(Photo: LM Staff)

Jeffrey Scott welcomes the attendees of the Summer Growth Summit and thanks his partners on day two of the event. The event built up over four days: Day one, only the Second in Command peer group met, with Fred Wacker, president of Mariani Plants and Hampshire Farms, as the keynote speaker; On day two, only clients of Jeffrey Scott attended; On day three, non-clients joined. In all, around 430 attended the event at its peak. (Photo: LM Staff)

Over the span of four days last week, 430 members of the lawn care and landscape industry descended on a suburb of Chicago to learn how Mariani Landscape, one of the biggest names in the industry and No. 11 on the 2023 LM150 list, gets it done.

The 2023 Summer Growth Summit included lectures in a hotel ballroom, brainstorming among colleagues at tables and an in-person visit to Mariani Landscape in Lake Bluff, Ill., where attendees circulated from station to station to learn from Mariani Landscape employees. Just a sampling of some of the topics covered include “Developing your service ethic,” “Winning the customer journey,” “Five-star maintenance: How to operate small as you grow big,” and “Secret sauce and finishing the year strong.”

Industry consultant and longtime LM columnist Jeffrey Scott hosted the event and was thrilled with the end result.

“I thought it was electric. We had 36 speakers, some were really short and powerful and some were longer,” Scott told LM after the event concluded. “Everyone told me it was the best event yet.”

Behind-the-scenes at Mariani Landscape

On Wednesday, the group was bused to Mariani Landscape, where smaller groups moved from station to station to hear 30-minute presentations from Mariani Landscape employees. Attendees were allowed to see exactly how Mariani Landscape gets the job done, with presentations on maintenance sales; human resources and recruiting; design sales; maintenance enhancements and autonomous mowers.

Jason Reale, director of operations for Refine Gardens, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., made the trek — his first trip ever to Chicago — with his co-workers because they wanted to see how Mariani grew to what it is today. Refine Gardens is in a growth period, Reale said, and they wanted to see how a company went through those growing pains, and what processes were needed along the way.

Reale told Landscape Management that there was a lot to be impressed by after seeing the Mariani team and operation in person.

“The size of this company is impressive. 300 trucks? We’re a 22-truck company. That’s a lot for us to digest,” Reale said. “The amount of maintenance these guys do is really impressive. The amount of people: 1,010 people on staff is a lot to manage. The overall coordination and how clean everything is and how it’s all organized. And everyone is so friendly, I’ve never been to Chicago, it was a pleasant surprise, I didn’t know what to expect.”

Bob Drost, owner of Drost Landscape in Petosky, Mich., hosted the Summer Growth Summit last year. He brought six employees from his company to this year’s event because he wants to keep learning about the industry.

“If you can’t take a nugget away, you’re not paying attention. There’s almost too much to take in. You just need to look around and you see that they’re doing a lot of things right,” Drost told LM. “They didn’t build Rome in a day … we can just keep knocking away at that rock, we can turn it into something great.”

Drost added that the thing that impressed him the most about the Mariani way is how the company approaches enhancements.

“So many people just want another tree. Frank uses the phrase, ‘Every property could use a Pachysandra.’ He’s not saying that because they need a Pachysandra; he’s saying that because every property needs something,” Drost said. “You have to look up, you have to look around to notice that Mrs. Jones needs her gutters cleaned, and there’s a huge tree limb hanging over the house, and there’s weeds in the lawn. There’s all these things, even though you’re just going there because she wanted a new brick walkway.”

Notes on what to bring back

Art Brueggeman, vice president of project management and Colleen Barkley, director of design, described the design sales process at Mariani. (Photo: LM Staff)

Art Brueggeman, vice president of project management and Colleen Barkley, director of design, described the design sales process at Mariani. (Photo: LM Staff)

Art Brueggeman, vice president of project management and Colleen Barkley, director of design, described the design sales process at Mariani. The company has seven design leads, with 12 designers supporting them. Brueggeman said the company strives to build teams that work well together and also produce consistent results.

Brad Stephenson, CEO of New Castle Lawn & Landscape in Birdsboro, Pa., pointed to Brueggeman and Barkley’s presentation as the highlight of his visit to Mariani.

“For us it’s on the design side and seeing how many people are involved in their design — they have 17 people at different levels,” Stephenson said. “(I’m) understanding that we’re a little short on that side and on the landscape architect side. We have designers who are college-educated but we don’t have landscape architects. We’re either working with a landscape architect or we’re going to bring one on, we’ll see.”

Stephenson added that Frank Mariani is a great role model for the industry.

“He’s a good guy, a very down-to-earth guy,” Stephenson said. “I thought this would be a good trip. Mark, my landscape manager, brought it to me, he presented this whole trip to me. I brought my whole management team here.”

Ostheimer praised the nursery that attendees were able to view at the event. (Photo: LM Staff)

Ostheimer praised the nursery that attendees were able to view at the event. (Photo: LM Staff)

LeAnn Ostheimer, chief operating officer of Lifescape Colorado in Denver, said the trip to Chicago was useful in that she was learning and continuing to grow as a professional.

“I’m very glad I came, this is my first time to a Jeffrey Scott and Frank Mariani conference and facility (tour),” she told LM. “I love the nursery. Living in Colorado, we don’t always get to see plants of this size. Secondly, I’m just learning a lot, taking a lot of notes on new things that I can bring back, and also a lot of things that we’re already doing, which is nice to hear. It brings validation to our company and the hard work we’re putting in.”

Relale added that he was happy to talk shop with fellow industry professionals from around the country.

“This is our second time coming (to the Summer Growth Summit). It’s a good way to connect with people around the country,” he said. “People local don’t want to talk about their strategies and their marketing. We can come out here and BS with people, talk about work, talk about life.”

(See more sights from the event here)

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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

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