Young professionals talk about their future

What do they think about the industry they are about to lead?

Daniel Levine has a dream: a mature canopy of trees, Xeriscape and water-smart landscapes, new technologies that monitor the plant conditions, water, soil--all creating what he calls “a utopia of efficiency.”

We’re not quite there yet, says the accounts manager for ValleyCrest Landscape Management, but like other young professionals in Colorado’s landscape industry, Levine is optimistic about the possibility of a green—both sustainable and profitable—future. Like the person who famously said that change is the only constant, these professionals see shifts in several areas.

Water
Demand in the state is bound to increase as the supply decreases. Says Levine, “We will be forced into reducing turf to usable space and finding alternatives that require less water and other resources.”

Trees will slowly become the focal points of the landscape, predicts Matt Hiner, Hiner Landscapes, Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, he also imagines too many landscapes with poor plant selection that will become overgrown with trees and shrubs in places they shouldn’t.

“Renovating turf areas into mulch and rock will be big,” adds Jon Rick, J. Rick Lawn & Tree, Colorado Springs. “I don’t think turf will go away altogether, because people still like the look and feel of turf, especially if they have children.” What will replace the lawns? More mulch with ornamental trees and more color from annuals and perennials. “I am fine with this, as long as there is a good design that flows,” Rick says.

Adds Paige Tomson, Commonwealth Tree and Garden, Denver, “Bluegrass areas serve a purpose, but I want to see it be more judiciously used, where it is really warranted, not just as an easy filler. Residentially, I would love to see front yards converted to planting spaces using appropriate plants and trees, reserving bluegrass for backyard spaces where people and pets will most utilize them.”

Serving their own generation
Younger generations want what they want when they want it. “They look at their neighbor’s green lawn and expect the same results overnight. They expect that when you plant something, it will grow, no additional care needed,” says Rick. Customer education is becoming more and critical to long-term customer relationships. “Overall, people just need to know how to care for their landscapes, and if they are unable, they need to know that there are many professionals in our industry who can help them out.”   

Low-hassle landscapes are also high on the customer’s list. Says Levine, “My generation works very long hours, longer than ever before. And when they get home, they want to enjoy the landscape without having to hassle with it.” 

Technology

Technology drives the post-boomer generations. Businesses that do not adapt are quickly left behind.  Fort Collins area contractor Tim Lindgren, Lindgren Landscape, says, “My generation seems to be about technology. When we work for these customers, they want the latest and greatest when it comes to lighting, sprinkler controls, outdoor kitchens and outdoor audio/video.”  Levine agrees, “Technology drives my generation. We are becoming more and more complex in our ability to utilize new technologies, and I assume people will embrace the use of technology in the landscape as the price of items comes down.”

Labor
The biggest challenge is finding qualified labor that is willing to work hard out in the elements. It’s getting harder to find Americans willing to do the work for the pay, says Levine. “Either we are going to have to turn landscape into a respected profession of experts that commands a higher wage, or we are going to have to utilize immigrant labor, which the government is getting more and more restrictive about.”

Adds Paige Tomson, “I am concerned that the industry will not be attractive to serious people who have expectations that many small business owners cannot easily provide, such as health insurance and paid vacations. This is not a new challenge by any means, but I think that many business expenses will increase, including fuel and fertilizer/pesticide costs, putting additional pressure on the benefit options for employers.”

Business success
This generation faces a slower economy, an undervalued landscape and more competition. Says Alyse Piburn, Mountain Roots, Frisco, “The biggest challenge is dealing with a struggling economy where individuals do not see professional landscaping as a necessity.”  Lindgren, too, recognizes this trend and believes anything that gets people outdoors helps to create landscape value.  “Extending the useable space of the home encourages people to get off the couch and spend more time outside. Ultimately, this will get people to place a higher value on their landscape,” he says.

Rick believes that slow growth will mark the coming decades. “I think there will be a lot of peaks and valleys over the next 25-50 years. The companies that take more of a turtle approach will be the ones that last. If you can grow 10-20 percent per year and meet all of your financial obligations and goals, I think the future is strong. Companies that follow this model will make it through the bad times, especially if they pay off all of their debt.”

For Levine, the ability to compete in the marketplace will determine company success. The level of service and quality of work being demanded will mean that only companies with the best skills and the lowest cost will be able to compete. In this intensely competitive environment, there will be “no more wasting water, labor or materials.”

Sustainability
“I hope my generation will better understand how important it is to make the right choices and to think of the environment when installing a landscape,” says Juliana Maes, owner, Raindrops on Roses, Silverthorne.  “Young adults nowadays care deeply about the environment,” echoes Piburn.  “I know many people in my age group who want to give back what we take from the planet.”       

These young women and their peers already are putting that hope into action. Staying informed about irrigation technology and appropriate plants is the norm for Matt Hiner. “Even now, we offer LED fixtures as the only option for outdoor lighting,” he says.” I hope we can set the new standard for the landscapes of the future while adding long-term value for our clients.”         

Niche businesses
The next generation is seizing niche opportunities. For Hiner, one of the biggest challenges “is knowing that you can’t be everything to everyone.” He believes that serving his free-spending, immediate-gratification-seeking generation will lead to opportunities, particularly in building outdoor rooms with features like fire pits and water features. The challenge will be, he says “finding your niche within the industry and staying true to what you are good at, knowing when to say no and when to refer something out.”

Lindgren’s niche is construction skills, which he predicts will be critical well into the future.  Building upon his passion to be “building things with his hands,” he is excited to see landscaping starting to blend more with construction, whether building complex paver patios or shade structures and pavilions or hearth rooms.

Piburn’s niche is her mission:  “to educate the youth and missed generations so that they understand they can participate in agriculture even on their own personal plots of land—no matter how small.”

Passionate professionalism
Like many in his generation—and the generations before him—Hiner was drawn to the industry by his love of plants and of working outdoors. Now, he says, “My passion is building something beautiful and sustainable. I want to be the guy people know and call when they have been successful in their life and want to hire the best to build something worth showing off. By surrounding myself with like-minded individuals, my hope is that I can grow with my peers and that my vision will become reality.”

“I am a future thinker when it comes to plant selection,” says Levine.  “I hope that when I retire I can drive through this beautiful area and say I have done something to make the world a better place through my greatest passion of all—horticulture.”

The bottom line, for Juliana Maes, is that contractors will have to design, build and maintain smarter landscapes, which means making the right decisions from the very beginning. “From soil preparation to plant choices to the irrigation system to programming the clock, all of these things play a huge part in determining the success or failure of a landscape and garden. And I think it's knowledgeable professionals who have the understanding, education, and passion to do these things right from the very beginning.

For Matt Paulick, who entered the industry after a career in the military, it was a new challenge that resulted in a new passion.

"Transition from military to civilian life can be interesting, confusing, and difficult at times," he said. "After I got out of the Air Force, which included two tours to the big desert out 'East', I quickly discovered that sitting in college classes for the next four years was not something I wanted to do. I wanted to work and make money rather than getting further into debt; a phrase I've heard a lot of fellow veterans say. The landscape industry offers many avenues of employment and opportunities for promotions for those who are motivated and ready to learn, which describes just about every US military veteran. I started working for Designs By Sundown seven years ago with zero horticultural knowledge and now have the proud title of 'Nursery Manager' on my business card. I did not start in this industry looking for a career but discovered a passion I did not know I had."

 
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