Double down: How one pro found a balance between passion and growth

Photos: Lotus Gardenscapes
Photos: Lotus Gardenscapes
System savvy Incorporating a set of systems has allowed Lotus Gardenscapes to not only grow and but also produce award-winning designs.

When Traven Pelletier acquired Lotus Gardenscapes in 2015, the size of his landscape company, Bloom Garden Center & Elemental Design, grew from $1 million to $2 million overnight.

He realized he would have to implement a set of systems to split his focus between being an owner managing a now-doubled company and a designer trying to uphold his creative passion.

“That whole year was organized chaos because we were operating out of two facilities and we had two different ways of doing things,” says Pelletier, CEO and owner of Lotus Gardenscapes, which now includes Bloom. “We had to strip down and move into 2016 with a unified plan and one set of systems and one location.”

Making it work

Pelletier says he was able to keep his company afloat during the transition period for several reasons, one of which was joining a peer group in 2015.

“I didn’t really have the skills or the support to manage a company that large, and finances are my weaker point,” Pelletier says. “Joining a peer group is probably the best thing I’ve ever done in relation to running my business.”

Facilitated by Jeffrey Scott, the peer group Pelletier joined is comprised of 10 members from similar-sized landscape companies operating in noncompeting areas.

In addition to advice from peer group members, Pelletier credits the peer group’s uniform budgeting format—complete with cross-company and cross-industry benchmarks—for Lotus’s financial well-being.

“We’re having to discipline ourselves into using a particular budgeting system, and it completely revolutionized the way I was thinking about how my company was doing,” he says, adding that the accountability he feels toward other peer group members makes him look at items more carefully and work harder.

Influenced by the peer group, Pelletier decided to build a leadership team of five Lotus staff members.

“I needed other key leaders to help me move the company forward and create systems,” he says.

Pulling from different sectors of the company, Pelletier’s team now includes an office manager, production managers, a designer/salesperson and the manager of GreenStreet Tree Care.
The leadership team meets every morning for about 10 minutes, with half-hour meetings on Mondays. The group also eats lunch together every Friday.

Additionally, each member of the leadership team completed a personality test—another idea Pelletier picked up from his peer group. He chose to use the Winslow Assessment System.

“Doing the personality tests gave us a nice way to discuss what our strengths and weaknesses are as individuals within the team and realize how we complement each other,” he says, adding that he has since requested that other management staff members complete an assessment, as well.

Leadership team members are aware of one another’s personality types, but for other management staff, that information is kept confidential.

Other company systems include an extensive online survey and charging a $100 consultation fee—eliminating free site visits.

Meant to save the company time, the premeeting online survey collects prospects’ information and includes more than 20 questions about prospects’ immediate and long-term goals, desired landscape elements, estimated budget and more.

Appreciate Lotus’s owner recognizes employees at the end of each season with personalized awards.

The consultation fee has resulted in a 30 percent decrease in leads and a nearly 80 percent close rate, higher than the company’s close rate before the fee was implemented.

“We were following a lot of leads that weren’t panning out and needed to weed out the people who were less serious,” Pelletier says.

Pelletier also has incorporated several initiatives to ensure staff members are happy.

Drawing from his creative side, he invents “funny” employee awards, given out during the end-of-the-season party, and sends out a weekly email blast that includes company announcements and compliments from staff members to one another.

“It’s my business philosophy that you don’t really have a company without your employees,” Pelletier says.

Despite Lotus’s rapid growth, Pelletier says incorporating a set of systems has helped him hold on to his identity as a designer, but more importantly as a mentor to Lotus’s other designers.

“As of 2018, all of our design sales staff have produced award-winning designs,” he says. “For me, it’s less about my own creative outlet and more about inspiring the whole team and building our creative potential as a whole.”

Lotus Gardenscapes history
Lotus Gardenscapes, originally based in Ann Arbor, Mich., was founded in 1997 as a “guy and a truck” specialty maintenance company with a focus on small projects and garden care.

Traven Pelletier came on board in 2000, bringing with him a builder’s license, a bachelor’s degree in studio art and environmental science and a flair for building large-scale sculptures.
He bought into the business 10 percent every year for five years until he became an equal partner.

Lotus made its first acquisition in 2007 of a slightly smaller competitor and bought out a guy-and-truck operation two years later.

In 2010, Lotus was split into two divisions. Pelletier managed the Elemental division, which was focused on hardscapes and carpentry.

He left Lotus in 2012, taking the Elemental division with him. He says he needed a change after he and his business partner—no longer sharing the same vision—had become “stuck.”
From there, Pelletier bought Dexter Gardens, located in Dexter, Mich., and started Bloom Garden Center & Elemental Design.

When his former partner retired and failed to sell the company on the general business market in 2015, Pelletier bought back Lotus and merged it with Bloom. Together, it’s a $2.5-million company that offers 90 percent design/build, 10 percent landscape maintenance to a 100 percent residential clientele. The company now operates out of the old Bloom facility in Dexter, Mich.

“It was either it got liquidated and sold for its assets or I was going to buy it,” he says. “Because I had helped build it, I wanted to save the brand and keep it going.”

The company will drop the Bloom branding by the end of 2018 and rebrand everything as Lotus Gardenscapes. Additionally, it will transform Bloom’s retail nursery into the Lotus Landscape Design Center, complete with products for clients such as landscape stone, lighting and fire pits.

Lotus also purchased GreenStreet Tree Care, based in Dexter, Mich., in October. GreenStreet is still operating as a separate entity, but Pelletier says he eventually hopes to roll it into the Lotus brand.

Photos: Lotus Gardenscapes

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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