The ultimate mission

November 8, 2018 -  By
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Loving's sod farm (Photo: Loving)

Farm Fresh Loving’s 1,000-acre sod farm operation allows the company to control the material’s cost and quality. (Photo: Loving)

When Mike Haynes began mowing his neighbors’ lawns in middle school for extra spending money, he didn’t exactly have a passion for cutting grass. But fast-forward 20 years and Haynes will tell you that, today, passion is the main driver behind nearly every aspect of his landscape company. Even its name, Loving, was inspired by the care, commitment and joy Haynes feels is necessary to run a successful business that puts its people first.

“Our name comes from a place of passion and love,” says Haynes, president of the nearly $35-million company headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. “We believe that our ultimate mission is to create a positive impact and to be a place that is filled with love.”

Loving (recently rebranded from The Loving Cos.) was established in 2004 and provides 84 percent new home build landscape installations and outdoor living construction services. The other 16 percent comes from a sod farming operation that provides the sod Loving uses on its new landscape installations. The company serves a large portion of the Southeast, including parts of Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Texas.

“We will continue to expand our footprint,” Haynes says. “Although there is a lot of volume in what we do, there are only a few select services we provide. We don’t want to perfect everything—we want to take what we do, have a laser focus on growing the people and process that allow us to do it well, then integrate it into expansion market opportunities.”

Loving's crews (Photo: Loving)

Although its goal isn’t growth for growth’s sake, Loving was ranked the fastest-growing firm on the 2018 LM150 list. (Photo: Loving)

While other companies struggled during the Great Recession, Loving flourished. As a small, up-and-coming business at the time, Haynes says the company was able to recruit talented employees who had been laid off elsewhere. Despite the downturn, Charlotte remained a growing city that attracted people looking for new jobs and opportunities, so new homes were still being built. In 2009, Haynes was contacted by home building company Pulte Homes to install hardscapes at new home sites, since Loving was doing so much work directly for Pulte’s home buyers post-close. Haynes says this opportunity was a turning point for the company.

“We had never worked with a home builder before, but we decided to give it a try, and that’s when the builder business took off,” Haynes says.

Loving now works with more than a dozen new home builders to provide landscape and outdoor living services. With all these new landscape installations comes the need for sod—a staggering 30 million square feet of it this year alone. About three and a half years ago, Haynes realized that supplying the sod themselves would eliminate problems with quality and supply shortages, and Loving’s sod farming operation was born. The farm boasts just more than 1,000 acres of production and allows Loving to control the quality, supply and cost.

“To be in control of the sod, which is the main driver in every landscape installation, has been huge,” Haynes says. “We own the farming aspect as well as the installation aspect, so we can align the two to ensure a super fresh product. We know that on, say, Thursday morning we will be installing lot 175, so the day before we are at the farm cutting it. It’s allowed quality and efficiency that we believe are second to none.”

In October, Loving introduced its newest endeavor: a centralized distribution center for all of its hardscape and outdoor living installation products. Based in Orangeburg, S.C., the facility will also manufacture some of the company’s hardscape materials, including all concrete precast products used in outdoor living installations. Like the sod farm, Haynes says this operation will allow the company to control the quality and availability of much of its hardscape materials. In conjunction with the distribution center’s roll out, Loving recently announced a partnership with Lennar Homes, one of the nation’s largest home builders, to begin installing its proprietary outdoor grilling islands and fireplaces in every home it builds in select U.S. markets.

“Just like granite has become pretty standard for new home buyers, we think we can do the same with outdoor living spaces,” Haynes says. “This will help set the stage for other builders to follow and to make outdoor living more attainable for home buyers. Our end goal is to make outdoor living affordable and available to nearly every new home buyer in America.”

Overcoming obstacles

While the sky seems to be the limit for Haynes and his company, there have been some challenges along the way. Finding quality labor has been difficult at times, but Haynes says Loving has done its best to overcome this obstacle by creating an environment that people want to work in. These people include not only green industry laborers, but also technology and marketing experts, graphic designers, dispatchers and customer service representatives. Haynes says the company offers above industry standard pay, a companywide bonus system and an employee assistance program for team members who find themselves in difficult situations. Haynes is transparent with his team members and wants them to know how the company is faring financially and otherwise. In addition, 10 percent of all company profits are donated to local community outreach programs that help people in need.

“Our team is the most important piece of the puzzle,” Haynes says. “We have a desire to make each and every employee the best version of themselves.”

Loving’s workforce grew by nearly 25 percent over the past year to a total of 135 full-time employees, which Haynes says was a critical but difficult task. The company places a heavy focus on minimizing turnover and recruiting and has recently become active on social media, particularly LinkedIn. Haynes says it is a great platform on which to be “goofy and unfiltered” and provide a view into the company culture. Loving’s approaching includes conducting parody interviews, highlighting the work of specific employees and sharing community outreach efforts.

“Social media isn’t something we have always participated in, but we understand it’s a good tool to recruit new people and to attract and engage with different demographics,” Haynes says. “We are very intentional about who we bring on board and work hard to create a real company culture. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.”

Loving was ranked the fastest-growing company on the 2018 LM150 list, reporting 119 percent annual growth from 2016 to 2017, but Haynes says being the fastest-growing firm is not something the company set out to be. Still, growth is a key component of success when done intentionally, strategically and for the right reasons.

“We want to grow but we don’t want to just grow for the sake of growing,” Haynes says. “We want to make sure we’re growing a profitable and sustainable model that is known for quality service, great products and great value.

“Our ultimate goal is not simply revenue growth,” he adds. “That is a byproduct that allows us to do our ultimate mission, which is to make a positive impact.”

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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