North Carolina’s Greenleaf Services proves you don’t have to be big to be great

Edward Snyder likes to use turfas a ground cover in his design/build projects. He believes thatif it's maintained correctly, itbeautifies properties.

Edward Snyder likes to use turf as a ground cover in his design/ build projects. He believes that if it’s maintained correctly, it beautifies properties.

For Edward Snyder, the landscape industry is not about quantity of clients, but the quality of the work performed for customers regardless of size. Snyder, owner of Greenleaf Services, Inc., Linville, N.C., has earned many awards that demonstrate his commitment to that, and speak to what he describes as his firm’s doing-the-right-thing approach. Linville is a tiny community in the mountainous Blue Ridge region in the far northwest corner of North Carolina.

“What’s good for people is good for business,” he says. “If you do right by people and do the right things, everything’s going to work out in the end. Another saying I have is: ‘We’re only as good as the job we’re on today.’ What you do today dictates tomorrow. If we don’t meet and hopefully exceed customer expectations, tomorrow may not look so good for us.”

The company’s service area encompasses a 100-mile radius from Linville in North Carolina’s High Country region.

Like so many in the industry, Snyder was bitten by the “green” bug early in life, age 10 to be exact, when he began cutting grass in his parents’ neighborhood. Toward the end of college, he started helping a friend in the landscape business. In 2000, his partner went to work for a nursery and Snyder started Greenleaf Services, Inc.

Greenleaf Services

Owner: Edward Snyder
Founded: 2000
Headquarters: Linville, N.C.Markets: 100-mile radius ofthe High Country area inNorth Carolina
Services: Design/build andmaintenance
Employees: 12 in peak season

Greenleaf Services markets to the high-end residential community. Initially Snyder directed his efforts toward maintenance, such as small clean-ups, but within a year he added design/build services after attending a symposium sponsored by the former Associated Landscape Contractors of America, which later became the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET).

Snyder was attracted to the idea of doing more landscaping projects from the ground up. While design/build is the company’s primary thrust, Snyder points out that it is the maintenance side of the business that promotes the company.

“If our finished product from design/build doesn’t continue to flourish and look the way it is intended, then it’s going to be hard for us to sell installation work,” he points out.

Snyder likes to use turf in his design/build projects as a ground cover. “A lot of people will use plants and mulch,” he says. “I think sod, when it’s maintained, is one of the greatest ground covers.”

Maintenance promotes design/build

Greenleaf Services employs 12 during the peak season and six to eight during off-season.

Snyder considers a person’s values – honesty, hard work and loyalty – a primary factor and their skill set a secondary factor. “We’re a tight-knit group,” he says of his team. “I’ve been fortunate to have many of the same employees that I’ve had since the day I started. If a person fits in with the rest of us, we can train them.”

Because the company is small, it enables him to spend about 70 percent of his time in the field. “I feel it is very important that management is from the top down,” he says. “You lead by example. I’m never going to ask somebody to do something I wouldn’t do myself. If we have a situation or a question arises, I want to go out there and experience that for myself and then make a decision from there.”

Snyder says he takes a page in business management from his father and uncles, who owned and operated a textile business for more than 50 years.

“That was certainly the way my father and uncles operated their company,” he says. “People had been there for 20, 30 years. That was the norm. You’re only as good as your people at the end of the day. And knowing where people are coming from makes a big difference.”

Snyder spends time each year visiting other exemplary companies in the industry. “They are setting the bar very high and setting an example for others to follow,” he points out. “The way I was brought up is you look at the people before you and that’s how you learn. I’ve been very successful and have created a nice company.”

Eric Sorrow, who has been with Snyder since the beginning, heads up the maintenance crew. “He runs the crew, he sells the job, he is the point person for our clients,” says Snyder.

Every plant used on this property has a specific place and purpose. A well-thought-out, ongongbed maintenance program ensures every landscape plant thrives so that the landscape offers acoherent and finished appearance.

Every plant used on this property has a specific place and purpose. A well-thought-out, ongong bed maintenance program ensures every landscape plant thrives so that the landscape offers a coherent and finished appearance.

Smartphones a game changer

Snyder has found that a recent technology upgrade to smartphones is making a difference in the way he does business. “Eric has all of our customer contacts in his telephone and if there’s an issue that he sees, most of our clientele are absentee owners, he can take a picture of whatever that is and then immediately gets that back to the client.”

Previously, the company would take a photo with a camera. “We would bring it back to the office and the next day, I would take a look at it and there was a lot of time lapse there,” says Snyder. “We feel that with the camera in the smartphone and having all of the contact information that he’s got access to right there, he can send pictures to me. I can take a look at it or whoever else within our company needs to and we can get a faster response to the client.”

Greenleaf Service’s trademarked motto is “building relationships through great landscapes.”

“People can talk about quality all they want to,” he says. “It’s our people. We do what we say we’re going to do. We try to live our motto out, garnering someone’s trust and building a relationship hopefully that goes on for years and years, which it has for more than the last 10 years for us. We still work with all of our same clients. In the companies that I’ve visited, it all comes back to their people and the culture of that operation.”

Snyder says that everyone in the company works as a team. “It takes everybody to win and to work together,” he says. “The people know that they are part of something bigger than themselves. What separates our company from others is our people and what they put into it. People care about what they do and try to do the best job they can. They give it all they’ve got and hopefully, at the end of the day, it comes out the way it needs to.”

Snyder operates in a region of the country where efforts in retaining clients is a more important focus than trying to find new ones because it’s not a heavily-populated area.

“We’re a small company and our market is very small,” he points out. “I want to be able to maximize the revenue per project instead of volume of projects. We capitalize as much as we can on each individual project instead of looking at numbers.”

Another benefit is that if his company does a good job for a client, that client will not only be “a client for life” but they may also mention the service to someone else for a referral.

Getting better with age

“We’re always looking to find a better, more efficient way to accomplish a task but still deliver an A-plus quality product,” says Snyder. “Sometimes, when you put production in front of quality, you can have an issue.

Great Work Recognized

In 2011 and 2012, the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association honored the company with an Excellence in the Landscape Grand Award and an Excellence in the Landscape Best in Show honor.

The Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) awarded the firm with an Environmental Improvement Grand Award in 2010 and 2011, and an Environmental Improvement Merit Award in 2009. In 2011, it also received the Judges’ Award and, from 2003-2010 the PLANET Safety Award. In 2012 it was honored with the Best of the Best Award.

Greenleaf Services also received five various awards in the Southern Spring Home and Garden Show from 2006 to 2008. In 2008, it received the American Society of Landscape Architects Honor Award in conjunction with Miller Landscape Architecture.

“We do spend a good bit of time in the winter getting ready for the next season, maintaining and fabricating our own equipment and trucks.” One of the company’s primary maintenance trucks was fabricated with an aluminum tank for a water supply and a quick-disconnect hose on the truck and a small platform on the back so an employee doesn’t have to bend over to pick up a sprayer. Lance Brown, the company mechanic, came up with the idea because many of the company’s customers don’t return to their second homes in the mountains until later in the spring, and since their homes are winterized, no water is available on the properties.

Another way the employees fill downtime is to work on projects with architects several hours away. The company also has established a small nursery.

“We’re bringing in a lot of our own plant material and expanding upon that,” Snyder says. “We’re going to have a good selection of trees and finish-type material for our clients who are looking for it. We purchased a 66-inch truck-mounted spade over the winter, so that will give us more capabilities for some larger material with local nurseries around us where we can go in and harvest ourselves.”

Going forward, Snyder says his focus is ensuring client satisfaction, meeting the needs of his clients and continuing to grow an internally strong company for his employees. He wants to always be evolving and developing his products and systems.

Snyder has learned over the years that when he got started in business for himself, he wanted his company to get bigger and bigger. “We got to a size that was not comfortable and I had to get back to a comfortable size that I could manage,” he says. “Quite honestly, too much work is probably worse than not having enough work. I can say in the spring we are always overextended and we haven’t even started yet. It’s the nature of the beast.”

He addresses that by controlling the company’s schedule, something, he concedes, that can be nearly impossible to do at times.

“Our biggest goal is to keep improving our abilities and hopefully our opportunities,” he says. “Additionally, we want to really focus in on efforts to maximize our time and efficiencies and hopefully our opportunities will mesh with that as well.”

Eric Sorrow, head of maintenance,fills a backpack sprayer from thewater supply that each maintenancetrucks carries.

Eric Sorrow, head of maintenance, fills a backpack sprayer from the water supply that each maintenance trucks carries.

Future plans for his company call for focusing “not so much on volume and growth over a certain period of time more than we are looking at our efficiencies with what we’re doing and trying to do more with the same amount of people or less and still produce a wonderful, high-quality product,” he says. “There will always be a big importance on quality and maintaining relationships, both with employees and customers.”

Carol Brzozowski, Coral Springs, Fla., is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a frequent contributor to Turf magazine. Contact her at [email protected].