CENTRAL FEATURES


One Step at a Time

Ambitious young Ohio partners determined to build a premium brand
By Ron Hall




Owners and partners, Adam Mullen, left, and Bobby Lester.
PHOTO BY RON HALL.

Partners Adam Mullen and Bobby Lester didn't know what kind of return to expect after shelling out big bucks to man a booth at the Great Big Home & Garden Show at Cleveland's massive I-X center this past winter. The approximately $10,000 they invested in the show is a sizable chunk of cash for their 7-person firm.

Not surprisingly, when Turf magazine, attracted by the company's name and the activity at its display, visited the two young men, we found them energetically engaged with prospects. They were working the show and, from appearances, enjoying it immensely.

Greener Cleveland Landscapes
Owners: Bobby Lester and Adam Mullen
Founded: 2009
Headquarters: South Euclid, Ohio
Market: 45-mile radius of South Euclid Services: Lawn & shrub fertilization, lawn maintenance, custom stonework, design & construction, seasonal cleanups and irrigation system services
Employees: 7 (peak season)
Website: www.GreenerClevelandLandscapes.com

"We're still following up on leads," says Lester, 29, contacted a month later. "We probably won't find out how much business we got from the show for another 60 days or so."

Mullen, 25, adds that he's not looking at the company's participation in the show in a strictly dollars-and-sense perspective. "In terms of positive exposure the show couldn't have been better," says Mullen. "I don't know how else we could have gotten in front of a better audience." He sees the experience of participating in the show as another step in establishing their company's brand within its market.

Adds Lester, "I think we were told that about 100,000 people attend the show. We went out into the aisle and brought them into our booth. We were shaking as many hands as we could. If you wait for people to find you, you will be waiting a long time."

Lester and Mullen started their company in 2009 after working together for several years for another local landscape company. They started Greener Cleveland Landscapes "from the ground up," says Lester. They didn't have much to start with other than a willingness to work hard to please their clients. They bought equipment a piece at a time as they acquired clients and could afford it.

"Before I met Bobby I had never worked with anyone who had the same passion I had for making landscaping a career rather than just a job," says Mullen, who had cut his teeth in the industry as an intern with TruGreen while pursuing a degree at Ohio State ATI, Wooster, Ohio. The two men agreed from Day One to build a company based on a "positive environment, employing employees with positive attitudes and seeking greener solutions" for landscape services. He admits the process of incorporating "greener" practices into their operations is an ongoing process, and the partners are taking it one step at a time.



Lawn seeding is just one of the many services offered by Greener Cleveland Landscapes.
"We offer a variety of green service packages; for example we offer organic fertilizers," says Mullen. "We're looking into more possibilities for our maintenance services, including using low-emission mowers. We also use porous pavers, which are eco-friendly. We're always investigating adding greener products and materials into our services."

Adds Lester, "As green technology improves and becomes more operationally efficient and effective we will reduce our carbon footprint by increasing our use of electric, battery and propane-powered tools and vehicles."

To this point in the growth of their small business, Mullen has taken on the responsibilities related to landscape design and construction, while Lester enjoys heading the company's maintenance operation. Both men say they're heavily engaged in selling. Greener Cleveland Landscapes provides a full range of landscape services in a radius of about 45 miles from its South Euclid office, just east of Cleveland.



Co-owner Adam Mullen, who directs the company's design and construction business, sees increasing demand for outdoor entertaining and living areas.
IMAGES COURTESY GREENER CLEVELAND LANDSCAPES, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

"The biggest challenge facing the company right now is just getting our name out there as a business. We love what we do and we want to grow," says Lester, adding that one of their goals is to eventually establish a location on the west side of Cleveland. "Our growth has been amazing so far and just keeping it going is the goal in mind for this and upcoming seasons."

Mullen anticipates a good season as the Recession fades from people's consciousness. "People are definitely spending more money now than they did a few years ago. Construction is starting to pick up again," he says, referencing a particularly large job the company was in the process of closing.

And, what do the partners enjoy most of what they've accomplished so far with Greener Cleveland Landscapes? Says Mullen: "Once a job has been completed and we know that the customer is happy with the work we've done, that gives us the greatest sense of satisfaction. We give personal service to all of our customers, from the beginning of the job to its completion.

"It's a great to get to know your customers and share in their excitement when we make their lawn look beautiful or we build them a new patio. We've been hugged on more than one occasion. We love what we do, so when our customers love what we do, too, we go home happy."

The partners realize that they will encounter more than a few challenges in building their brand in the competitive Cleveland market with its large number of established, well-run competitors.

"We know that there will mountains to climb in building this company and making it successful, and we're committed to keep climbing," says Lester. "We're both young and we have the energy to keep growing this company even though we realize that sometimes it's not going to be comfortable."

Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine and has been an editor, researcher and writer in the green industry for more than 28 years. Contact him at rhall@mooserivermedia.com.