaho) the first time, I wondered if he would take the information that I gave him and implement it. It didn’t take long before I had my answer.
Six months later, it was obvious that Chase had implemented the pricing and tracking benchmarks that we had discussed. By the end of the year, Outback Landscape had grown in sales by over 30 percent.
More importantly, the bottom line had improved significantly. But this was only the beginning of a 10-year run that would take Outback Landscape from a fledgling company to one of Idaho’s premier Green Industry contractors.
Building on a solid future.
Throughout the next 10 years, Chase continued to study his business, the green industry and the opportunities within his market. He continued to plan both strategically and tactically as he sought to master not only the big picture (threats and opportunities outside of OLI) but also the little picture (daily operations within OLI). Early on, we began talking about purchasing land and building a facility to house the company. This would help the company plant a flag, so to speak, in the southeastern Idaho market. It would also increase efficiency of daily operations and allow for future growth. We estimated that the new facility, with its efficiencies, would add from 1 to 2 percent to OLI’s bottom line.
Internally, Chase focused on two very important elements of the company. First, he built a great team of field and office managers. Tyler Washburn, operations manager, has been with Chase almost since day number one. Arin Chunn runs the internal systems of the company. Kim Rubert and Kirk Jeppesen comprise the design/build and sales portion of the team. These individuals allow Chase to focus on threats and opportunities as they handle the daily operations.
However, Chase knew that he needed not only to build a great team with great people in key positions. He also knew that he had to build great systems to hold everything and everybody together. He and his team did their research and implemented industry software to be used in conjunction with his accounting software.
A decade later.
Ten years after first implementing a process of budgeting, benchmarking, pricing and strategic planning, Outback Landscape has grown more than ten-fold in sales revenue with a solid double-digit bottom line. Just this past February, Chase and his team moved into their new facility in Idaho Falls.
Like the lead dog that I was following to help me navigate through the fog to get me safely to my destination, Chase has followed in the footsteps of many others. He followed his father, Blair Coates, president of Coates Landscape Supply and his mother, Michelle Coates, the CFO for the company, who also teaches English at a local college.
Some people always want to be the lead dog, whether they’re qualified or not. They often quip that the scenery doesn’t change if you’re just a follower. Smart individuals, on the other hand, realize that in order to become a leader, you first have to learn how to be a follower. Interestingly, as Chase continues to seek out top-notch mentors and coaches, he’s become one himself because he knows the value of listening and learning from the experience of others. This is a lesson from which we can all learn.
Contact Jim Huston at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kohler Company is both proud and excited to be a part of the Lawn & Landscape Top 100 list this year. In a rapidly changing environment, with challenges around every corner, it is inspiring to see the hard work of so many businesses paying off with such impressive growth. We congratulate all of Lawn & Landscape’s readers for your dedication to advancing the industry.
The Lawn & Landscape Top 100 is based on 2018 revenue from landscape profit centers. Most information is reported by each company listed, and supplemental data are sourced from public records and reporting by L&L staff.
Companies on the list earned total revenue of $10,221,735,143 in 2018, which is an increase of $603,045,036 or 6.27 percent, compared to 2017. The average expected growth for 2019 is 10 percent. Companies on the list also reported total employment of 97,269. Eleven new companies were added to the list this year.
As we at Kohler Company approach our one-hundredth year of designing and building commercial engines, it is a perfect time to renew our commitment to helping you be the most productive and profitable business in your markets. From our industry-leading EFI technology to our non-stop quality improvement initiatives, our focus is simple: provide power that works for you.
Since 1920, we have had the privilege of helping businesses like yours satisfy customers, grow and expand. We congratulate everyone on the Top 100 list and hope that we can continue to be a part of your continued growth journey for the next 100 years.
T. J. Landrum, Vice President, marketing, gasoline engines
If you need proof that Colorado is thriving economically, just ask Phil Steinhauer.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a backlog like we’ve seen this year,” says Steinhauer, owner of DesignScapes Colorado based in Centennial, Colo. “People are calling us earlier and we’re going in earlier to design jobs with builders and contractors so that when these projects are ready to landscape, they’re on the schedule.”
Similarly, at Environmental Designs in Henderson, Colorado, President Shawn Ryan says contracts are already signed and have increased over 2018.
“Now we’ve got to perform,” he says. “It should be a great year.”
And over in Aurora, Colorado, Larry Overley, president and CEO of LandTech Contractors, plans on continuing to grow his company in a steady fashion.
“We are very controlled in the way we grow, very strategic,” Overley says. “We also have plans to open up some more branch offices, profit centers and we are working on that as we speak.”
The landscaping market.
According to the U.S. Census, Colorado's population grew 1.4 percent in the one-year time span from July 1, 2017, to the same date in 2018, landing the state's growth rate at No. 7 in the country.
“We have had a lot of growth,” Ryan says. “I think the benefit Colorado had is that we didn’t see a lot of recession in 2008. A lot of people continued to move to the state, and I don’t think it got hit as hard.”
Real estate values weren’t as bad as other areas and the state rebounded quickly, Ryan says, adding that the state’s legalization of cannabis contributed to a booming economy.
“It brought a ton of money to the state,” he said.
Steinhauer, whose company ranked 75 on the Top 100 list with $27.5 million in 2018 revenue, points out changes in the population, including East coast transplants, also have contribute to the growth.
“I think there’s a lure to head west,” Steinhauer says. “I think that’s always been part of the American dream. There’s a little bit of a frontier feeling still here in Colorado.”
The climate is also appealing.
“People are finding out Colorado’s actually got the perfect weather, where you get four seasons but it’s not extremely cold all winter long,” he adds.
The practically year-round pleasant weather has helped with sales, according to Steinhauer.
“That whole outdoor living – that’s kind of a big part of being in Colorado,” he says. “With outdoor living comes fire pits, outdoor fireplaces, extensions of living rooms into the outside.”
Nearly every residential job performed by DesignScapes Colorado today includes some type of outdoor living space, he says.
“Landscape contractors are doing a ton of construction now, not just trees and shrubs and irrigation,” Steinhauer says. “A lot of these spaces have patios and pergolas and outdoor TVs and kitchens and everything imaginable.”
For Environmental Designs, a blend of high-end residential customers combined with commercial maintenance accounts has helped keep the company’s book of business diversified, Ryan says.
“They have fed off of each other really well and the economy is going strong. Construction is booming,” he says. “We’ve been really lucky with snow. We’ve been lucky with commercial maintenance, floral install. We do a ton of floral (seasonal color) too.”
His company employs around 300 workers during peak season, of which anywhere from 50 to 100 can be seasonal workers. Environmental Designs landed at number 92 on the Top 100 list with $23 million in 2018 revenue.Ryan predicts growth for the industry will continue.
“I see Colorado as being a great marketplace as far as continued growth for the next few years,” he says.
Colorado’s population grew 1.4% in the one-year time span from July 1, 2017, to the same date in 2018, according to the U.S. Census, landing the state’s growth rate at No. 7 in the country.
While jobs in the state may be plentiful, and landscape projects in demand – labor is an issue just like it is across the country.
“The negative is there’s no labor. I mean none,” Ryan says. “The limit to your growth is people, not ability. I got jobs I can’t do because I can’t find more people.”
Both Ryan’s workforce and workers in the landscape industry in general in Colorado are aging, he says.
“The ’90s were phenomenal. I could go to my guys and say I need 20 workers and I could have 20 new guys shows up to work within a week,” he says. “Today, in Colorado, I can run ads, do flyers, we have one person dedicated to recruitment, and it’s unbelievably painful to find people.”
Part of the issue is education that there are more opportunities in the industry than simply mowing a lawn or only working for a season, Ryan says. Part is also the reality that there are other opportunities and industries to work in that may seem more appealing.
“It’s hard work, long hours, it’s just really demanding for the pay,” he says. “And due to the fact that we do snow removal, it becomes a full year-round job. You don’t really ever get a good break. You’re always working.”
While jobs in the state may be plentiful, finding labor remains a struggle in Colorado – just like the rest of the country.
Combatting workforce issues.
In order to get around the labor issue, many companies are using H-2B workers, alongside other tactics. DesignScapes Colorado has used H-2B workers for about 14 years.
“There’s not a lot of people beating down the door and that’s why we rely so heavily on H-2B,” Steinhauer says.
“Obviously that program is very challenging; to operate a business not knowing if it’s going to be around next year or how it’s going to be managed.”
At Environmental Designs, similarly, H-2B workers have been used for about 12 years now.
At LandTech, Overley sees some positives to the program, despite the unpredictable nature of using a temporary workforce.
“It fills the void when you need more labor,” Overley says. “The beauty of it is, it is temporary. We have been using that program now for 19 years.”
His company employs more than 300 workers during peak season and landed at 64 on the list with revenue of $30 million.
Overley says his company utilizes both internal and external recruiters to seek out talent.
“Our HR is very good at vetting people. We are very aware of the need, and perhaps the challenges, that go along with personnel and how you really have to vet them,” Overley says.
In addition to using the temporary legal VISA workers, these Colorado landscape contractors are thinking hard about how to bring in more full-time, permanent workers.
“We’re networking with job fairs now. Getting associated with high schools and junior colleges and trade schools to spread the word that you can make a career in the landscape industry,” Steinhauer says.
“It doesn’t have to be behind a shovel but there’s estimators, there’s designers, there’s project managers, there’s accountants, there’s administrators.”
Likewise, Ryan says his team has been working with schools to look for young talent. He has also been working on company culture.
“We do a lot of things for culture. We have a scholarship program that we do,” he says. “We do a lot of recruitment events, community development.”
The author is a freelancer based in Ohio.