Bearss thrives despite tough Buena Vista climate Email
Written by Colorado Green NOW   
Tuesday, August 10, 2021 01:00 AM

Colorado Green NOW

“There are better places to start a landscape business than Buena Vista,” says Josh Bearss who founded Bearss Landscaping in 2005. He admits the high mountain desert climate is challengingIt’s windy and there are lots of deer and plenty of giant boulders in the ground. It’s tough for plants. It takes a lot of learning to create landscapes that work here.”  

Bearss moved to Buena Vista from the San Luis Valley in 2005 to help his brother finish building a house. During that first summer, he got interested in starting a landscape company after seeing a lawn care company for sale. He happened to connect with someone who encouraged him to go into landscape constructionand he helped Bearss develop a business plan and provided some startup money. The company started out as a one-person business with a truck and loan, which was paid off in about four yearsIn his second year, Bearss hired a few friends to help during the summer. From the very beginning, he has been motivated by providing jobs for others 

Learning as you go
He started doing yard cleanups and fencing, and working with builders who were constructing custom residencesSoon he was helping create the landscapes for the new houses. It helped that Bearss’ father, Jim, had a background in horticulture and landscape architecture and had helped my dad when I was little,” he says. After the younger Bearss started his business, his father came up to Buena Vista on weekends to help with design while working his other job during the week in the San Luis Valley. After retiring about four years ago, Bearss’ father moved to Buena Vista and is now an employee.  

Not only has Bearss learned design from his father, he also learns by observing nature and its “natural design. He asks himself, “How does nature deal with slopes and the wind? What plants are there? How can our designs mimic that?” The company’s designs mostly stay with native, hardy, low-water plants that can handle the climate. 

Buena Vista climate challenge
“People are coming from Denver, Colorado Springs, California and New York and realize there are a lot of climate challenges here,” Bearss explains. “You need good knowledge about what it takes to live here and grow plants. People want to try on their own and ask, ‘Can you show me how?’ I love teaching people about our little climate hereBut most people give up. 

The company models ‘how to do it’ in their designs. “Our top focus is to troubleshoothe challenges people have with living outdoors in their big new homes,” Bearss says. “We design areas to protect homeowners from the inevitable wind on their properties by creating sheltered areas, such as courtyards, which can be 5-10 degrees warmer in the winter. The climate is mild enough to drink coffee outside in the winter enjoying the view of Mount Princeton, if protected from the windWe end up creating new microclimates in sheltered areas where it’s warmer and deer can’t get in, which means we can use lots of lush plant material. 

Residential landscape takes off
About two years ago, Bearss hired Mike Enger who came from a Front Range landscape company. Bearss considers him a great addition to the management team. “He’s in charge of residential design and construction,” he says. “He’s my right-hand man, took a lot off my plate and excels what he does.” 

Adding maintenance division
“We started as a design-build company, but noticed many clients don’t or can’t maintain their landscapes. We moved into maintenance to preserve the landscapes—make them better, Bearss recountsYes, it’s a revenue stream, but without proper maintenance, we couldn’t see our designs come to life as they mature. We understand the importance of maintaining and sustaining landscapes and hired our first maintenance division foreman, Kyle Hall, this year. And, the new division created more employment opportunities for people. 

Learning and growing the business
“Learning more about managing a bigger business keeps me humble,” he confesses. “My role now is less about installing landscapes—which I love doing—and more about managing and operating the business including hiring, insurance matters and growing leaders.” 

“The pandemic put our industry on steroids! Our company is booked up through the 2022 season. We put this on our website,” he says. People say, ‘can’t you just add a new crew?’ We have to educate our clients that a new crew is a $150,000 investment in a truck, trailer and equipment, and find good people.” 

“It was the right move for us to stop taking projects. We have come to realize that we are in control. This doesn’t have to be chaos,” Bearss says. ‘We communicate with clients and set expectations and boundaries This protects the sanity of me and my managers.”  

He concedes that staffing for the season is still an unknown and it’s possible they could open up to one or two more projects. For now, they are at their limit. 

Growth outside the comfort zone
I’m a limiting factor for growth. I don’t want to be too far out of my own of my comfort zone as l learn more about operating the business,” Bearss admits. Each year brings new challenges for him as he navigates the challenges of managing a bigger business. He knows that some of skills he’s learning were not ‘natural’ to him and he is climbing the learning curve. He is grateful for the many mentors he has had and is comfortable taking slow steps and does not compare his growth with other companies. 

Bearss also relies on self-education and finds resources to support him. He uses ALCC resources and takes classes offered by DBC Irrigation in Colorado Springs where he can also “pick the brains of other contractors.  

Location challenge
Though training classes are typically offered in Denver or Colorado Springs, Bearss found it “a blessing that more training moved online during the pandemic. It was great that ProGreen was online. I was able to attend more sessions.” 

As for materials and supplies, “we have to be strategic about things we need. We can’t just ‘go out and get more edging.’ And we have to sure we can get required plant material when we needed.” 

“We also build our own soil mixtures with different specifications depending on its use. We have to make an investment in time, effort and cost. We order compost from A1 Organics. They bring it to us for a large delivery fee and we create our mixtures. The added cost gets folded into the project bids. 

“The labor market is pretty slim here,” admits Bearss. He has taken on some high school students to teach them some skills and “how to grow up’’—meaning to take responsibility. It didn’t work out well with students the first few years but for the past two years students have been keen to learn.  

He has found managers outside Buena Vista willing to join his team and sees the advantages of off-loading some of his management responsibilities to others. He loves to see his team’s skill grow.  

Bearss encourages his team to learn and gain certifications and understands the importance of developing a good work culture. The company now has 15 staff and is hoping to hire more people to have from 20 to 30 for the season. Who knows? Maybe they can handle another project. 

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green NOW:
Protect workers in excessive heat and poor air quality
ALCC hosts sold-out golf tournament in Littleton
Long COVID now covered as a disability
No surprises in Jobber mid-year report