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State of the Industry Report: Standing strong in 2023 and beyond

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Keeping good employees is a big focus of respondents to our annual State of the Industry survey. (Photo: Rob Kaufman)
Keeping good employees is a big focus of respondents to our annual State of the Industry survey. (Photo: Rob Kaufman)

It’s time to close the books on 2023 and look back at the year that was and what you can take away from it. LM’s readers seemed to agree that 2023 was an overwhelmingly positive year for them locally (63 percent of readers surveyed said their local market was up) and for the market in general.

Readers are hopeful about how they see 2024, with 48 percent saying they are somewhat optimistic, and 21 percent saying they are very optimistic.

For our 2023 State of The Industry Report, we spoke to lawn care and landscape professionals around the country for their take on 2023; their outlook for 2024; their predictions for the future of private equity investments in the industry; and how they are recruiting and retaining employees to get the job done.

Some parts of the country faced unusually wet springs or a lack of snow, which caused companies to recalibrate their efforts in other areas of the business. (Photo: Rob Kaufman)
Some parts of the country faced unusually wet springs or a lack of snow, which caused companies to recalibrate their efforts in other areas of the business. (Photo: Rob Kaufman)

Reflecting on 2023

“The go-go days of COVID-19 are gone, especially on the residential side, but all in all, it was a very, very good year,” says Frank Mariani, executive chairman of Mariani Premier Group. “It’s clearly not as easy to make a sale compared to when everybody was at home and there was such a demand. That demand has slowed considerably, but yet there’s still so much work out there on the commercial side.”

Levi Duckett, president of Sunshine Landscape, a full-service landscape and lawn care company in Boise, Idaho, says 2023 was the best year his company had in a long time.

“We grew quite a bit. We did $8.5 million in revenue in 2022; We’ll probably do around $11 million this year,” Duckett says. “A lot of that was construction growth. We do commercial construction and maintenance. Overall, it was a really good year for us. Some of the labor issues seemed to let up a little for us over the last three years.”

Meridian Landscaping President Tim Gardiner says this was a great year for his commercial maintenance and residential design/build business in Sterling, Va., despite a drastic shift in snow and ice removal revenue from last year to this year.

(Graphic: LM Staff)
(Graphic: LM Staff)

“We went from in 2022 doing seven figures in snow removal to 2023 doing zero,” he says, due to the lack of precipitation in Metro Washington, D.C., this past season. “Snow was generally a very big, big part of our business, it actually forced us to get better and more efficient as a company. And we rallied behind that to where we are outpacing our profit numbers from 2022 to 2023.”

Gardiner says many customers rolled their snow and ice management budgets into landscaping and maintenance services this year.

(Graphic: LM Staff)
(Graphic: LM Staff)

Control what you can control

Jack Jostes, CEO of Ramblin Jackson, a consulting company for landscape professionals, says how his clients fared this year depends entirely on their region. While some areas of the country grew in population in places such as Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida, green industry businesses in the central U.S. and Northeast felt a slowdown, especially toward the end of this year.

“There was really a boom in landscaping in ’20, ’21 and ’22 because of the pandemic, because of stimulus money, because of stay-at-home (orders) and less travel,” he says. “Many people bought landscaping at an accelerated rate during that time. And maybe the market of people who would’ve bought it in 2023 just wasn’t there.”

Jeff Domenick, CEO of KeyServ, a Southeastern full-service landscape company with more than 3,000 residential, commercial and government clients across four states, agrees with Jostes, noting he sees 2023 as a tale of the controllable variables and the uncontrollable.

Domenick said it was a wet spring in the Carolinas and Alabama, which pushed work into the hotter months in July, August and September. It was the opposite in Florida, where a dry spring turned into a wet and hot summer. This fall things look good for KeyServ, he says.

While many companies had a good 2023, some say whether 2024 will be a good year will depend on efficiency gains and crew productivity. (Photo: Rob Kaufman)
While many companies had a good 2023, some say whether 2024 will be a good year will depend on efficiency gains and crew productivity. (Photo: Rob Kaufman)

“We think we’re going to beat our plan this year,” he says. “On the top line, on the bottom line, we, like a lot of contractors, pulled the pricing lever pretty heavy. The last three years we’ve seen some pretty substantial increases. This really isn’t driving up our gross margins or driving up our bottom line. It’s really staying in line with the cost increase that we’re seeing.”

Domenick said his company raised prices to keep up with inflation and a higher cost of goods, but those increases haven’t gone unnoticed, he says. It’s not just KeyServ’s increases but increases at the grocery store, insurance and more.

“I think we’re going to see some stabilization as we go through the rest of this year and in the next year, but I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of room in the pricing game,” he says. “I think we’re going to have to focus on efficiency. I also think costs will stabilize. We’re seeing some of the commodity materials start to come back — seed and pipe and those sorts of things.”

David Amigo, president of G&G Landscape Solutions, a residential and commercial landscaping company serving the Charlotte, N.C., area says his company is standing strong even though 2023 didn’t deliver exactly the profits he was hopeful for.

“From a growth standpoint, about process and people — (2023 was) phenomenal. We’ve really come a long way in our journey,” he says, but adds, “As for the P&L? Ehhh, so-so. But we’re really building the infrastructure of our company, so from that aspect, it’s been phenomenal, beyond what we expected.”

(Graphic: LM Staff)
(Graphic: LM Staff)

What’s in store for 2024

Domenick says a big focus for KeyServ in 2024 will be improving efficiency to make gains on the increase in cost of goods to keep the business profitable and pricing competitive.

“I think next year, companies are really, really going to have to execute to either maintain their gross margin and profitability lines or if you’re working like we are to increase those, it’s going to come through efficiency, not through cost increases,” he says.

Technology will play a key role in the efficiency gains of companies in the coming years. (Photo: Rob Kaufman)
Technology will play a key role in the efficiency gains of companies in the coming years. (Photo: Rob Kaufman)

Jostes says he expects 2024 to play out similarly to 2023 for his clients. Like Domenick, he says accurate production rates and job costing will be key in 2024. Jostes also encourages landscape business owners to make sure all marketing efforts (website, social media, etc.) put the best face forward of the business.

“When we’re in a softer economy or a down market or whatever we want to call it, people will become more cautious with how they spend their money,” he says. “If we’re in a period where it’s even harder to get customers, we have to become more efficient and we have to make do with what we have.”

(Graphic: LM Staff)
(Graphic: LM Staff)

Gardiner says he expects Meridian Landscaping will have a good year, thanks to a refocus on the core parts of the business.

“We’re hiring for growth for next year, and we’re anticipating our core business probably growing at about 25 percent from 2023 to 2024,” he says. “We do a little bit of bid/build work. That piece was down, snow was down, but the rest of our core business was up, where we will increase revenue a little bit from 2022 to 2023. We’ve been growing our core business at about 20 to 25 percent.”

Adam Callison is president and CEO of Done Right Landscapes in St. Louis, Mo. The company has about 40 employees and does installations, irrigation and snow and ice control. The company did commercial maintenance but sold off that business 10 years ago. Moving forward in 2024, he’s going to get back into the maintenance game.

“If I’m talking to other owners, I just advise them to know their numbers,” Callison says. “We’ve not known our numbers and been growing, and had to significantly downsize, to grow again, because we couldn’t afford the people. Know your numbers and just know that if you’re trying to grow, sometimes your bottom line takes a hit. But keep in mind the long play.”

Photo: Seth Jones

Seth Jones

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

Christina Herrick headshot (Photo: LM Staff)

Christina Herrick

Christina Herrick is a former Editor for Landscape Management. A Journalist graduate from Ohio Northern University, Christina is known for sharing her insightful experiences on the road with her audience.

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