We’ve made it, and so can you: Women in landscaping share success stories

Pam Dooley (center), owner of Plants Creative in Scottdale, Georgia, is focused on solutions. According to Maka Provost (left) and Hollie Arnold (right) employees, working with customers has made a huge difference to their company. (Photo: plants creative)

Being a woman in the landscape industry is different from what it was like when Deborah Cole started in the industry in the 1980s, but something that hasn’t changed is the endless possibilities.

It’s just a little easier to see her in 2021 than it is in 1981. Cole, founder and past president of Greater Texas Landscape Services in Austin, Texas, along with Pam Dooley, owner, Plants creative in Scottdale, Ga., Callan Dudley, General Manager of Southern landscape group in Evington, Virginia; and Amber Fox, HR director Grunder Landscaping Co. In Miamisburg, Ohio, share the lessons they learned in their career path and how women – and men – can join the thriving green industry.

Determined to be successful

Cole had a front seat to watch the industry transform in her 35 years in the green industry.

Cole helped grow Greater Texas Landscape into a $ 68.5 million company that was number 23 on the LM150 list of largest landscape companies in 2018, before BrightView acquired it in 2018.

Cole didn’t know much about landscaping businesses when she was finishing her Masters in Landscaping at Texas A&M, but when a friend approached her to start a business, she jumped upside down.

“Landscaping is an art and a science,” says Cole. “Over time, I realized that I was in control of the arts and sciences, but I had no business expertise other than gut feeling. I didn’t have any people to train. Owning a business wasn’t on my radar, but I’m always a big yes person whenever the opportunity presents itself. “

When her business partner split after three years, Cole was alone but determined to be successful.

“I never had the feeling that I couldn’t,” she says. “I never felt like this was only for one man. I never had that feeling. My attitude was that I will show who I am and do my best and not worry about other people. “

She says she experienced isolation when she attended her first meeting of the Associated Landscape Contractors of America. The association is now the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP). She says she went into all of the men’s rooms and she knew she would be noticed.

“That was the first time I had the feeling that there was something else,” she says. “It’s not that they did anything to make me feel this way. There are only small groups of men talking to each other, no one who is particularly welcome. “

Cole says a key to her success is to always believe in yourself and never let your gender affect your self-worth as a business owner. She also says it was important for her to get an education in the areas where she needed it.

“When we got into the maintenance of the store, I thought, ‘I don’t know anything about lawnmowers,’” she recalls. “So I signed up for a lawn mower repair course. When I decided to buy some skid steer loaders, I was enrolled in a skid steer loader license class. “

Cole says one regret she has during her time in the green industry is not taking an active role with industry organizations at the national level. While serving at the state level with the Texas Nursery & Landscape Association, she never took the opportunity to serve on a national committee despite being asked to do so. That’s why Cole says she’s such a big supporter of NALP’s Women in Landscaping Facebook group. She takes pride in how the group has grown into a network of industry allies.

“I thought, ‘There is no excuse not to be successful 30 years ago, (but) now there really is no excuse because the support is there,'” she says.
Cole shares this advice with other women in the green industry: “Don’t make yourself feel less than. There is absolutely no reason. If you walk into a room with people you don’t feel worthy for, just stop. Stop right there. “

Relationships are important

An accountant at heart, Callan Dudley was recently promoted from accountant to general manager of the Southern Landscape Group in Evington, Virginia. The Southern Landscape Group offers lawn care, maintenance, lighting and planning / construction services for 80 percent private and 20 percent commercial customers.

According to Dudley, the NALP Women in Leadership Facebook group and Southern Landscape’s peer group have become important parts of their success.

“I’ve grown ten times in my career in the last month due to some unforeseen circumstances,” she says. “This industry is the friendliest environment I could ever be in. I know if I could reach someone in the (Facebook) group, they would get in touch with me.”

She says a solid relationship with Southern Landscape Group owner and president Mark Maslow and industry colleagues has helped her thrive.

Dudley says reconciling work and family life is a challenge for many professionals. She is determined to master it. She is also grateful that family time is a part of Southern Landscape’s culture.

“The family is very important to me, as is my success in my career,” she says. “I will do everything I can to keep my balance and to be successful in both respects. It’s about creating expectations. Of course things will show up. It could be a customer emergency that requires attention and we take care of it, but at the same time we are all trying to achieve a good work-life balance and to separate from work when we are at home. “

A source of pride for Dudley is the success of her employees. A long-time employee, Liz Maddox, was recently promoted to production manager for landscape management and has taken on the role directly.

“She knows all of her customers, she knows how to run our equipment, and she runs this department and does a hell of a job,” says Dudley. “It’s a big deal because she deserves that respect. She has this relationship with her team members. That’s why it’s so successful. In a male-dominated industry, you have to have that respect and build strong relationships. “

Find your niche

“This is an amazing industry, but the work we do is pretty similar,” says Pam Dooley, owner of Plants Creative Landscapes in Scottdale, Ga. “We take care of lawns. We take care of plants. We build amazing spaces. There are thousands upon thousands of companies doing this. “

Dooley encourages landscape entrepreneurs to differentiate their businesses from their competitors by finding another way to do something and then work with it. Plants Creative provides residential design / construction, irrigation and maintenance services in the Atlanta area – a highly competitive marketplace. To differentiate himself from the competition, Dooley placed an emphasis on relationships and employees who are in contact with customers.

“They attract customers who value service over price and team members who are creative, unconventional solution providers,” she says.

Dooley is also a strong advocate of servant leadership. Key characteristics of their leadership style are their generosity and empathy. She says her employees have responded to this part of the culture at Plants Creative.

“If you appear in the service of (employees), it will be well received
others, ”she says.

Dooley believes that having a solid leadership team that balances their strengths is also important to strengthen the company as a whole.

“It’s very important to have people in your company who complement you and hold you accountable for those weaknesses,” she says.

Dooley says one of her weaknesses is that she didn’t focus on the financials
Side of their business. She realized this when industry consultant and LM columnist Jeffrey Scott asked her, “What are your numbers?” Dooley replied, “I have no idea … I mean, they’re fine.”

Scott told her if that was her answer, her numbers would probably be wrong. Dooley has since joined one of Scott’s peer groups. Since then, she has found that while her strength in horticulture helped catapult the business early on, paying attention to her company’s financials has helped Plants
Creative experience double digit growth.

“That was a big turning point for me and my business maturity,” she says. “I’m so growth minded. I love increasing sales, but I’ve also matured: “OK, let’s really focus on the smallest pennies so we can influence our bottom line as well.”

Opportunities abound

Amber Fox, HR director at Grunder Landscaping Co. in Miamisburg, Ohio, says the green industry found them, not the other way around. She joined the company as “First Impressions Director”, a position as Administrative Assistant, and has helped Grunder Landscaping perfect the approach to hiring in her current position.

According to Fox, all team members want to work for a company that is transparent and shows that they care about them as employees first and then about the team members. Grunder Landscaping, which offers landscaping, landscaping and maintenance services for 60 percent of private and 40 percent of commercial customers, aims to do just that.

“Our mission statement and our core values ​​are very important here,” she says. “We are very focused on just being a team.”

Finding good team members is a challenge, according to Fox, and Grunder Landscaping places an emphasis on how the candidate fits into the company culture.

“You need to be true to your hiring practices and your core values,” she says. “I always tell (the managers) not to settle down.”

According to Fox, there are so many opportunities in the green industry for women and men from different backgrounds. She says those who want to get into the industry should see all the potential avenues to explore, and she says it’s okay if a candidate doesn’t know exactly where the green industry is going to take them.

“If you’re not sure whether you like maintenance or design, ask the company,” she says. “It’s not just about the company interviewing you. You need to make sure that the company is a good fit for you. Find someone who will help you grow into the ideal position that you want. “

She says she looks forward to seeing so many more women in the industry in many different roles, and she hopes it will stay that way.

“There’s a lot of opportunity in this industry for anyone who wants it,” she says.

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