Q 1. Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/ cities.
Ans: Yellowstone Landscape is a full service commercial landscaping company. We offer our clients a full range of professional landscape services including Landscape Design, Landscape Installation, Landscape Maintenance, Irrigation Installation and Repair, and Tree Care services.
The company was founded in 2008 when two companies, Austin Outdoor and BIO Landscape, joined to better serve clients across the South, sharing more than fifty years of combined experience. We are headquartered in Palm Coast, Florida, and currently have over 1700 employees working out of our 18 branch locations across Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas.
Our clients include community associations, governments, resorts, commercial properties, apartment communities, and corporate, educational, and healthcare campuses.
Q 2. Kindly give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).
Ans: I’ve been in the landscaping and tree care industry since the ‘90s. I started out working in the Northeast with some really great tree care companies. Our most interesting clients were the celebrities and politicians. They owned these huge coastal estates with beautiful, established trees. For the most part they were all great people and were really interested in making sure their trees and landscaping were being taken care of.
From there, I moved on to run one of the country’s largest commercial landscaping branches for a number of years, before I accepted a position to travel and consult with new tree care operations.
When I joined Yellowstone, I was managing the company’s largest branch and continuing to grow it year over year. I had built a great team and knew that they’d continue to be successful, which I why I accepted by current position as Vice President of Business Development.
Now, I’m back to a busy travel schedule, coaching our sales team on how to establish new business partnerships. It’s a terrific opportunity and we’re fortunate to have set new sales records for the company in each of the last two years. Seeing Yellowstone’s revenue pass the $100 million dollar mark last year was especially exciting.
Q 3. What inspired you to (start a new business venture) or (to make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for you
r business come about?
Ans: There are thousands of commercial landscaping companies out there. Helping our clients see us as something different is a real challenge.
I spend a lot of time with customers that want to make a change. They’re not happy with their current provider, but they have a hard time telling us exactly what they want. We help them define their own expectations. We show them the hidden potential in their landscape and give them a simple, step-by-step plan of how we’ll get them there.
Q 4. What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Ans: Every company I’ve ever worked for was started because someone had a vision and the courage to take the first step toward realizing it. Some people might see a crowded marketplace and think that they’ll never be able to make a name for themselves. Others see the crowd and figure out how they’ll stand out to their customers. You don’t have to be the first to market, just be the best in the market when you decide to enter it.
Q 5. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Ans: It’s been said many times before, but it’s 100% true. Any business needs three things to succeed: people, product, and processes. Be very careful about every hire you make. Make your product the best in the market. Then figure out how to deliver your product at the same level of excellence for all your customers.
Q 6. How many hours do you work a day on average?
Ans: My day is usually in full swing by 7am. My last calls or emails of the night are done just after dinner. I have over 30 sales reps that I’m responsible for. A big part of the reason that I’ve been successful as a leader is because I care deeply about each one of them. So, of course I’m always there for them.
Q 7. To what do you most attribute your success?
Ans: My team. They’re the ones out there every day building relationships and looking for new opportunities. I can offer tips from my experience, but they’re the real stars of the show.
Q 8. How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Ans: Marketing for us used to be all about cold calling and referrals from our existing clients. In the past few years, we’ve expanded our approach to include some digital marketing and increased involvement in the professional organizations that our clients and prospective clients are members of. We do a lot of trade shows, but we find that getting involved in local networking organizations is just as effective.
We’re a landscape company and landscaping is all about making our clients’ properties look beautiful. Our work will always be our best form of marketing. When a prospective client sees what we do and thinks “I want my landscape to look like that”, it’s the most effective form of marketing our business.
Q 9. Where did your organizations funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
Ans: In 2008, Gridiron Capital approached our companies a plan to assemble strong commercial landscape companies into a collaborative group, able to offer services at a more regional scale. The end result of that was Yellowstone Landscape Group. The group’s companies continued to operate their businesses successfully while behind the scenes work was being done to unite the companies as a single entity. In January 2015, CIVC Partners purchased Yellowstone Landscape Group and gave the approval to complete the integration of the companies by rebranding them to simply “Yellowstone Landscape”, a decision that we all supported. Since the rebranding completed earlier this year we’ve seen nothing but a positive response, both from our existing clients and prospective clients.
Q 10. What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
Ans: Be flexible and always know when it’s time to adapt to change. Even in commercial landscaping, which you would think is pretty much the same year after year, adaptability is critical. Properties change ownership. Clients change jobs. New competitors enter the marketplace and old competition changes their strategy. We have to be able to identify the change, then we have to adapt to it, if we want to continue to grow our business.
Q 11. Where you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?
Ans: I’ll be at Yellowstone until I’m ready to retire. I have two beautiful daughters at the University of Florida and I love my current role as VP of Business Development. Our company’s focus is growth because we believe that we have something unique and valuable to offer. Other companies want to join us and become a part of what we’re doing, so we’ll continue to expand as we acquire great companies in new markets across the South.
Q 12. Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Ans: In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some brilliant people who are leading the conversation about what it means to be a modern sales professional. Thought leaders that we’ve worked with, John Spence and Anthony Iannarino, are both creating great content and they continue to inspire our whole organization. Their abilities to simplify really complex ideas and create actionable steps toward success amaze me.
Q 13. How important have good employees been to your success?
Ans: People are the first piece of the puzzle. Without the right staff I would never have had any success in my career. You cannot do it alone, so I have always made it a point to get to know everyone who works for me. Beyond just their job or resume, who are they as a person? Why do they come to work every day? If you don’t really make the time to get to know them, how can you ever rely on them?
Q 14. How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Ans: I don’t think I ever give up on an idea. The approach changes and maybe we don’t get to the goal the way I first thought we would, but I don’t think of that as giving up. Everything comes back around eventually. Even if now isn’t the right time, every good idea’s day will come.
Q 15. What motivates you?
Ans: Seeing my team succeed. The best part of my day is when one of my Business Developers calls me to tell me that they made a sale. I don’t care if it’s small or huge, I feel the same pride and excitement every time.
Q 16. What are your ideals?
Ans: I believe that every client deserves to feel appreciated. They all deserve to feel special. When I was working in the operations side of our business, I used to spend Friday afternoons working with our detail crews. I’d go out and walk through a client’s property, looking for anything that we might have missed. I always made it a point to let the client see me out there. I wasn’t just a faceless email address to them after they’d seen me picking up litter or pulling a stray weed. They knew who I was and saw that I cared about their property.
Q 17. How do you generate new ideas?
Ans: I listen intently to everyone. When my team asks about a new marketing resource, I call our Marketing department and tell them what we need. When a client tells me something that’s important to them, I make sure that our proposal clearly spells out how we’re going to fix that issue for them.
There really are no new ideas, just new ways to apply the tried and true principles that we all know and understand.
Q 18. How do you define success?
Ans: Finishing first. I always want to finish first. When prospective customers rank who they want to give their business to, I want to be first. It’s important that we do the right things during our sales process, but at the end of the process, if we’re not in first place, then we can’t call that a success. Success means that you are the best at what you do and others, especially clients, see you as the first choice provider.
Q 19. How do you build a successful customer base?
Ans: For our business, diversity is critically important. Our company started out as an Installation company. We built a name installing huge resort landscapes worth millions of dollars. When the Great Recession came, we flipped our business model 180 degrees. We changed ourselves over from an Installation business that did a little Maintenance to a Maintenance business that used our Installation expertise to add to our Maintenance business.
Now, even within Maintenance we want to diversify who our clients are. Homeowner associations, local governments, commercial office and retail are all great clients to work with, but too much of any one type of work isn’t scalable for us.
Q 20. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Ans: The growth of our team and the success we’ve had in the past two years here at Yellowstone is definitely near the top of the list. Brining in and growing such a talented group of young sales professionals has been as big a reward as it has been a challenge. We’re building the next generation of leaders for our company and our industry. I firmly believe that.
Q 21. What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
Ans: Yellowstone was established when 2 large and respected companies came together in 2008. The two companies had very different cultures that, at first, seemed pretty incompatible. Over time, we found common ground around how we wanted to serve our customers. Even though we went about things in different ways and operated businesses in different parts of the country, we agreed on a “customer-first” approach.
What we do is fun. We make our clients’ properties look their best. That’s the whole job. We work outdoors, we have great people, all the resources we could ever need, and we’re all working in the career that we chose.
Within the sales team, we’re a competitive bunch. I make sure everyone knows when we close a big sale and always publish monthly results to the whole team. They all want to know who’s on top and where they stand. That’s worked for us because we all know that when one of us wins, we all win.
Q 22. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Ans: I’ve had a few opportunities to take my career in a totally different direction over the years. I stayed in landscaping and tree care because it’s fun. I’ve loved everyone I’ve ever worked with and met some really amazing people. I’m fortunate to be able to provide a comfortable life for my family and we’re happy where we are. Why would I want to change that?
Q 23. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
Ans: People who aren’t in sales always tell me that they could never do what I do. The thought of selling scares them to death. They tell me they couldn’t handle the constant the rejection.
I look at it a totally different way, I guess. I mean, all they can do is tell me, “No”. That’s the worst possible outcome. And right now our company’s close rate is at about 35%. That means that about 7 out of every 10 times we ask for a customer’s business, they will tell us to take a hike.
How do I deal with that? It’s easy for me because I know that sales is a cycle. “No” isn’t the end, it’s just a reset of the cycle back to the beginning again. It may take years, but every opportunity comes back eventually.
Q 24. How did you decide on the location for your business?
Ans: We’re based in the South because it’s the best possible region to be in the commercial landscaping business. We have a long growing season, we don’t have to deal with snow in the winter, and there are more large properties that need to be maintained than in other regions. Recruiting a quality frontline workforce is a challenge that our whole industry continues to struggle with, but in the South we are able to attract a qualified seasonal workforce to supplement our full time teams in our busiest months.
Q 25. What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Ans: The biggest mistakes have always involved hiring the wrong person for the job. The tendency when you have a vacancy in sales is to fill it as quickly as possible. When that position is vacant, we think we’re putting more work on someone else, or that we’re losing out of sales opportunities.
I’ve learned the hard way that a rushed hire – filling a position with someone I wasn’t 100% sure about – is always way worse than leaving the position empty for a bit longer.
Your sales team is the face of your company. Not putting the best possible representative for your brand out into the marketplace can do real harm to your reputation. That harm will last long after you’ve cut ties with a bad hire.
Q 26. How can you prevent mistakes or do damage control?
Ans: Mistakes will happen. We know it and our clients know it, too. Telling them any different is a lie and they’ll see through every time. Be up front during the sales process and show them how you are going to react and how you’ll correct any mistake you make before it happens. Proactive is always better than reactive, but when you are forced to react, don’t let it be a surprise to your customer.
Q 27. What makes you happy?
Ans: I’m happiest when I get to spend a day in the field with one of my Business Developers, talking to customers. I genuinely love what I do and really believe that at Yellowstone we do things the right way. Sharing my passion for landscaping and getting the customer excited about their landscape’s potential is a great way to spend my day.
Q 28. If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?
Ans: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard from a customer?
I tell this story all the time, but it’s a good one. I once introduced myself to the owner of a company that we were doing a lot of business with. When I told her who I was and who I worked for, her response was, “I know you guys. You’re our landscapers. Let me tell you something about landscapers. You’re all liars and a bunch of complete idiots. But, from what I can tell, you’re less idiotic than most.” My response was simply, “Thank you.” She’s still a client today.
Company name* Yellowstone Landscape
Address* 4386 Lilburn Industrial Way
Phone No* 678-271-3700