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Keys to success

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Keys to success: How Providence Landscape Group built a multi-million dollar business

Providence Landscape Group founder and president Jim Lawrence says his goal was never to be the biggest landscaping business in the region.

But he did want the best properties.

“If I did that, I knew I’d be able to attract the... passionate horticulturists who get excited about being on Charlotte’s premier properties,” says Lawrence.

Lawrence started Providence Landscape Group in 2000, and since then, he’s built a business that does $6 million to $8 million a year in profit and maintains a portfolio of pristine green lawns and vibrant flower beds for homeowners associations, country clubs and commercial properties.

And, as he hoped, he now manages landscaping at some of the area’s most prominent spots, such as The Duke Mansion, LongView Country Club and Homeowners Association, and The Pointe at Lake Norman (newly acquired by Donald Trump).

Landscaping is like artwork, Lawrence says. “Combining all the different textures, colors and seasons – there’s a lot to it, if it’s done correctly.”

Here are some of his keys to success:

Get entrenched: When Ohio-native Lawrence, 49, came to Charlotte about 20 years ago with hopes of one day running his own business, he focused on getting to know the inner workings of the local landscaping community. So he applied to work for Tar Heel Natural Turf (no longer in business) which he says was one of the area’s best at the time. That one job helped him learn the market, the suppliers, the customers.

And watching the owner of Tar Heel Natural Turf, a former military man, run a disciplined business, helped Lawrence when he started his own business years later.

Make communication your calling card: Lawrence says his company’s organization is key to their success and customer satisfaction. And with 120 employees during peak seasons, that can be difficult to manage. Lawrence says he structured the company so that sets of two team leaders, a client-relations manager and an operations manager, oversee the groups of crew members and a specific portfolio of work.

Working together, the team leaders oversee the budget, the quality expectations, how the customer wants to be communicated with.

And because keeping the customer informed is critical, the leaders are regularly updating clients with information on work done over the last 30 days, as well as what’s anticipated for the next 30, 60 and 90 days.

“Nine times out of 10, when we’re taking a property over, it’s because of poor communication from the previous contractor,” says Lawrence. “So we’ve modeled ourselves to be the best at it ... so our customer isn’t managing us, we’re managing the landscaping for them.”

Plan ahead: Lawrence says he’s always working several seasons ahead, orchestrating spring flower beds as the leaves fall in autumn, planning for the winter in the heat of the summer. That also goes for industry shifts.

Before the recession, 70 percent of Providence Landscaping business was commercial maintenance. The other 30 percent was “design-build” work for new developments.

But when he saw the economy changing, Lawrence shifted more resources to commercial maintenance, which was less susceptible to market ups and downs.

Now the breakdown is 80 percent commercial maintenance, 20 percent design-build.

“We made it a point to rechannel our investments and resources into the side of the business that we knew had to get done,” says Lawrence.

Keys to Success draws on insights from small business people on building a successful enterprise. Contact reporter Caroline McMillan: 704-358-6045 or cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com.
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