Origin stories: Coast Landscape Management | The girl in the boys’ club

June 12, 2017 -  By
Photo: Coast Landscape Management

Photo: Coast Landscape Management

Kelly Solomon
CEO, Coast Landscape Management

No. 128

Kelly Solomon got her start as a salesperson at TruGreen after it bought LandCare USA, which had acquired Lebo Newman’s company. In 2000, Solomon left to start Up Valley Landscape, which bought Coast Landscape Management in 2005 and began operation under that name. Later that year, Newman signed on as chairman and partner. In 2016, the Napa, Calif.-based company raked in $13.8 million with Solomon at the helm. While the number of women-owned businesses is on the rise and one study shows one in 10 women-owned firms fall in the administrative, support and waste management services category, which includes landscape services, the landscape industry is undeniably male-dominated. This is the story of a fearless female owner who credits a competitive spirit for her success.

I don’t know how to grow plants, but I know how to grow people. As far as operations go, I’ve always ridden the coattails of horticulturists and surrounded myself with industry people. I just mine them for information. What I’ve found is most of them don’t have a business background. They’re really good at plants and growing things, but they’re not very good at gross margins and efficiencies.

My husband, Rob Solomon, is a horticulturist with a degree from Cal Poly. He was definitely the one who opened my eyes up to the green industry. I could see the passion that he had, and I caught the bug. He has mentored me as far as operations go.

Photo: Coast Landscape Management

Kelly and Rob Solomon (right) operate Coast Landscape Management in partnership with Lebo Newman. Photo: Coast Landscape Management

When I initially started, like a lot of entrepreneurs, I wanted to create my own hours and my own goals and not be told by a corporation when to show up and when to leave and what to do for the day. I had that entrepreneurial spirit to work really hard to produce something great that I’m proud of. So I think that’s what got me started was the attitude of not getting stuck in a box. Creating my own business was a way for me to create my own path in my life and in my career.

When we started the business 17 summers ago, it was just me, my husband Rob, one guy named Antonio and a truck and trailer. So I’ve been a laborer, an irrigation tech, an area manager, basically every job in the company I’ve personally done. My position is you can’t just slip into a leadership position successfully without doing that. If you want to lead people, you need to walk in their shoes and know what it’s like.

I’ve always been a hard worker. I used to race sailboats in my 20s, so I was around all-men crews. My competitive edge was definitely created on a sailboat, wanting to win a race. It was a sense of pride. If I’m going to work my ass off, I want to win, so I think I’ve applied that at Coast.

My first exposure to a female running a business was at a nonprofit tourism bureau where I did sales. She was the executive director and answered to a board of directors that were all males. I watched her operate, and she mentored me. She taught me how to be a leader as a woman with men. Being direct and transparent is what it takes to work in a male-dominated business for me. It’s cut and dried and simple, but a lot of people don’t realize you have to be really direct and you can be heard. Sure, women can be a little emotional, but so can men.

I am fearless, so I don’t have hang-ups. I can tell people I don’t have the answer to their question. I don’t think that I have to know everything. But I think that I know where to look, and I am a strong leader. I’ve worked for a lot of men and I don’t remember them being quite that fearless.

“My biggest mistake was…”

“You never want to leave too much money on the table if you want to be competitive. You also don’t want to overcharge and be the guy that people don’t consider serious in their business practices. So I think my first learning curve was finding that sweet spot where I was affordable but still profitable.” – Kelly Solomon

Photo: Coast Landscape Management

This article is tagged with and posted in June 2017, LM150

About the Author:

Dillon Stewart graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, earning a Bachelor of Science in Online Journalism with specializations in business and political science. Stewart is a former associate editor of LM.

1 Comment on "Origin stories: Coast Landscape Management | The girl in the boys’ club"

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  1. Rob solomon says:

    Kelly is quite an inspirational leader, I am very proud of all her hard work and dedication!

    Rob solomon