Origin stories: Landscape Workshop | The industry outsider

June 12, 2017 -  By

J.T. Price
CEO, Landscape Workshop

No. 55

Landscape Workshop is not J.T. Price’s invention. Joey Dobbs started the mostly commercial maintenance company in 1984. By 1995, it had quickly grown into a top company in the industry. Three years after McKinney Capital acquired it in 2011, the company tapped Price, a McKinney employee who had never operated a landscape company, to professionalize the operation’s systems. Since he came onboard, the company has grown by more than 40 percent, from $17 million to $29.6 million. This is the story of an industry outsider’s crash course.

By academic training, I had no experience in the industry. I had a little bit of exposure in an earlier career stop. I was working for a private equity firm that owned Finn Corp., which makes hydroseeders, bark blowers and straw blowers, and I was heavily involved in that business for about five years. But that’s the metal side of the business as opposed to actually cutting grass and pruning bushes and so on.

When you’re on the equipment side, you think the equipment is creating the efficiency in the field. It certainly helps, but I would argue that the people are what create the customer experience. You have to have the right equipment, but you can have the best mowers and sprayers and handheld equipment in the world, and it’s not going to matter very much if you have wrong people.

I didn’t necessarily ever think I’d get back into the landscape industry. Three years ago, I was working for the family that is the majority shareholder of Landscape Workshop, and they approached me about stepping in. I’d enjoyed the people I’d met in the industry when I was on the equipment side. I thought Landscape Workshop was a great business with a lot of opportunity to be even better.

The folks I worked for already owned the business, so I’d gotten to see some of the people, the work they did and the pride they took in taking care of the customers. At the same time, I saw opportunity for us to upgrade the systems, to upgrade our sales and marketing to grow the business so we have a little more scale to geographically expand and to upgrade what was already a really good team.

Getting the right horticultural talent and business talent together was really the most important piece. I do very little other than make sure we have the right people on the team and make sure they’re all rowing in the same direction. Our operators, our account managers, our general managers and our sales teams are the folks who deliver excellence to our customers every day. I just help them have the business systems and the support to let them do their jobs.

In the industry, I see a lot of people make emotional decisions, and if you’re trying to build a great business for the long term, your economics have to work, too. On the equipment side, if it was a big snow season, I knew we’d sell a bunch of equipment in the spring because everyone was flush with cash. That doesn’t necessarily mean everybody needed extra equipment. They just happened to have a bunch of extra cash and they wanted equipment. We make sure our people have everything they need. We’ve been investing in the best equipment, but we’re not buying equipment because we have cash. We’re buying equipment because our business will support it.

I think one of the things that’s really helped me in this industry—other than being smart enough to know I’m not a great horticulturist and surrounding myself with great horticulturists—is making sure we’re applying discipline to our decisions. You know, we’re not doing things because we think we want them. We’re doing things because the customer is telling us they want them. We’re not spending money emotionally or bidding emotionally. We’re bidding based on the facts, and I think seeing how the business works on the other side has helped my team.

I take the great things about the industry that have been in this industry a long time—the passion that makes properties look great—and combine it with sustainable economic practices.


“My biggest mistake was…”

“Not fully understanding our cost structure early on. The last thing we want is to be a low baller, but early on, we weren’t good enough at our pricing and estimating. We spent a lot of energy making sure we understand our costs and were bidding in a way that makes financial sense for us.” – J.T. Price

Photo: Landscape Workshop

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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.

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