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Money Does Grow on Trees

By Shawn Shepherd – The Business Press – May 7, 1999

The following is a reproduction of the article which appeared in The Business Press, May 1999 .

When the world turns green, everything seems a little brighter.

Every spring, natives and Texas transplants alike agree there may be no better season in the Lone Star State.  Grasses emerge from winter slumber with brilliant hues, flowers blossom everywhere and there are bright sunny days between cooling rain showers.

It’s hardly a time to think of business.

But for the thousands working in the state’s Green Industry – a sector that generates nearly $8 billion in revenues annually, this is one of the busiest times in a year-round business.

“We’re really busy 12 months out of the year, every day of the week,” said C.C. Griffith, who along with her husband founded CC’s Touch of Nature Landscape Design & Contracting.

While Griffith adds she’d have it no other way, there is plenty of evidence that her success isn’t atypical in this business arena.

Growing the green

The Green Industry is the collective title for businesses in the nursery/floral sector.  According to definitions provided by the State Comptroller’s Office, the industry incorporates ornamental floriculture and nursery products; landscape counseling and planning; lawn and garden services; ornamental shrub and tree services; flowers and nursery stock and supplies; and retail nurseries, lawn and garden supply stores.

The Texas Agriculture Extension Service reported 1997 sales in the farm-gate segment of the Green Industry – greenhouse, nursery and combination growers – totaled more than $961 million, up by $100 million from 1996.

In the post farm-gate Green Industry segments, growth was equally impressive.

With an emphasis on the retail and service sides of the business, the TAES reported sales at more than $7.7 billion in 1997, up from 1996’s nearly $7 billion.  Approximately 55 percent of the business was attributed to retail, with 45 percent credited to service providers such as landscapers and lawn care specialists.

Tarrant County Extension Agent for Horticulture Dotty Woodson said the Green Industry is a major force in the local economy.

“This is a very, very important business for our region,” she said, citing that retailers in the county generate more than $10 million in revenue, with wholesale growers here doing the same.  She says estimates for landscape maintenance and installation hover around $4.5 million in annual revenues.

Green made easy

There are several factors that contribute to the growing Green Industry in Texas.  In this market, population growth, changing family lifestyles and the benefits of landscaped yards were cited by sources as factors in business growth.

“With new housing starts going up and the growth in population in the area, that’s the main reason we are seeing our business grow,” said Randy Weston, owner of Weston Gardens in Bloom, a nursery that specializes in native Texas plants that remain hardy through even the toughest Texas summer.

Tarrant County now has more than 1.3 million residents, many with demanding professional roles and clear goals about their homes.

“As more and more families have two incomes, they have less time to do landscaping,” said the Extension Service’s Woodson.  “People who are working more don’t have the time to do the work, do the research to decide what to do [with their lawns] or even do the installation themselves.”

Even with time constraints, most home owners still want a nice landscape, sources said.

“Your home is your domicile, not just an investment,” Weston said, emphasizing that he works with nursery clients to design lawns and gardens that can be enjoyed year round.  “I don’t know why so many of our gardens are so regimented – I’m really a naturalist…and it makes more sense to me not to try to control the environment.”

Many residents in the market appear to feel the same way.  Weston Gardens in Bloom has grown to a more than $1.3 million a year business, with its demonstration gardens becoming a favorite stop for aficionados.

In addition to the aesthetic value of the outdoor environment, other experts say landscaping offers values rarely considered.

“Landscaping really enhances your environment to give you a better living space,” Woodson said.  “If you didn’t have a landscape, think how hot and dusty your house would be.  Plants also add humidity around the home to keep things cooler.  And simply planting shade trees on the west side of your home can reduce your cooling bills in the summer by between 20 and 40 percent."

Economic considerations are also evident in the return on investment many home owners are looking for.

“I recently sold my home and I had re-landscaped the front of it and it sold in less than a month,” said Marty Terry, president of Terry’s Lawn Care, a nearly half-a-million dollar a year business he started by mowing lawns to pay off his first mower.  “The lot helps sell the house, and you really do have only one shot to make a first impression.”

The professionals

Having a spectacular yard may include a team of players from across the full spectrum of the Green Industry.  The plan is laid out by the landscaper, then comes the installation and finally maintenance to protect the investment.

Landscapers are as varied as home builders, say experts, and the best advice in selecting one is making certain you have the same interests to ensure an effective working relationship.

CC’s Touch of Nature offers design services and two crews that not only install the landscape but also maintain it long-term.

Working primarily with small projects to full house installations, Griffith’s business has grown because of her attention to clients.

“My business is really based more on personal customer relationships,” Griffith said.  “Even our retail shop [located on Vickery] is closely related because our customers come in and see an idea that they’d like to try in their home and we can create it for them.”

When the landscape is in, maintenance becomes the key issue and there are hundreds of options available.  From the kids down the street to the full professional lawn care team that comes weekly, residents in the region have alternatives.

TruGreen ChemLawn offers fertilizing, weed control and disease control to residential and commercial clients.  The national business with local franchises also offers aeration, a technique in which small holes are punched in the lawn to allow for better water penetration and grass growth.

Rick Eckstein, the company’s regional technical manager with more than 15 years working in Texas lawn care, said business is very good.  More than 25,000 customers in Tarrant County are purchasing ChemLawn’s services, with six to eight applications a year costing around $40 per visit.

More local contractors, like Terry’s Lawn Care, are cropping up all over town.

Working on 120 yards a week, Terry said his teams offer dependable and economical service because he is convinced that’s the bottom line.

“I get a lot of calls from new customers who are frustrated because their [lawn care provider] isn’t dependable,” Terry said.  “If you miss one day and can’t come back for several days, it’s just not giving the lawn the right kind of care.

“Lawns aren’t a big mystery – they need some sun, water and food and they need a haircut…but all regularly,” he said.

Home grown

For the do-it-yourselfer, every sunny weekend results in a steady stream of people hitting nurseries for supplies and demonstration gardens for ideas.  While most retailers can’t count their number of visitors, the ultimate demonstration garden – Fort Worth’s Botanic Gardens – boasts more than 730,000 visitors annually.

With the retail side of the Green Industry doing more than $10 million in Tarrant County annually, there are clearly plenty of residents who tend their own gardens and lawns.

The extension Service offers help to homeowners through a wide variety of free publications, seminars and a telephone help line staffed by master gardeners from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.  The help line is (817) 884-1944.

Good for the soul

Given all of the practical reasons that landscaping and lawn care is a growing business sector, some argue that the soul may be leading to this business boom.

“It’s so humbling when you’re out in nature because you realize in the grand scheme of things you’re really insignificant,” said Terry Thorn, events administrator at the Botanic Gardens.

“There’s a certain spirituality that comes in a oneness with nature,” he said.  “It’s relaxing and soothing to get you out of the hustle and bustle of urban living.”

That may well be worth any price.

 
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