“Les bons temps rouler” – “Let the good times roll” – is a popular saying in Louisiana, but few people in that state start rolling earlier in the morning – or with more enthusiasm – than Ted Anthony. Not long after the sun peeks over the New Orleans skyline, he’s at work in the company’s yard as his crews load materials. Like a general on the day of a battle, he’ll confer with his lieutenants, reviewing the day’s plan, poring over the details and making final adjustments.
Anthony’s Landscaping does indoor and outdoor landscaping – installation and maintenance, site prep, decks and fences, irrigation systems, outdoor lighting, pools, ponds, walkways, patios and gazebos. The quality of his work has gained him notice. He was chosen for a high-profile civic tree planting project in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And in 2006 his company was featured on the HGTV network as the winner of its Landscaper’s Challenge contest.
Like many in this business, Anthony got his start cutting lawns as a child. Something inside of him clicked when he realized he could turn a shaggy yard into a manicured showpiece. After high school he joined the Marines and served in Desert Storm. The Corps appealed to the already detail-oriented Anthony, but he got out after one enlistment and started working in the chemical application business. He continued to cut lawns on the side and in 1994 decided to venture out full time by himself.
Deciding not to be defeated
Shortly after starting his own business Anthony fell backward off a ladder, trapping a leg between rungs and suffering a nasty fracture. But what might look like defeat to others looked like an opportunity for this ex-Marine. “Everybody has to face adversity sometime,” Anthony says. “And with adversity you have to make a decision. I decided I was going to triumph over this and keep my business.”
For the next six months he mowed, raked and trimmed shrubs while hopping around with a leg brace and crutches. He even figured out how to clutch his string trimmer under his arm and lean overboard on his riding mower so he could edge curbs and sidewalks.
When the brace came off, Anthony knew that he had triumphed over adversity, but he also knew he wanted to grow beyond being just a one-man company.
Attitude before experience
When hiring entry-level laborers Anthony looks for great attitude; experience matters little. “If a job applicant is so good, why did he leave his last job, or why doesn’t he have his own company?” Anthony asks. He also looks for indications of a steady personal life – a wife, long-term girlfriend or roots in the community.
Anthony also makes good use of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s H2B program to make sure all of his south-of-the-border laborers are legal and well documented. It’s more paperwork and it’s more expensive, but it’s worth every penny, he says.
On the professional end of the scale, Anthony looks for knowledgeable professionals who can complement his skill set and help broaden the company’s client base. In the last few years he’s brought on Ray Gumpert, ASLA, a landscape architect who became a partner in the firm, and Jerry Schaeffer an interior landscaping specialist. Early on, Anthony also recognized he couldn’t keep the office going and spend enough time on operations, so he hired Stacy Cobb to hold down the fort at the office.
Lead by example
Anthony knows that it takes training, leadership and feedback to keep good employees. “I sent all my supervisors to management seminars last year” he says. “I didn’t want them to just hear it from me. And I grilled them when they got back. I asked them, ‘What did you learn? What did they say we’re doing right here? What did they say we’re doing wrong?'”
This approach has paid off handsomely. In an industry with rampant turnover, Anthony has almost none. But it’s more than strategy. It’s an attitude he conveys to his employees and it’s an attitude he expects from them. The Marines teach leadership by example and it’s a lesson Anthony learned well. “We’re all pulling on the same rope collectively,” he says. “I don’t ever take the attitude that I got to this point by myself.”
Details make the difference
Another component of Anthony’s success is his planning and logistics. He works out the execution of every job in great detail, bringing people, equipment and materials together for maximum efficiency and productivity. And he’s always looking for a way to improve his processes. “I love problem solving. I love to beat it,” he says.
In his quest for efficiency, Anthony realized that his crews often lost two or three hours a day driving around town gathering supplies. His solution was to create a wholesale landscape supply division. He now stocks everything his crews need and enough to sell to other landscapers as well. And the business is thriving. Not only is it convenient for other landscapers to buy from Anthony, but when he gets a lead on a job that’s too small for his business model, he often recommends the job to one of his wholesale customers.
Shelter from the storm
In August 2005 just about every skill and character quality Anthony possessed was put to the test when Hurricane Katrina raked across southern Louisiana. Anthony’s office and yard were covered by more than six feet of water. It took him and his supervisors more than a week after the storm just to locate all their employees, but he and Gumpert made the decision that nobody was going to miss a paycheck.
“Needless to say, the mission changed,” Anthony quips. Day by day, they began pulling things back together. Employees were given carte blanche to do whatever they needed to do to put their lives back together. “I told them, ‘Whatever you have to do, just go do it we’ll work around it,'” Anthony says.
Cleanup work was plentiful, but surprisingly so was landscaping, Gumpert says. “A lot of people wanted their landscaping restored first,” he says. “Our clients had a lot of pride in the beauty of their lawns and gardens. They turned to us to give them that emotional boost that came with restoring something that’s been lost.”
It took five months for business to return to normal, yet despite the lingering impacts of the hurricane and the recovery, Anthony’s business is doing well and he remains upbeat about it and New Orleans. As Anthony or just about any native of this city will tell you, “let the good times roll” is not just a party slogan. It’s about starting every day with a positive outlook and enjoying life – work included.
“I don’t have any set financial goals,” he says. “I didn’t aspire to be a $3 million company, and I don’t necessarily want to become a $6 million company. My goal is to have the best landscaping company I can possibly have, to do the best work to the highest standards and to have fun doing it – to be pumped up every morning and know my employees are pumped up about their work. Whatever number shows up on the bottom line after that is irrelevant.”