Grow! 2023 set a record with 750 attendees. (Photo: John Rossi Photography)

Grow! 2023 set a record with 750 attendees. (Photo: John Rossi Photography)

It was a record-setting Grow! Annual Conference last week in San Antonio, Texas, with 750 lawncare and landscape professionals attending the event. Led by Marty Grunder, president and CEO of Grunder Landscaping Co. and The Grow Group, the event offered dozens of seminars on a variety of topics and an in-person tour of Summit Landscape and Design in Hondo, Texas.

Grunder told the packed room at the San Antonio Grand Hyatt how excited he was to have such a large group attending the seminar. He said he would be sharing business secrets, as well as tried-and-true best business practices … which are actually one and the same.

Following his opening remarks, Grunder gave a presentation entitled “Soft skills: The interpersonal skills everyone should have to be successful in life and business.”

“It’s all about interpersonal skills, relating to each other, relating to our clients. In the past 12 months we’ve added (interpersonal) skill training to our rotation of training we do at Grunder Landscaping,” Grunder said. “There are only three reasons people don’t do what you want. The first reason is they haven’t been properly trained or equipped to do it. We are the cause of our own problems and until we look at things like that, it’s hard to get better. The second reason is they don’t have the capacity. That’s the equivalent of moving your right fielder to shortstop at the end of the third inning and they have six errors. The third reason is they have a bad attitude. And the most dangerous people at all organizations are smart people with a bad attitude.”   

Following Grunder’s presentation, attendees could attend one of six hourlong presentations spread throughout the Grand Hyatt and the adjacent convention center. Topics included: “Work perks: Top tips on effective hiring to beat out the competition for your open roles;” “Efficiency masters: How maintenance companies streamline operations;” and “Bad economics happen to good people: Managing cash whether the economy goes up, down or sideways,” among others.

More than 40 seminars were available to attendees with a total of 43 different presenters. To see the full list of presenters, click here.

Visiting Summit

Day two of Grow! started with a 45-minute bus ride to Summit Landscape and Design for a thorough review of the ins and outs of the company. Attendees shifted between 12 different stations, with most stations featuring a presentation from a Summit employee.

Presentations focused on Summit Landscapes and Design’s policies and procedures of human resources; installation; fleet and facility management; leadership; and accounts payable, among others.

Josiah Peterson, founder, and Jonathan Peterson, partner and general manager, stressed the importance of the staff at Summit. 

“While landscape and construction are great, it’s about the people on this team,” Jonathan Peterson told the group during his presentation, adding that once a month, he meets with individual team leaders for an hour just to talk. “Landscape is just what we do.”

Jonathan Peterson, partner and general manager, Summit Landscape and Design, presents at Grow! 2023 on the topic of leadership. “The people are what make Summit great,” he said. (Photo: LM Staff)

Jonathan Peterson, partner and general manager, Summit Landscape and Design, presents at Grow! 2023 on the topic of leadership. “The people are what make Summit great,” he said. (Photo: LM Staff)

Summit Landscape and Design likes to quantify the number of lives the operation impacts directly and indirectly. A sign hanging in the break tent boasts that the company impacts 55 lives (employees) directly and 165 lives when adding in the family members of those employees. In 2024 the company hopes to extend that to 75 direct impacts and 225 lives when adding family members.

The company is currently 40 percent maintenance and 60 percent installation. The Peterson brothers hope to flip-flop that number in the future. But the reason isn’t financial. They believe they can employ more people — and impact more lives — if the company is stronger in maintenance.

For Josiah Peterson, what shaped his motivation to help people comes from difficult times as a youth.

“I was 10-, 11-, 12-years-old and I was wondering two things: one, did we have enough money to put gas in the car to get home; and two, did we have enough money to fix our perennially broken cars and make it home,” he told the group. “I was clearly looking for two things, a safe spot and a way to prevent (this trouble) from happening again.”

Peterson said those fears essentially inspired him to create Summit and why he works hard today to help his employees.

Upon conclusion of the tour, attendees headed back to San Antonio. Following lunch, Grunder brought all of the Summit presenters on stage and asked the room to conduct a “Stop, Start, Keep” think tank for the company. This was the audience’s chance to commend or recommend suggestions for Summit.

While a few attendees offered suggestions (for example, a satellite location nearer San Antonio, which is indeed in the works), most of the comments were praises for Summit’s culture and how it seemed that all the employees were excited to be part of the Summit family.

Impacting lives

Day three of Grow! was still action-packed and included more seminars, a keynote presentation by Grunder titled, “Bless this broken road: Mistakes and lessons learned over nearly 40 years in landscaping” and even an eating contest (who could eat a bowl full of sopapillas fastest).

Keeping in the theme of impacting the lives of others, Grow! sponsor Weathermatic presented the first ever Mary Ellen Graham Service Award — named in honor of Grunder’s late mother, who passed away in February 2019 while her son was hosting a Grow! event in Denver. In 10 years, Weathermatic said it impacted 100 communities and an estimated 30,000 people through its efforts to construct clean water wells.

Grunder joins Hupf and Ostheimer Lifescape Colorado along as Bruner presents them with the first ever Mary Ellen Graham Service Award. (Photo: John Rossi Photography)

Marty Grunder and Brodie Bruner join Michael Hupf and LeAnn Ostheimer of Lifescape Colorado on stage to present them with the first ever Mary Ellen Graham Service Award. (Photo: John Rossi Photography)

The winner was Michael Hupf, CEO and owner, and LeAnn Ostheimer, chief operating officer, of Denver-based Lifescape Colorado (host of the 2019 Grow! event). Brodie Bruner, executive vice president of Weathermatic, told the room that Lifescape gives back locally, nationally and even internationally with its support of the “Save Water. Give Life” charitable cause. The prize came in the form of a clean water well constructed in Somotillo, Nicaragua, dedicated to the company.

A visibly moved Grunder congratulated Hupf and Ostheimer as they took the stage for the presentation. Grunder then recalled fond stories of his mom, who once complained to a Burger King that it had a broken drive-thru when she actually mistook the speaker for the trashcan. During Grunder’s keynote, he shared a video clip of an interview of him about the trials and tribulations of running a local landscape company with a local TV crew at the age of 17. He wouldn’t still have that video, he said, if not for his mother.

Learning from others

 At the end of the event, Grunder announced that Grow! 2024 will take place in Des Moines, Iowa, with RJ Lawn and Landscape serving as the host company. (Related: See RJ Lawn and Landscape COO Annette McCarthy discuss embracing technology.)

This was the first Grow! for Blake Sanders, director of maintenance, and Jared Del Santos, branch manager of Prestonwood Landscape Services in San Antonio. Aspire gave the co-workers free tickets, as the company recently switched to their services. Aspire encouraged them that the event would be fruitful.

Before Grow! 2023 ended, Sanders and Del Santos already bought their tickets for Grow! 2024 in Des Moines. They hope to bring some additional colleagues along for the trip.

“I’d heard about the event before but never took the opportunity to come,” Sanders said. “It’s fantastic. I learned about how to empower the people below you. Let them make decisions. Right or wrong, you need to let them make decisions so they can grow.”

This was the second Grow! for Jeremy Locke, director of horticulture and design for Detroit-based Great Lakes Landscape Design. Locke said the event affirms what his company is doing right, as well as fills in some holes on what the company can improve upon.

When asked what stood out as particularly memorable from the event, Locke cracked open his notebook and read a verbatim quote from host Marty Grunder: “I am a leader and my words are impactful … I need to be cognizant of my words and how they impact the people who surround me. I need to be a leader, and a leader is someone who makes something better.”

Ryan Malone (right) of Malone’s Landscape Management in Seattle, discusses how his company streamlines operations with Jason New of McFarlin Stanford. (Photo: LM Staff)

Ryan Malone (right) of Malone’s Landscape Management in Seattle, discusses how his company streamlines operations with Jason New of McFarlin Stanford. (Photo: LM Staff)

Locke added that the tour of Summit Landscape and Design was impressive.

“They showed us how their culture is very, very important,” Locke said. “It’s not the materials or landscapes that you produce, it’s about the actual people in the business, that make the business. People are what make the actual business.”

Phil Schoggins, vice president of Clinton, Miss.-based SchogginsScapes, said this was his third Grow! He went to his first, in New Orleans, by himself and has since been bringing along co-workers for the three days of learning and networking.

“I like to see what other companies do, good and bad,” Schoggins said. “I like to see what we might be able to implement, and I always try to take at least one or two physical things back with me. Last year at Milosi it was FluidSecure on all their fuel pumps. We took that back and now we’re using that in our office.”

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 23 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at

2 Comments on "Grow! takes over San Antonio with an emphasis on company culture"

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  1. Morgan says:

    Summit Landscape and Design is located in Hondo, Texas

    • Joey Ciccolini says:

      Thank you for this correction! We have updated the reference in the story.