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Keeping the balance

By:
  • Michael Freeze
- Posted: June 10, 2019

How Todd Pugh and his team built a childhood job into a regional, multimillion-dollar enterprise

By Michael Freeze // Photos by Rob Wetzler, Todd Pugh and Frees Perspectives

Off State Route 62 in Louisville, OH, the corporate headquarters of Enviroscapes is surrounded by professional landscaping that’s anchored by a pond with a fountain spraying throughout the day. Todd Pugh, founder and CEO, sat in the company’s conference room looking out toward the window.

“I planted that myself,” Pugh says as he pointed to a bed. Nowadays, Pugh doesn’t get his hands dirty too often, but he does remain hands-on with his operation that employs more than 200 people, services sites in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia, and generates nearly $20 million in revenue.

A far cry from $5 a lawn

Today, Enviroscapes is a far cry from the days of mowing grass to have enough money to buy a pair of basketball shoes.

“There were four of us in our family. Our parents told us if you wanted something, you have to work for it. Our parents gave us the necessities. You had to pay for the rest,” Pugh says. “To bridge that gap between $40 shoes and $100 shoes, I needed to find a job. My parents drove past a yard and suggested I mow it. I mowed grass for that neighbor for $5 until the day he died.”

Pugh’s lawn service caught on as he gained more customers. By high school, he was grossing $1,200 per week with his brother and friends serving as his employees. Pugh continued his work while he attended Ohio State University. During that time, he was a snow subcontractor at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus.

“We didn’t have a clue,” Pugh admits. “We were in an ag fraternity called AGR. We put a bunch of trucks and snowplows together. The second year, we did snow and ended up making $250,000 revenue.” That’s when the light bulb went off.

“I realized that this could become a viable business. I had a lot of resources at OSU, and met a lot of business people,” he recalls. “They had vision and really knew the ropes. I thought if they could do this, I could too.”

Pugh and his younger brother Jason split up their college hours to keep their business going and both graduated in 1996 without any debt. That year, Todd’s Landscaping, which eventually became Enviroscapes, reached $650,000 in revenue. By 2001, it doubled to $1.2 million.

“We are in the middle of cow and plow country. That’s a big part of our story. We are doing this volume of business in rural America,” Pugh says. “This business is 100% relationship driven. If you screw up, everybody knows everybody.”

Having a hometown feel was a staple Pugh was proud to have. He was doing something he loved and Enviroscapes was becoming a larger player as the company bought out its competition and accelerated its growth.

“We picked up a lot of good people that wanted to accomplish a great deal. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were just having fun working outdoors, getting jobs done,” he says. “We were working bigger properties, driving bigger trucks. We made a lot of money because there wasn’t much overhead that allowed for reinvestment.”

Changing lanes

As the business grew, Pugh felt Enviroscapes being pulled in too many directions. The business was heavily weighted toward residential, which didn’t allow the company to deliver the higher level of service demanded by the more lucrative commercial accounts.

“In 2007-08, we were 80% residential, 20% commercial. We did a three-year flip. We transitioned 81% of our customers, which was only 19% of revenue. That’s monumental,” he says. “We had an employee who was a bit cantankerous. I told him, ‘You would make a better owner than a worker, so here you go.’ ”

Pugh sold that employee the majority of Enviroscapes’ residential accounts for $10,000 and began to focus on commercial accounts.

“If all doctors could fix anything, they would be doctors not specialists,” Pugh says. “It was tough; but at the end of the day, the more we focused, the better we got.”

Smart growth

One of the initial challenges in growing regionally was discipline and customer demand. By 2006, Pugh’s company was a very successful fun house of work; but to grow, he knew things had to change.

“We had to learn how to work smarter,” he says. “We needed to build structure in a very entrepreneurial, free-spirited business.”

Five years later, Enviroscapes opened its first branch in Akron, OH, and went on to open five more. This expansion helped meet customer expectations and allowed Pugh to aggressively seek new opportunities.

“I spent a lot of windshield time meeting customer demands. We were working for these customers in this market,” Pugh says of his reasons for branching out. “Then they would ask would you go to Akron, Canton, Youngstown?”

As his regional presence grew, he drew the attention of larger, national retailers and service brokers. But pursuing growth through aggregated contracts with low margins wasn’t a path Pugh was eager to pursue.

“You have to be careful. If it made sense to work with them, we’d do it,” he says. Instead, he had more success when contracts were awarded on a local level and he could build relationships with property managers.

“When they went to mass regionalized purchasing, we walked away because the numbers didn’t make sense,” Pugh says. “You need to know your costs. It’s a game that we are not into and we won’t be held hostage by it.”

Preferring to use his regional presence in a smaller market as leverage, Pugh can secure contracts with higher pricing than he could at the national level.

Despite having achieved a sustainable regional model, Enviroscapes still looks to use a hometown approach.

“It’s a challenge to keep that identity since we branched out,” says Director of Operations Dave Lint, CSP. “We continually talk to our customers about trying different things. But ultimately, it’s not how big we are. We want to be the best because we have that hometown feel and take care of the customer and our employees.”

Michael Freeze is assistant editor of Snow Business. Email him at mike@sima.org.

 

Joe Means Business!

How a chance meeting brings mentorship full circle

It was just another busy day of traveling for Todd Pugh as he noticed a young man pulling a lawn mower behind his bike at a gas station. Pugh’s curiosity piqued as he drove for another mile, but eventually he knew he had to turn around to meet him. Joe Solomon, 13, was filling up his gas tanks when Pugh approached him.

“I was just getting ready to go inside to pay for it, then he walks up,” Joe says of the chance encounter. “Kind of scared me at first. I thought, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ ”

What ultimately pushed Pugh to turn around was he saw himself in Joe. As a 14-year old, Pugh once hustled like Joe. He, too, moved around Louisville mowing lawns to make money, stopping at the gas station between yards and enjoying working outside.

Joe told Pugh about his operation, Joe’s Lawn Care. Pugh shared his story of how he started in a similar fashion and now runs a company with six locations and 200-plus employees. Pugh invited him to tour Enviroscapes and shared the experience on the company’s LinkedIn page; as of our print date, his post had been viewed more than 22,000 times.

“I was blown away by it,” Pugh says. “This is not about me. It’s about giving back and a chance to encourage somebody when you can.”

A life-changing experience

Pugh hosted Joe and his parents, Lisa and Paul Solomon, at Enviroscapes’ facility. During the visit, Joe viewed the equipment that was similar to his and gained a valuable lesson on the manifestation of what it’s like to take a business like his to another level.

“I saw what it could look like if I keep going. Someday, I could have something like this,” Joe says. “Sometimes, I get a little burnt out from doing this, but now that I see this, I’m going to keep going.”

Pugh rounded out the experience by giving Joe a role-playing lesson in good salesmanship, taught him to create a P&L statement and offered Joe some newer equipment. By a young contractor’s measure, that would have been a good day. But for a teenager there was still a pressing issue. When asked if he needed anything else, Joe replied in jest: “I need a new inner tube for my bike.”

Joe’s parents noted that he always had an affinity for the outdoors. “I accidentally found out that he loved working with hands. So, instead of doing chores inside, I had him go outside,” Lisa says. “Being outdoors satisfies him. Any child should have a chance to go out and find who they are. I’m glad he’s doing what he loves.”

Coming full circle

For Pugh, it’s about playing a role in the full circle of mentorship. For example, he’s involved with several charity boards and makes time to meet with college students, including a marketing class at nearby University of Mount Union. From that relationship, two students from that class documented the visit and offered to produce a commercial for Joe. Before he was driving across the region to close big accounts, Pugh, too, was that young student looking for guidance.

“In 2001, I was at a seminar and I met [industry veteran] Mike Rorie,” he says. “When I heard him speak, I agreed with everything he said. I was doing $1 million (in revenue) and he was doing $15 million. He was branching out, and I wanted to do that for my business, too. I often joke with him that I want to ‘Be Like Mike.’ ”

To this day, Pugh speaks with Rorie several times a month about business and life. When Pugh told him about his encounter with Joe, Rorie said that he would be honored to personally deliver a mower to Joe. Many of Pugh’s peers have reached out to help as well.

The meeting with Joe summarized what it means to follow your passion, work hard and help others, Pugh says.

“You have two types of bank accounts, your financial and your emotional,” he notes. “You have to keep both of them full. You do well when you see people do well. When you see someone succeeding, it’s empowering. When you mentor someone and they do well, it’s inspiring.”

NAVIGATING INNOVATION

What’s holding it back and how can we move it forward?

As A young business owner, Todd Pugh was given a worthy piece of advice by landscaping consultant Jack Mattingly, who said “if your highest labor requirement is one of your lowest profit items, you better figure out how to mechanize that.”

At that time, Pugh’s business was six employees deep. After long thought, he realized that his lowest profit item was mulch, and quickly realized a solution.

“Getting mulch down every year was a nightmare for us,” he says. “My grandpa had a dairy farm. I thought if we put mulch into one of his feed wagons and it shoots off the sides, we won’t have to shovel mulch.”

That was the start of the Mulch Mule, one of the innovations for Pugh and his partner Steffon Hoppel, who hold more than 15 patents for equipment technology and attachments. That type of thinking was borne from his culture of continuous improvement, which is incorporated in his core values: Innovate and Inspire.

“You go into any snow contractor’s shop and they will show you something that they built. I was a farm kid. The majority of us used our hands. Your hands train your mind,” Pugh says. “If you’re looking to improve, you have to have solutions.”

Cost and efficiency

Pugh keeps a watchful eye on innovation for his company, especially when it comes to its all-season equipment.

“Twenty years ago, all-season equipment wasn’t sought after that much because you could buy a lawn mower for $5,000, then a snow piece for $5,000,” he says. “But today, everything is expensive. A new skid steer is $60,000 when it used to be $30,000, so the need to find all-season uses is huge.”

Pugh and Director of Operations Dave Lint, CSP, shout out manufacturers like Toro for embracing the all-season mindset. For example, Enviroscapes uses a Toro piece of equipment that can mow, blow and plow snow. “We run it all year long. In terms of labor, production and efficiency, it saves us a lot.”

Don’t get stuck in the past

Pugh feels the biggest thing that holds back innovation is some contractors are slow to adapt and are determined to remain brand loyal. But manufacturers can only innovate if they have the sales revenue to support it.

Pugh suggests that the best way to effectively stimulate product development, improvement and innovation is to encourage communication between manufacturers and contractors.

“Manufacturers are great at making, but not always great at figuring out what to make. You don’t know what you don’t know.”

 
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