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7 ways to grow your hardscape business

March 15, 2021 -  By
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Hardscape project (Photo: Atlas Outdoor)

Chick-fil-A of hardscapes Atlas Outdoor employees model their customer service experience on the popular fast-food chain. (Photo: Atlas Outdoor)

Sam Gembel, owner of Atlas Outdoor in Flint, Mich., has made almost every mistake along the road to $5 million in annual revenue, he says.

“In our first four years of business, we didn’t know what our vision was,” he says of the company he founded with his wife in 2011. “We would even paint for people if they were willing to pay us. Our business grew quickly because we were too responsive to people’s needs. It was like we were going on an awesome vacation, but we don’t know how we’re going to get there or really where we were going. We’ll stop anywhere and say, ‘Oh, this looks nice.’”

Gembel says his company became known for its rapid revenue growth. Atlas Outdoor provides lawn maintenance and design/build services to half residential and half commercial clients and performs commercial snow removal.

“We’re the company that grew to $5 million in five years and had all of the mistakes that come with it,” he says.

Gembel, Frank Bourque, former hardscape business owner turned consultant; Kenneth Deemer and Patrick Murray, managing partners of Local Roots Landscaping in Pittsburgh; Jerry NeSmith, co-owner of NeSmith Landscapes in Tallahassee, Fla.; Matt Griffin, president of Prime Lawn in Porter, Texas; and Clint Tucker, owner of Sugar Hill Outdoors in Buford, Ga., share the keys to their businesses’ growth and give advice on how to grow a hardscape business.

1. Have a vision

The first step on the road to growth, Bourque says, is understanding where you want your business to go.

“Business growth is not a sprint,” he says. “Results come from you actually stepping back once in a while and taking a look at your business and saying ‘OK, that used to work for us, but does it still work for us?’”

NeSmith says it’s critical to know who you are as a business and where you want the business to go. NeSmith Landscapes offers landscape and hardscape design/build, irrigation and landscape lighting to residential clients. He aims to be a one-stop shop that focuses on details. The business has steadily grown about $300,000 every year for the last few years.

Men at a hardscape project (Photo: Jaki Hawthorne/Studio Jaki)

Working smarter Equipment such as the Takeuchi TL8 helps the crew at Sugar Hill Outdoors work 10 times faster. (Photo: Jaki Hawthorne/Studio Jaki)

“If you lack a vision, you’re floating in a boat with no paddles in the Gulf of Mexico,” he says. “You’re out there moving with the waves of responses and the economy.”

Bourque started in the hardscape industry as a teen and started his own business in New Brunswick, Canada. He and several partners grew their business to 110 employees with two locations in two cities. He says part of the reason he sees having a vision as a critical part of a hardscape business is to ensure companies don’t make the same mistakes he did.

“One challenging day, however, I was forced to step back and realized that I was not growing the business I wanted,” he says. “I realized I was more focused on growing a big company, when, in reality, we were growing bigger problems. We didn’t have the right systems in place. I also realized that my real dream was to build a profitable and systemized company where people are happy to work and where there is little or no dependence on owners.”

Bourque implemented software to increase and track efficiency, invested in equipment and eliminated jobs and equipment that didn’t add to the overall return on investment. Understanding the vision for a business, Bourque says, is a key part of growing a business in the right direction.

Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University and has been in B2B publishing for seven years. She can be reached at cherrick@northcoastmedia.net.

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