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She’s a boss: Women in landscaping

April 21, 2021 -  By

Learning the biz

Ashly Neneman.

Ashly Neneman, general manager at Sun Valley Landscaping. (Photo courtesy of Ashly Neneman)

Neneman says she didn’t set out in college to run a landscaping company by any means. She started out her career in corporate event planning but then starting thinking about transitioning into more of a business role.

“I got to a point where it was a lot of evenings and weekends, and I had small kids and was looking to end that chapter of my life,” she says.

That was when she ran into Paul Fraynd, owner of Sun Valley Landscaping in Omaha, Neb., who, at the time, was running a small landscape maintenance company, called Omaha Friendly Services.

“He was at a point in his business where he was doing everything on his own, trying to be the owner/operator-type business model, and it just really wasn’t working,” she says. “He was having a hard time scaling, and so I came on not knowing anything about landscaping, but I did know a lot about business and putting systems and processes in place.”

When Neneman joined the company in 2011, Fraynd’s firm was at about $950,000 in annual revenue, with seven employees. Fast forward to 2021, and the company is expecting to hit $7 million by end of the year with 62 employees.

In 2012, the maintenance portion of the business merged with Hugh Morton’s design/build and rock yard supply side of the company, Sun Valley Natural Stone — and Sun Valley Landscaping was born.

“It’s been quite a ride,” Neneman says with a laugh.

She notes that one of the biggest challenges she overcame as a woman in the green industry was earning respect and being seen as someone the team can trust.

“That comes through time, and it also comes with results,” she says. “So, if you’re leading a team with measurables, as soon as you start seeing success, that’s when people really start to think, ‘This is good work, we got this, we’re a team.’ Now, I don’t even think about that.

I don’t have those same challenges as I did 10 years ago because over time, it’s gotten better.”

Neneman volunteers during NALP’s Renewal & Remembrance event at Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of Ahsly Neneman)

Neneman volunteers during NALP’s Renewal & Remembrance event at Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of Ahsly Neneman)

Neneman says the biggest turning point in her career came when she attended her first National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Landscapes conference in 2015. Attending the event helped her combat the challenges she was facing being a woman in a male-dominated field and not having the background knowledge of the industry.

“That was when I realized how big the industry was,” she says. “I met people that do what I did, attended educational events, got into peer groups and made friends across the country. Women’s challenges do look a little different when you’re in a male-dominated industry and you’re trying to be the person that’s running the operations.”

Since that time, she has become heavily involved in the industry, volunteering on advisory councils, becoming a board director of the Nebraska Nursery Landscape Association and more.

“I’m very involved now in advocating for the industry, making sure it’s seen as this professional, viable career option for lots of people,” she says. “It’s something that women should consider looking into. I love to get the word out about it, especially at the high school and college level, because I feel like it’s the best kept secret that nobody knows about.”

Ashly Neneman advocates for the industry. (Photo courtesy of Ashly Neneman)

Ashly Neneman advocates for the industry. (Photo courtesy of Ashly Neneman)

Moving forward, Neneman’s goals include focusing on growing and developing the company and its employees.

“You can’t really create careers if you don’t scale,” she says. “There is also talk of ownership stake among employees in the business and wanting to get the owners out of some of the day-to-day stuff so that we can bring other people up in the business.”

When it comes to qualities of a successful leader in landscaping, Neneman points to passion, people skills, determination and grit.

“It’s a business where sometimes you’re working 60 hours a week, and it’s exhausting, but then you get to see the fruits of your labor,” she says. “What makes most people successful in any type of role is just be a people person; have good acumen for personalities and characteristics. If you’re going to be a leader, especially in this industry, you have to be a people person. You’ve got to be able to relate to your team.”

Editor’s Note: In next month’s issue, we’ll continue this series on leaders in landscaping, with a second part that profiles a female-owned company.

Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor. She can be reached at swebb@northcoastmedia.net.

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