Editor’s Note: How not to

Marisa Palmieri

As we put the final edits on this issue of LM, I was struck by some of the similarities between the owners of GreenEarth Landscape Services, featured in the cover story, and Andrew Haynes, founder of Garden Design.

When GreenEarth’s Jeremy Durgan told me about how he got his start, prior to merging with his business partner Shawn Knight, he talked about a landscaper he worked for before starting his own company.

“He taught me a lot about how to never run a business,” Durgan said.

Knight also worked for a landscape company before starting his own. With some experience in small business ownership—he previously had a hand in some smoothie shops—he also realized he could be successful on his own rather than working for someone else.

Their stories weren’t unlike that of Garden Design’s Andrew Haynes, who branched out after being slighted by a former employer.

There are many of these stories in the landscape industry—ambitious employees going out on their own. We know many of them don’t last long because being the owner is not what they bargained for. But some of them, like GreenEarth and Garden Design, do prosper based on the “how not to” lessons they’ve learned from past employers.

So as I reflected on the stories of these two companies, here are the similarities I thought were worth bringing to light.

Shared purpose: For GreenEarth, identifying the company’s core vision and values and driving home these points in its communications and processes was a major step. As Durgan told me, “(Employees will) tell you about our core purpose and core values and that cutting grass and planting trees are just a byproduct of us creating opportunities for growth.”

Haynes put it another way, “If everyone knows what we’re there for, the better we communicate, the better our product and services will be, and the better we’ll be as a group.”

Transparency: Both companies operate with an open-book management philosophy that emphasizes educating employees so they can better themselves, make more money and improve the company. Haynes talked about how his average employee didn’t understand profit basics before the company—now an employee-owned entity—hosted entrepreneurship classes. GreenEarth had a similar experience when it first went open book. “I thought because I got nods, employees understood it,” Durgan said. “I thought silence was acceptance, and that’s not true.” He advises other companies pursuing this path to go slowly and keep it simple.

Culture-focus: What business doesn’t want a great culture? But what, exactly, makes a good culture can be hard to pin down. Both of these companies said that hiring based on company values and “walking the talk” are the way to go. “If you don’t have great associates, you can’t have a great organization,” Haynes said.

Durgan added, “People think it’s big stuff that makes a culture, but it’s really just the simple things and consistency that make the difference.”

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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