View Full Version : Long and Winding road

Az Gardener
10-09-2005, 03:19 PM
In 1980 the economy was soo bad fortunately I was too dumb to realize it I was 18 and just assumed it was always like that. I saw an ad for a mowing position in Indianapolis so I showed up at 6:00 with my lunch and informed them I was the new mow guy. They said no it doesn't work like that you got ti fill out an application Bla,Bla,Bla. so I did then stayed their until about 10:00 the next day same thing There at 6:00 with my lunch ready to work. Finally on the third day they gave in and let me work on the third day. they gave me about a week to get in the groove and then the drill Sargent (I mean foreman) began screaming me down, evidently you are supposed to run with the 21 inchers, this was pre self propelled. So that was it, he pissed me off and I ran with the mower and he got off my back. Welcome to the green Industry. This is why I have such a complete disbelief in the the work habits of today not even picking in the young turks because I have had 45 yr old dudes flake on me too. Evidently I am going to have to wright this like a book and just keep posting as I have time to write My drill Sargent (I mean wife) says I need to get off the computer and do something productive.

Howard Roark
10-13-2005, 02:00 AM
keep em' comin', you've caught my interest.

Az Gardener
10-13-2005, 02:51 AM
Go west Young man. so I did. Arrived in AZ in fall 1981 the only job I could find was rent a cop at a condo complex. Worked 10:00PM-6:00AM at 5:30 the landscapers show up, nothing else to do so I talk with them and after a couple of weeks land a job with them. Install work for a company that eventually was bought by Ground Control (my old boss is the president now) Digging ditches and holes with white trash, a Puerto Rican gay criminal, and a 55 year old illegal alien that stole a pick every day, and a Indian named Dave. What a crew. My foreman Steve ended up being a foreman because he broke his arm in a pick up football game and couldn't do manual labor anymore. So he would take the blueprints to the Irrigation supply house and they would tell him how to do things and what parts he needed. This was really the wild wild west. At first it was all commercial work then we started doing some custom homes. The homeowners were always asking "who can take care of this now that its done?" Nobody wanted to do maintenance. Finally I told Steve you know I used to do this stuff in Indiana we could make a few bucks doing maintenance on the weekends. So it began, doing maintenance because nobody else would working out of a 1976 Pontiac Bonneville and a one bedroom apartment that was upstairs (Steve's apartment). We looked pretty stupid carrying a 21" sensation mower up and down the stairs. My wife would not let me keep any equipment in the our apt. and Steve was single. Of course the business grew we were installing 4-5 custom homes per month for the man and picking up 2-3 for maintenance for us, we quickly outgrew the Bonneville and balcony yard. Steve got his contractor's license and started a company doing installs and I did the maintenance. Looking back I should have been a partner. We didn't grow as fast as before and after about 18 months of not getting any new maintenance accounts, and not loosing any, I was bored to tears. The construction boom of the mid 80s was getting going and I had been doing L/S work for about 4 years and was making 9.50 per hour and the carpenters on a job site offered me 10.00 with no experience. So Steve and I parted ways. Now I am a carpenter! I have to be up in six hours so thats all for now.

Maitland Man
10-13-2005, 07:58 PM
..............that was really depressing at the end.:dizzy: :cry: :alien:


Howard Roark
10-14-2005, 01:27 AM
..............that was really depressing at the end.:dizzy: :cry: :alien:


Yeah really! I was waiting for the "Now I have this hugely successful LCO...."

10-14-2005, 09:18 PM
he's not done.

Az Gardener
10-18-2005, 01:43 AM
After the AZ building boom went bust I went wester to So Cal. Started in Rancho Santa Margarita before it was a town worked my way north to the bay area Got my journeyman's card there $26.00 per hour (unions were great) then inland to Sacramento and finally back to AZ, it was cheaper to be unemployed in AZ than Cal. Finally got a job back home in PHX. for 8.50 per hr. It's 1988 now. Then my new crew members dropped a wall on me. So now my ankle is broke and I am reflecting, I realize I am lucky that was the worst thing that happened to me. This is a sign and I should get out while the getting is good. So I go and see my old friend Steve. Boy is he glad to see me, his Install division is taking off, he is tied in with some custom builders and they just use him, no other bids, the clients don't really have much of a choice. Problem is many people having a home built in this area, rent in this area and may end up with Steve's Maint co. taking care of the rental. If they screw up on the Maint. it makes it hard for Steve to sell them landscaping. So Steve was in need of someone to take over his "Maintenance division" such as it was, 3 guys and 2,000.00 a month in volume. He was paying me $1,800 to run it, that gives you an idea of the problems he was having, He was desperate. His guys were idiots and criminals and needless to say we didn't get along I flushed them and hired a apprentice carpenter (one of the guys that dropped the wall on me) Dave. Dave had been a grass cutter before the carpenter gig. So he came to work for me we pulled a couple of hombres from the landscape division and I came up with a plan to streamline the bidding process and grow the business. We gave our recently completed landscape customers 2 months of complementary service. This got us through the warranty period and the cost was built into the landscape bid. It also gave us an idea of how long it would take to keep the particular clients happy. I was able to run the whole show. All Steve asked was to not get anybody mad at him. It was a great learning experience I was able to try a lot of different things and it didn't cost me a dime, some worked others didn't. After 4 years we had a base of about 35,000 per month and typically sold about 10,000 in extras. Life was good so I thought.

10-22-2005, 11:42 AM
Well, then what? C'mon drop the bomb!

12-03-2005, 09:45 PM
What happened to the story???

12-18-2005, 11:48 PM
its been over 2 months...he probly wont add anymore, though it was a good story

05-04-2006, 10:13 PM
add more por favor :)

05-04-2006, 10:20 PM
This thread is 6 months old he prolly lost interest in it.

05-30-2006, 09:26 PM
man i was really interested
please write more

06-05-2006, 10:27 PM
darn, cummon, add more to this!!

06-13-2006, 09:59 PM
It's a shame not to continue....great story.

06-16-2006, 05:58 AM
c,mon i have been sitting here for months waiting for the end, the lawns are getting long and i am going broke, surely he is going to be released soon its a shame about the old lady but an angry LCO with a shovel and a PITA do not mix :laugh:

06-24-2006, 05:38 AM
its like twin peaks this thing come on az you have an audience here:sleeping:

06-24-2006, 07:39 AM

desert scaper
10-24-2006, 08:32 AM
I too would like to hear the rest of your story-its a good one so far and worth an ending (till present that is)

12-04-2006, 05:32 PM
it just can't end this way:cry: :cry:

12-06-2006, 11:11 PM
I can't belive that's all he wrote!!!:confused:

Az Gardener
12-07-2006, 01:43 AM
I did'nt realize there was so much interest. So things are cruising along and I started to take classes. Arborist classes, horticulture classes, seminars you name it whatever came along. I was invited to join the board of the AZ landscape contractors association, ALCA and did and began to network with other contractors. Life was great. Had a new hot young girlfriend everything going my way.

The only thing I did not like about the business is the money part. I hated doing collections. I even suggested we do prepays but Steve didn't want me involved in the office part. That was until someone had not payed in months and I was supposed to track these millionaire's down and try and collect $1500 in 3-4 months of back payment for a house they stayed in 3-4 months of the year. Usually the screw up was on our office side and I looked like an idiot. The bills were supposed to go to other addresses different times of the year, or they had their business pay the bill and it was never credited to their account and so on.

It was approaching year end I had a big ALCA meeting scheduled I was a committee chair so I had to present my stuff for the year. Steve says you can't go I need you to get this billing stuff handled. I told him it was not my responsibility that I was not paid enough to deal with that part of the business. When I came back from my ALCA meeting I was locked out of my computer. I thought it was a glitch called the main office and Steve came down to the field office to let me know I was fired.

Didn't see that coming :eek: I don't think I mentioned I married hot young girlfriend in Nov. and this was Dec. It did not make a good impression on my new wife. Steve was better than most to me. He gave me a months severance pay and I was hitting the pavement again. Just goes to show you that you can always be replaced no matter how important you think you are.

I will get caught up in the next little bit. I honestly did'nt think there was any interest and I type really slow.

Az Gardener
12-07-2006, 05:55 PM
So now we are up to about the end of 1994. After the holidays I put out my resume and was hired by a company called Desert Care. They specialized in commercial landscape maintenance. They also had a native plant salvage division an install division and a tree trimming division as well, but maintenance was their bread and butter. I was hired as an area supervisor. I had 2 big master planned communities and a college with 6-10 man on site crews at each one. Plus 4 other 4-6 man crews that were based at a satellite yard, and they did smaller master planned communities and condos, shopping centers and the like. Very professional company I was excited to get going.

That lasted about two weeks. I could'nt get those guys to do jack. All they wanted to do was blow and hedge. We has these weekly tailgate safety meetings and we would go over stuff and The guys would still not follow the safety procedures. I did inspections of properties and gave the crews punch lists and spent time training them on how to prioritize etc. The fact was I was the odd man out. They had a facade of a professional educated company culture, but they were just like every other idiot with a pick up and a mower that is suddenly a maintenance company. I tried to fire one particularly insubordinate foreman and the gen manager did not back me so after that it was a waste of my time.

They eventually were in the original roll up of companies that formed Tru-Green Landcare. They asked me to take a cut in salary and to make it up in sales commission I thanked them and we parted ways.

That only took about 6-months of my life and I quit a few months before hot new wife and I were about to have our first child. She was really thrilled about the change as you might imagine.

12-07-2006, 06:10 PM
Wow this just keeps getting more and more interesting. Your should right a book or something!

Az Gardener
12-11-2006, 10:51 PM
Well I wouldn't be so irresponsible to leave a job with nothing else lined up and a family to support.

Whilst working for Steve I landed a big fish of a client that was completely out of our area of maintenance. First the home was about 40 minutes from our office to the S. and the majority of our accounts were 30 minutes to the N. of our office. 99% of our accounts were Mountainside Desert homes with little or no lawn and every other week service. This home was on 7 acres with 20-K of dwarf tiff lawn needless to say a weekly account. Most of our accounts were winter visitors this was a family home with 8 kids at home.

I was called out shortly after the landscape install was complete. The install was a big job by residential standards probably about a 500-K install in 93. By the time it was done the woman of the house was fed up with both the L/S architect and the install contractor. So when things started to die she was not surprised and was not about to call them back to fix it. Even though it was mostly warranty items. That is the beauty of being really wealthy you don't have to rely on the people who screwed it up the first time to try and fix it.

We were referred by a building contractor we did work for. Originally we were just called out to replace about 120 dead plants. Our landscape superintendent called me and said you have to come see this place its like Disneyland and she has problems and needs help. So I meet her and started explaining why things are dying and what we can do to get things turned around and she says I want you here taking care of this place. So thats how we landed the job.

Steve's company maintained her place for almost 2 years while I worked there but he complained all the time it was too far away. When I left I remembered where she lived.

During my time at Desert Care I did a drive by every now and again to see how the place was looking. It was close to a college campus that I was in charge of. At one point I noticed she needed to have her palms trimmed. So I called my old friend Steve and said, “Hey, you need to send someone out to trim Ellie’s Palms.” Two weeks go by, and I see the palms still have not been trimmed. So I call Ellie directly. The conversation went something like this

Me – Ellie, this is Dave ******* formerly with Renaissance
Ellie – I know who you are Dave, what happened? Where did you go?
Me – Well it’s a long story but, I’m working for another company now. I just called to let you know your palms need trimming.
Ellie – I know, I’ve called several times, I don’t think anyone but you and Carlos know where I live. No one has called me back.

At this point I should explain a few things. First, Ellie has 45 Date Palms, if you do not trim them at the right time they set dates, and turn a $1800 job into a $3000 job. The dates also take a lot of energy to produce and it causes the tree to go into summer in a weakened state. She also lives on a 7-acre estate and the family is worth 100’s of millions of dollars. She says to me, “Dave why don’t you just come to work for me?” I am a little embarrassed to admit I said, “Oh Ellie, you can’t afford to pay me what I need to support my family, just to take care of your place.” She said, “try me.” We both laughed, and I told her I would give it some thought. A few days later I called her back and said I would like to take her up on her offer, but I didn’t have the money to buy the equipment, I would need. She told me to figure out what it would cost and come by and pick up a check. So thats how my first company was started Carte Blanche Gardeners.

But thats just the beginning.

Az Gardener
12-12-2006, 09:37 AM
My second client, strangely enough, was a referral from Steve. He told me they had done a good job doing the install but this client was way to demanding, and his company would never be able to keep him happy.

Now I had two accounts and was tired of working alone. I was in line at a gas station/convenience store. and a young Opie looking kid was asking for an application. I caught him outside and asked "hey kid you don't really want to work here do you?" He admitted he didn't and so I hired him and It has been my best hire to date.

The new client was a tough old guy from the mining industry a second generation miner. He had started at the bottom and worked his way through all the way to the top. He had an incredible home nestled up against Pinnacle Peak. He was the first client I had to replace a plant under warranty for. He had a huge saguaro behind his home. It was 12’ – 15’ tall with about 5 arms. I estimated the value at between $3000 and $5000. This cacti had been planted before the home was built along with the pool and large trees in the back because once the house was built you could not get much more than a push mower into the back yard. By the time I got on the site the saguaro had been in for between 2 – 3 years. It had been a very fat specimen, but had shrunk using the stored water to put out roots. Where it was planted was very loose decomposed granite and boulders, so even when it rained it didn’t hold much water. The cacti had shriveled to say the least, probably to 50 – 60% of its original size. This was one of the owner’s big concerns when I took on the property.

I began to put the garden hose to the cactus while I was there working. I did this every other week through the hot months and stopped in the winter. It worked very well. By the end of the 2nd summer the saguaro looked better than when it was planted. It was plump and beautiful, I should have just stopped there but I didn’t. One day while we had the hose on the cacti, it just fell over and broke into several pieces, and crushed several plants in the planter below. I was lucky no one got hurt. I felt responsible and it was a very difficult phone call to make to the owner but I had to let him know what had happened. He was in Montana at his summer home.

There was no way to get another saguaro of that size back there. So I did the best I could planting a 6 foot saguaro sphere, some boulders, smaller cacti, as well as a sprinkler system for wildflowers and some larger specimen desert plants like Joshua trees and ocotillos. I also replaced the crushed plants in the planter below. All in all, I put in about
$ 5,000.00 worth of plants, irrigation and lighting. When they came back in the fall, while they missed the saguaro, the area as a whole looked much better. Financially it was a tough pill to swallow, but what else could I do? It was my responsibility.

We worked those two accounts for almost two years before I got stupid, I mean generous and restless.

12-12-2006, 11:17 PM
Keep it coming...

12-13-2006, 03:13 PM
This is a great story, I've never been out west, and it is very interesting to hear about desert plants also. Keep the story coming...

12-15-2006, 08:26 AM
Very interesting story.

12-18-2006, 09:20 PM
Keep it coming. Great story. No long breaks like last time.

Az Gardener
12-21-2006, 02:18 AM
So my guy Neil (opie looking kid) and I have these two accounts. Things are going OK its springtime and I head out to see the spring garden tours, check out the competition.

The two biggies here are the Phoenix Home & Garden Tour and The Garden Conservancy Tour. Some really beautiful homes and Gardens. Most of the ones on the Garden Conservancy tour were all designed by one local architect, Greg Trutza. He was also the architect that did Ellie's home. His home was also on the tour so I took the opportunity to introduce myself and let him m know I was taking care of Ellie's place now. He was very cordial and wanted my card and wanted to know the scope of work I did. He also asked if I might get Ellie to allow a photographer to shoot the home for an article. She would not allow him access after the project was complete.

To cut to the chase he began referring his problem clients to me, and my little business began to grow. He is a great architect but he does push the envelope with some of the varieties he uses and they can be a challenge to keep alive and looking good. There was of course service call work and plant replacements to do as well. It kept me very busy.

Too busy in fact. At this point I had no long term plan and little business knowledge. I have to give credit to Steve he did teach me enough to stay a float for those first few years.

I Have to back track here and either introduce a couple of characters or at least remind you all that David my brother in law also worked with Steve I brought him on and he was my maintenance foreman for a while until the Landscape supervisor Charlie stole him away.

Charlie had tried to put together a deal to buy the company from Steve with David and I being partners. Steve did not want to sell and after I was fired Charlie soon quit and went to work for Tru Green in Fla. David was still working for Steve but getting restless and looking for a company to buy.

I told him it was stupid to buy a company just come to work with me :hammerhead: I offered. You do the install and I will do the maintenance it will be great. Boy was I naive.

01-16-2007, 12:08 AM
The end???????

Az Gardener
08-28-2009, 09:40 PM
Wow long time between chapters, at the request of a PM I will do what I can to bring this current.

So David my brother in law and I partner up as mentioned the original plan was I would handle maint and he would handle install. The short version was we were very successful. It evolved into him doing some L/S sales and some supply, his wife doing the accounting she was great at it, and I did everything else. He and his wife drew a salary and so did I but my wife was not part of the business so they were making a lot more than me.

I ran the construction field did most of the supply. I also did the maint. bidding and ran the maint too, I trained guys and did the hiring. The dirty part was based out of my home and I didn't get any rent. I had two ugly old trucks and two trailers that were equally ugly and a bunch of parts and tools on the side of my house all this on a 7,000 lot with a 1100 sq ft house on it. Everyone knew where I lived and they showed up at 5:00 and when they didn't like their check they came to me.

He lived 25 min away in a gated community. He got the clean office stuff and computer, nice office furniture, company bought. In all fairness he also got no rent either. We did some great homes were featured in magazines and on garden tours even got a piece on local TV morning news. We were both doing sales and design. I was the creative guy he was the guy that made sure we charged a boat load for it and got paid. I just got sick of calling him at 7 AM after I had been up for 3 hours and having him tell me not to call so early

I took a sales class that cost me 2-K he said no way company is paying for that and was pissed I took off for an hour and a half 3 times a week to go. He thought it was a waste of time. We got a lead from a garden tour and I did the design and it was up over 100-K I got 8-K for the design. They were so excited about the job they said if I landed the job they would pay for my sales class. I landed the job it went over 140 before it was complete and my sales class was never paid for.

I went out of town on vacation and when I came back I found our company had spent the week landscaping my partners new home. He then informed me the company owed me 30-K in landscaping services to bring us even :dizzy: Now I remember why I quit writing this, its too depressing. My house was 60-K I was not about to spend 30-K on landscaping or anything else. That was about the last straw and I was ready to part ways.

Then Steve pops up again and offers to sell us Renaissance cheap! In fact we could pay with it from profits generated by the company! Too good an opportunity to pass up. You would think... That is a good spot to stop for now.

09-03-2009, 10:21 AM
More! More!!!

Az Gardener
11-26-2009, 12:07 PM
That was over 10 years ago now so the financial details are a bit fuzzy. But the plan was we each were responsible for bringing in a certain volume of work per month I think 70-K was the goal but 50-K was needed to keep the Biz in the black.

The plan was Steve would continue working and gradually phase himself out over a period of years. There was already a division manager running the maint and there was one other construction superintendent. Steve had his crew that he liked and we brought our guys and used them for our jobs. I was put in charge of human resources, Steve remained as president at least for the first year and David was to handle collections.

Integration was a bit difficult while we were both using a primarily Hispanic workforce our guys were different. We were paying more and had a better group of guys. Steve's guys worked OK they were just not as presentable to the client and I didn't trust any of them. I knew that the company I wanted would require a pretty substantial company culture turnaround. So when I had to hire I was looking for a better class of citizen and the existing crew did everything in their power to sabotage me and my efforts. I would hire labor and they were lazy according to the existing guys. I hired new foreman and no one would work for them they all quit within a week or so and this was in the boom times so it was difficult to get help. I was able to hire away some good guys because we had a pretty impressive set up and I can sell a vision of what the company could be. The problem was It is impossible to change a company culture if you can't fire some people and I always met resistance when I wanted to can anyone.

I was also all about doing what I could to save time. So were Steve and David as long as they didn't have to do anything additional or different to save time. This is where I first tried to hire my current E myth coach and Steve and David were not willing to participate and did not see the value in the monthly expenditure of $500 Without their buy in and participation coach said I would never be able to do what needed to be done all on my own.

One of my hair brained schemes was trying to save the time that was wasted by sending 9 trucks each with 2-6 guys to the gas station once a week. I did a bunch of research and was able to get a fuel tank installed on our property that a tanker would come out and fuel up and the gas was a little cheaper too. After all the work and the prospect of saving at least 2-K per month. They did not want to risk upsetting our rural neighbors who rode their horses through the wash on our property :dizzy: Even though we were legal they were afraid it might insight a phone call to a county official who might come poking around.

That was my existence for about a year the same reoccurring themes in different situations. Two things forced me to walk away from that opportunity. The first was we were all taking average salaries less than David and I had made as partners. We were supposed to all get big bonuses at the end of the year. We had a builder who got behind and instead of stopping any future work our collection specialist David decided we would continue to do work for the company. Well they went bankrupt and we lost 150-K there went our big bonus :cry:. The last straw was we had a paycheck go missing but still ended up being cashed :confused: we gave paychecks to superintendents and they passed them out to employees. Steve's supit, Carlos said... "hey so and so didn't get a check". So we stopped payment on the check and re issued another. Couple of days later we get a call from a check cashing place that they had cashed a check of ours and the bank refused it. He wanted us to look at security video to see if we recognized the person who cashed the check. So I went down and sure enough there is Carlos big as life cashing this guys check with a fake ID :hammerhead: Need less to say this guy was going to get fired. Steve didn't believe it and went down and looked at the tape and said well it looked like Carlos but the tape was black and white and grainy so he couldn't be positive and he turned a good profit with Carlos and many of his family worked for us :dizzy: That was it for me I gave notice and went out on my own the next month.

green grass lawn care
11-27-2009, 01:44 AM
wow what a story. working with family is never a good idea. vince