Editor’s note: Landscaper by trade, educator by heart

June 26, 2019 -  By

Photo: Seth Jones

Clark Tomlinson misses teaching. He recalls his seven years working in an elementary school fondly. His fellow educators helped him get his business started back then, when they’d work summers for him.

Today, they’re his customers.

It was the late 1970s, and Tomlinson was just getting started on a career in elementary school education. He was equipped with a BA in psychology and a master’s in counselor education from Millersville (Pa.) University. Tomlinson was working as an elementary school guidance counselor and a special education director during the school year and working summers on the grounds department at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club to help make ends meet.

“In the late ’70s, early ’80s, teacher salaries were very, very low,” Tomlinson says. “That’s what motivated me to do something different.”

In 1981, he and fellow Lancaster CC employee Dave Bomberger decided to start working part time together off the golf course to make extra money. “We started in lawns — our specialty was growing turf,” Tomlinson recalls. “As we were out there meeting clients, they’d ask us, ‘Can you help us with our landscaping and pull some shrubs?’ Sure, we can do that. ‘Can you help us with ornamental trees?’ Sure, we can do that. As the projects got bigger, we realized we needed to grow the company and hire some people.”

That’s how Tomlinson Bomberger Lawn Care, Landscape & Pest Control was born. The Lancaster, Pa.-based company, founded in 1984, now employs 130 people and after reporting revenue of $11 million in 2018, the company lands at No. 150 in our annual LM150 ranking of the top landscape companies, ranked by revenue. The complete list, sponsored by John Deere, can be found here.

Tomlinson, president and owner (Bomberger retired in 2009), says Tomlinson Bomberger’s motto is, “We do it all.” The company offers lawn care applications, landscape design/installation, tree/shrub management, athletic field maintenance and also entered into pest control. His customers in central Pennsylvania like having what he calls “one-stop shopping” with a name they recognize.

For years, Tomlinson still got good use out of that psychology degree by running the company’s human resources department. He’s strived to make the company a place where people want to work by making sure the employees know they’re valued.

For example, when a Tomlinson Bomberger employee has a birthday, he or she gets a personalized birthday card with two tickets to the movies. When an employee has a baby, the employee receives a gift card for baby gear. There’s an annual company picnic at a minor league baseball game. A local ice cream truck is on the company’s speed dial.

“We’re not looking at the LM150 and saying that we need to be at this level or at that level,” Tomlinson says. “We do know that to stay healthy, we need to offer opportunity (to our employees.) It’s difficult to attract new hires. We have had success, and we’re close to being at full capacity. Now we try to develop from within.”

Tomlinson says he attributes most of his success to his “trusted partners,” including a business coach and his loyal vendors. He advises every business owner in the landscape industry to stay involved in their communities, their local associations and the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

It’s been a long time since Tomlinson Bomberger was literally Tomlinson Bomberger — two friends from a golf course maintenance crew trying to do right by their families and make some extra cash on the side. But today’s Tomlinson Bomberger, an LM150 company, is still a family business at heart.

“It’s about treating people as family. We have 130 people, but I consider it a family business — it is a family business,” he says, noting that four of his adult children work for Tomlinson Bomberger full time, and his wife works there part time. “If you can model yourself after a family, no matter how big you are, you’re going to do well.”

Tomlinson might not work in a school any more … but he clearly is still an educator.

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