Two green thumbs up

From top-notch customer service to money saving ideas, Excequiel Morales earned an Employee of the Year award.

Eric Blevins (left) quickly recognized that Excequiel Morales (right) was one of the best workers in the bunch.
Photo courtesy of Evolve Landscaping

Brad DeCathelineau almost instantly noticed something different about the field manager working on his front lawn.

DeCathelineau had previously hired two landscaping companies before to work on his residential property, but the quality in service between them was comparable. The crews would come in, do their work and leave – nothing bad, just nothing noteworthy.

But a few years ago, he met Excequiel Morales. He approached DeCathelineau at his home and introduced himself, then explained all the work his crew was doing on his property and pointed out possible problems on his lawn to closely monitor over time.

Now whenever Morales sees DeCathelineau – who travels a lot for work – coming home while he’s still working on the lawn, he’ll get off his mower and say hello. DeCathelineau’s wife hit it off with Morales one morning when she had a day off work, and their conversations about greenery have transformed into playful trivia sessions on who knows more about plants.

“Most yard guys, in my experience, they just cut grass, trim and they’re gone,” DeCathelineau says. “It’s just very unusual, the focus that he puts on it, the attention he puts on each individual yard. He’s knowledgeable, he cares about your yard, and he’s always positive.”

DeCathelineau initially met Morales while working at a different company. DeCathelineau has since become the HOA president of his development and hired Morales’ new employer, Evolve Landscaping, as soon as the development’s last contract expired. The company, located just outside Raleigh, North Carolina, is still small after just reaching three years of operation, but Morales’ presence was felt quickly again. The grass is greener since Evolve took over the development, the flowers are growing more frequently and the front of the subdivision appears more welcoming than ever before.

DeCathelineau says it’s Morales’ attention to detail that produces these results. Morales walks around the yard before and while his guys are mowing to pick up sticks and check the brushes and shrubs. Then, once they’re finished, he’ll walk back around a third time to ensure their work quality met his standards as their crew leader.

“Those people that have a green thumb?” DeCathelineau says. “He’s got two of them, or three of them, or 10 of them.”

Always a winner.

Morales had no idea that his boss at Evolve Landscaping, Eric Blevins, had nominated him for Lawn & Landscape’s Employee of the Year award. He found out like all of his other coworkers did – at a company meeting in May.

What’s interesting, however, is that Morales himself was running that meeting.

Knowing the award would surprise him, and also acknowledging Morales’ happy-go-lucky but humble personality, Blevins devised a unique way to honor his righthand man. At Evolve Landscaping, which employs seven full-time employees, Morales does English-to-Spanish translating for meetings. Blevins will tell Morales the information to relay, and Morales does exactly that.

But when Blevins said Morales won the award, Morales stopped talking, laughed, and asked, “Really?”

“When we got to that part, he got this look on his face… and all the guys clapped for him, high-fived him, patted him on the back,” Blevins says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him down. He’s always in a good mood, and even on your bad days, when you’ve got a guy who always manages to keep a smile on his face, that’s somebody who’s a little unique.”

Morales immigrated from Guatemala 20 years ago to start in the landscaping business, but he took his childhood nickname “Checky” with him. Since then, he’s made a name for himself among the clients he serves and the companies for which he’s worked.

Blevins first met Morales when they worked together at a different company. That business had just acquired the company Morales worked with, and as Blevins got to know the 16 or so employees they had just inherited, he immediately recognized Morales as “the best of the bunch.” Morales was trusted with working on more intricate jobs and never needed help at his previous company, yet he managed to get his work done early enough to help other crews.

While they were still with that last company, Blevins was tasked with sifting through customer surveys and reviewing each crew’s effectiveness. He says Morales would always have the highest scores and they’d all mention his professional attitude, attention to detail and that he was proactive with communication.

“Very quickly, you can see the difference he can make on jobsites,” Blevins says. “That kind of stuff jumps out at you pretty quickly: When you’ve got a group of guys and one of them, all of their jobs are always looking great, and the other ones are kind of a mixed bag.”

Blevins left that company to start Evolve Landscaping in 2016, and a little more than a year ago, he needed to find a field manager. After conducting interviews, Blevins was probably a week away from offering the position to somebody before Morales called asking if there were any job openings. Blevins told Morales, “you’re my guy” and they reconnected again.

“He’s not only my boss, he’s a friend, too,’ Morales says. “When you start working with somebody in a company and you have good communication with your boss or with your customers, you’re working happy, man. I love my job. I love what I do every day.”

“He does a really good job of figuring out the individual strengths of the guys on his crew and putting those guys in a position to be successful in what they do well.” – Eric Blevins, founder, Evolve Landscaping

Trusty sidekick.

Morales says he’s formed a trust with Blevins that helps make his job easier. Blevins says that feeling is mutual.

Take, for instance, their decision not to buy a new mower earlier this year. Blevins had budgeted for one, but Morales advised him against purchasing one unless they took on more clients. It was a purchase, Morales said, that could wait until next season.

“Most guys would be like, ‘Hey man, if it’s budgeted, let’s get it,’” Blevins says. “Then you end up with a yard full of mowers that people don’t use all the time, but he’s kind of the opposite.”

This wasn’t the only time Morales has saved Blevins money. As they recently considered their crews and what to pay their employees, Morales recommended they hire one less crew member and instead opt for higher wages. This way, Morales argued, they could focus on hiring quality over quantity.

Blevins says most crew leaders would’ve groaned at the idea of having one less hand

in the field, particularly as the industry deals with a labor shortage. But Morales has a greater understanding of budgetary needs because of his experience working at an open-book company in the past.

“Checky’s familiar with a lot of the pieces of a financial statement: how the cost works, how the gross profit works, how the overhead works and that’s how you get your bottom line,” Blevins says. “He’s treating it almost like it’s his company as well and he’s thinking, ‘Alright, well if we only have X amount of money on labor, I’d rather spend more per guy and get better guys that can do more work.’”

DeCathelineau says Morales has earned his trust, too, just by taking the time to explain all of the work his crew has done to his property. Morales says noticing things like taller grass beside road signs or bushes that have grown to be uneven on either side of a garage go a long way in building up a quality relationship with clients.

“Before I start running the mowers in the field, I go and check with the customer and see if everything’s okay, if they need something extra,” Morales says. “The other thing is when you finish the job, go in and talk to the customer and say, ‘I did this’ and ‘I did this.’”

Meanwhile, that trust is shared among all of Evolve Landscaping’s employees, especially when they’re out in the field. Morales says his crews are working on “faith,” which means they acknowledge his decades of experience and accept his impromptu lessons as they work on a property.

Blevins compares his crews to a puzzle, and he doesn’t need to worry about solving it because Morales is all over it. With the combination of his keen eyes and welcoming personality, he can focus on the company’s bigger picture while knowing his crews – and his clients – entirely trust “Checky.”

“He does a really good job of figuring out the individual strengths of the guys on his crew and putting those guys in a position to be successful in what they do well,” Blevins says. “Not only is he out there working with them, he’s working his magic with the crew. He’s always instructing, always training, making sure that the guys are working smart, working safely, doing things that are going to fit within the puzzle.”

June 2019
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