Turf Magazine - March, 2012

CENTRAL FEATURES

Those Who Teach Can Also Do

Retired Ohio educator Chuck Miller gives back as landscape company owner
By Cindy Grahl

The old saying goes that those who can, do, and those who can't, teach, but that's not true. Take a look at the life of Chuck Miller, who parlayed a career as a teacher into a second satisfying career as owner of a thriving landscape company. In a sense, Miller just returned to what he loved doing in the first place.


Mirrorscape owner Chuck Miller's 30 years as an educator taught him a lot about leading and managing young workers, which he enjoys in spite of its challenges.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MIRRORSCAPES LLC.

Miller grew up on a farm in Perry County, Ohio, and he knew as a young man that his future career would have something to do with the earth. He took agricultural science in high school and joined Future Farmers of America, now referred to as FAA. Then it was on to The Ohio State, where he earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in agricultural science, with some non-degree work at the doctoral level as well.

MirrorScapes LLC, Lawn and Landscape Service
Owner: Chuck Miller
Founded: 2006
Headquarters: Lancaster, Ohio
Markets: Central Ohio area
Services: Lawn mowing; pest and weed treatments; tree installation; landscape design and installation; mulching; landscape and lawn renovations; hardscapes; fall and spring clean ups; and snow and ice management Employees: 9 (peak season)
Website: www.mirrorscapes.net

This set the stage for his first career as a teacher of agricultural science in a rural district for 14 years. When that school discontinued its ag science program, he put in 16 more years in Lancaster City Schools in Ohio, teaching everything from horticulture to animal care, in addition to agriculture.

Part of the work included fielding teams of work-study students, who then gained on-the-ground experience while Miller enhanced his supervisory skills.

When he looked around for a new career after retiring from teaching in 2006, he was determined to put his knowledge and experience to use by founding MirrorScapes LLC, Lawn and Landscape Service.

From the start, he says he was determined that his Lancaster, Ohio-based company would build its reputation by doing things the right way and not cut corners. His background gave him the skills to educate customers about landscape care, and some of his seasonal staff of nine came from his own classroom. The full-year staff includes Miller himself and two colleagues, Matt Smith and Luke Timmons.

"We don't take on more than we can handle," he says. "We do it right. Our goal is to provide quality service, and that's a top priority in each and every project. We're not happy until the client is completely satisfied."

Education is the key

The name MirrorScapes came from Miller's idea that "your lawn is a reflection of you," and about half of his customers are residential and half are commercial. The company is a full-service provider, including mowing/maintenance, landscape design, installations, lawn applications and mulching. Seasonal work includes spring and fall cleanup and prep, as well as ice and snow management. But Miller says his biggest areas of specialization are hardscaping and lawn renovation and fertilization.

Miller, licensed as a commercial pesticide applicator by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, is his company's primary turf and pest specialist. He's also a certified nursery landscape technician.

Beyond the work his company does for residential and commercial properties, it also takes on grounds projects for the City of Lancaster, and Fairfield and surrounding counties, including county parks, plus senior residences and other private commercial owners.

"I spend a lot of time talking with customers about what can be done for their yards," he says. Some of that means explaining to them about timing, heading off people who want to aerate in November or to spray in hot weather.

"We try to make the customers understand why it is we do what we do," says Miller. This is borne out by the company's website, which include an extensive seasonal guide to lawn care, with tips about proper procedure, and a troubleshooting, full-color illustrated guide to common pests and other problems. Services are described fully and completely.

An enewsletter update is also an online feature. MirrorScapes' customers work with the firm as educated consumers of lawn services, and his testimonials prove that.


Mirrorscapes maintains a high profile in its central Ohio market area. In addition to participating in local trade shows, it contributes labor and materials to many community service projects. Owner Chuck Miller, far left, with his team.

Of course, education is also essential for the MirrorScapes staff, as well. Miller says that "labor is always a tough issue," and he carefully screens prospective workers. New hires get lots of training, focusing on company procedure and safety. Miller relies upon information provided by Planet Professional Landcare Network's (PLANET) to keep his safety training program up to date, and says another invaluable resource for training is the Ohio Nursery Landscape Association (ONLA) and The Ohio State University's Nursery Short Course, held in conjunction with the annual CENTS show. CENTS, which takes place in January in nearby Columbus, Ohio, is the third largest trade show of its kind and offers a wealth of valuable educational seminars, says Miller. The company is also a regular at the Green Industry Expo in Louisville, Ky., and is looking for other educational opportunities in Michigan.

Serving the community

Another large part of the MirrorScapes management philosophy is that community service is essential. "Your customers come from the community, so you have to give back to it," says Miller. This takes many forms, including park restoration in Fairfield County in conjunction with PLANET's Day of Service effort each Earth Day. This past season his company also installed holiday lighting for the OSU historic round cattle barn, and took on hardscaping projects and made flowerbeds at the Ohio State Fairgrounds.

Local youths share in the generosity of Miller's company, as well, as it helps out with local baseball and football fields, plus makes financial contributions to the Youth League. And, of course, there is the Lancaster Firefighters Toy and Food Drives, and the Mirrorscapes' support of the Fairfield County Junior Livestock Buyer activities and the National Wild Turkey Federation's Zane Trace Chapter.


The reputation Mirrorscapes has earned for doing quality work has led to it gaining landscape contracts from the City of Lancaster, and for several central Ohio counties. "We don't take on more than we can handle," says Owner Chuck Miller.
One major community contribution that hearkens back to Miller's teaching days is taking part in the Master Gardner Program with The Ohio State University Extension Service. The volunteer program provides intensive training in horticultural topics to interested residents, who then volunteer their time assisting with educational programs through the Fairfield County extension services. The Master Gardner Program also has a role each spring in a tri-county expo in which MirrorScapes gets heavily involved.

This kind of community activity and input keeps Miller up to date on the issues that confront the industry. He sees a future in the sustainability movement, with technologies such as propane mowers and organic fertilizers adding to greening the green industry further.

"It will be a necessity," he says. But, he warns that many customers who come to him wanting to "go green" then pull back when they see the costs, especially in this economic climate. While the mid-Ohio area has a goodly water supply, he adds, the issue there is with water quality. This is especially problematic with the growth of the oil and gas industry in his part of the state, and the fracking that will be involved in extracting these resources.

All of this attention to quality service and to staff education is paying off, says Miller. The company won a National Gold Rated Planet Safety Award in 2010, and was most recently named Small Business of the Year by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce. "It's an honor, and we were really surprised to get it," says Miller.

MirrorScapes is a member of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Better Business Bureau, the Ohio Farm Bureau, PLANET and the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association.

As for the future, MirrorScapes will just keep on keeping on, providing quality service through well-trained technicians to an educated customer base. And it will continue to play a vital part in its community by providing know-how and service to its residents.

Cindy Grahl has more than 30 years experience writing about contractors and their business issues from her office in Cleveland, Ohio.