Fifty and counting in the Green Industry

September 16, 2012 -  By

By Tom Crain

Two Green Industry firms and one association also celebrate a half century in business.

Suburban Landscape Service St. Paul, Minn.
When James Gooselaw started  Suburban Landscape Service (SLS) in 1962 near the then new Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Metropolitan Stadium where the Minnesota Vikings and Twins played, dairy cows and cornfields surrounded all three. The term “landscape company” wasn’t understood by the upscale and affluent St. Paul-based customers that SLS would soon serve. From time to time, homeowners hired “gardeners” to plant perennials and pull weeds; “construction companies” built major projects such as retaining walls, patios or gazebos.

Second Gen Sakeup

Second Gen Sakeup

Gooselaw soon got customers to understand what a landscape company could do. Brandishing a master’s degree in horticulture, a fresh-pressed uniform and a logo on his truck, this landscape pioneer knocked on many doors in the exclusive and leafy St. Paul Summit/Grand/Crocus Hill neighborhood on the Mississippi River bluffs.

He landed lucrative contracts mowing, weeding, planting and installing elegant landscapes and hardscapes to complement these estates.

For 38 years, Gooselaw operated quietly and successfully with a simple formula of doing maintenance three days per week, landscaping the next three days and remaining closed on Sundays. He used sustainable practices before they were commonly desired by customers, including composting waste materials, mulching and retaining water through swales and rain gardens. He had three employees and kept a low profile, relying only on word-of-mouth marketing.

In 1998 Gooselaw hired his nephew Collin Merrill. Two years later he bought out his uncle, becoming the owner at age 25. Merrill rehired Gooselaw to be the on-site project manager for three years before he retired.

To grow the business quickly Merrill identified which of the company’s current residential customers also owned business property. Three customers did, and he landed all three for the company’s first of many commercial accounts.

Today, Merrill has grown the company from revenue less than $500,000 to $1.75 million with 20 employees. The customer mix has gone from 100 percent residential to a 66/33 percent residential/commercial mix.

To continue its growth SLS has teamed up with Gertens, one of the best known garden centers in the Twin Cities, and Stoneman Masonry to deliver a larger array of products and services. It also added snow removal services.

One major initiative in the anniversary year has been the launch of a professional landscape design/build divison, SLS Design.

“This process has empowered our customers and streamlines their experience with us,” says Merrill. “One of the main differences in landscaping today versus 50 years ago is the explosion of outdoor living spaces that incorporate fire, water and kitchen features. My Uncle Jim finds it hard to believe that a current customer would spend $3,500 on a granite countertop for an outdoor kitchen.”

One focus for SLS Design has been to sell energy-efficient landscapes. Merrill tells clients about how properly designed landscapes can decrease heating and cooling bills and reduce noise and air pollution.

“We can show results of our design team managing our property’s landscape elements reducing cooling costs by 15 to 50 percent and heating costs by 25 to 40 percent,” he says. “While energy-efficient landscaping requires some initial capital, it can provide enough energy savings that returns initial investment in an average of eight years.”

Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado
FOR 50 YEARS, the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC) has tackled important regional issues such as responsible water use and immigration reform.
ALCC was first formed in Denver as the Landscape Contractors of Colorado with 20 members. One of ALCC’s early accomplishments was replacing the term “landscape gardener” to “landscape contractor” in the 1964 Colorado Nursery Act to gain respect for the industry.

Five Decades of Service. Longtime members of the ALCC include, from left: Jim Delponte (Delponte Landscape); Lew Hammer (retired); Carl Anderson (retired); Wallace SaBell (SaBell's Enterprises); Chuck Ferdig (Complete Landscape Care); and Stanley Brown Jr. (Alameda Wholesale Nursery).

Five Decades of Service. Longtime members of the ALCC include, from left: Jim Delponte (Delponte Landscape); Lew Hammer (retired); Carl Anderson (retired); Wallace SaBell (SaBell’s Enterprises); Chuck Ferdig (Complete Landscape Care); and Stanley Brown Jr. (Alameda Wholesale Nursery).

According to ALCC past president Stan Brown, president of Englewood, Colo.-based Alameda Wholesale Nursery, the goal of the association was to raise professionalism by improving the image of the industry and educating its members.

“In the early days, ‘fly-by-night’ contractors and those installing jobs in an unprofessional manner were a much bigger problem than today,” he says. “So we tackled this problem head on with the offering of educational programs addressed by seminars at monthly dinner meetings included in the membership dues. We started out each meeting with a prayer and sponsored nickel beers that brought in 100 to 120 attendees each time.”

ALCC launched its first trade show in 1978 at Adams County Fairgrounds, 20 miles northeast of Denver. “That first year there were more exhibitors than attendees,” Brown says. This year, at what’s now called the ProGreen Expo, there were 6,500 attendees and 650 exhibitors. It’s the program with the highest member satisfaction and the largest line item in ALCC’s budget besides membership dues.

The list of ALCC’s community service projects over five decades is long and impressive. The combined retail value of the work totals more than $1 million.

Today, the ALCC has 650 members and a strong network of six chapters. Each chapter delivers services to members and the public, sponsoring educational opportunities and hosting social events.

“Associations like ours are successful because of the many volunteer hours donated by our members,” says Kristen Fefes, who’s served as ALCC’s executive director for the past 12 years. “Our members truly care about the communities in which they work, and giving back has always been an important tenet inside the association.”

Service projects have included tree planting on the 16th Street Mall and Denver Tech Center in the 1970s; renovations at the Central City Opera House and the Brandon Center for Battered Women in the 1980s; and specialty gardens, school playgrounds and libraries in the 1990s and early 2000s. In recent years, ALCC members gave Fort Collins neighborhoods new garden plots to grow their own veggies; a Colorado Springs hospital an outdoor place for healing; and Denver’s KidStreet Children’s Hospital an improved outdoor play area.

Now that the ALCC successfully celebrated its golden anniversary with a gala in July, Fefes is looking forward to the next 50 years.

“The association’s key accomplishments are endless and its programs are many,” she says. “For example, our responsible water usage and xeriscape leadership experiences that grew out of the 1980s continues to change the industry each time another drought cycle occurs.”

Additionally, the association has led on immigration reform, forming Employers for Immigration Reform in 2006 with the Colorado Nursery & Greenhouse Association.

“Immigration reform is far from over,” says Fefes. “And like many of our sister organizations in other states, we’ll continue to be an integral part of this conversation.”

Mark M. Holeman, Indianapolis, Ind.
Mark M. Holman, a full-service landscape firm, started out as a local asphalt servicing company that landed a lucrative federal contract assisting with the building of the new interstate highway system, which reached its “spaghetti best” in and around Indianapolis. The company also was awarded a landscape contract to add trees for beautification along the major intersections of the interstate system that wound through Indianapolis.

After years building the interstate, the company reemerged as a residential landscape firm.

Half-Century mark. Employees of Mark M. Holeman surround company founder Mark Holeman and his wife at the 50th anniversary celebration in June.

Half-Century mark. Employees of Mark M. Holeman surround company founder Mark Holeman and his wife at the 50th anniversary celebration in June.

At its current location since 1980, Holeman’s services include design/build, maintenance, integrated pest management and snow removal. Its 10-acre landscape nursery contains an extensive collection of plant material with a major water feature pond.

“We stock a large variety of trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers, including many large specimen and uncommon species,” says Rich Blankenship, vice president-nursery manager and an Indiana-accredited horticulturalist who has been with Holeman for 21 years. He is also past president of the Indianapolis Landscape Association and current president of the Indiana Nursery & Landscape Association. “As rhododendrons and azaleas are a specialty of ours, we always have our favorite varieties available.”

At its 50th anniversary celebration June 1, the very day 50 years ago the company opened its doors for business, Holeman raised more than $3,700 for the Little Red Door Cancer Agency to create a community garden. Members of the community came together at the company’s headquarters to donate food, products and services to be auctioned off for the cancer charity.

Though founder Mark Holeman is retired, his legacy for involvement and support of landscape associations, foundations and horticulture societies is exemplary. During his tenure, he served as president of the Indiana Nursery & Landscape Association, Indianapolis Landscape Association, Indianapolis Museum of Art Horticultural Society and Indianapolis Museum of Art Board of Governors, among other things.

Continuing Holeman’s tradition of affiliation and support of professional associations, the company has a long list of organization memberships.

What’s changed over the last 50 years? Blankenship is amazed at the differences in equipment between now and then, including bucket trucks used to lift workers and cranes for difficult tree removal.

“When Holeman conducted tree removal in the 1960s, it was all done by hand,” Blankenship says. “It was a painstaking process requiring a lot of manpower and considerable time.”

Blankenship also notes how far internal communication has come.

“I used to have to go to a pay phone to communicate on a job site,” he says. “Now, smartphones, GPS and even mobile offices with Internet access provide great convenience and efficiencies.”

Finally, Blankenship can’t help but point out the definition of what a luxury outdoor living space means to his residential landscape customers.

“A luxury outdoor space used to mean the installation of a large rectangular swimming pool, formal tennis court and a BBQ pit. Now, it’s all about creating unique intimate outdoor living spaces where you can cook in a full kitchen and recline in a full living room. It’s a great trend for the industry.”

This article is tagged with and posted in Cover story, September 2012

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