Ryan Miller’s first dump truck wasn’t much to look at. A 1981 F350, the truck was covered with shingles, had no seats, and had a small tree growing inside the cab. “I think there was someone living in it,” Miller says.
That was seven years ago. Now Miller has five trucks, all emblazoned with his self-designed logo that features his black Labrador retriever, Mulligan. Although Miller went to school to train in graphic design, he always wanted to own his own landscaping firm. That firm is now experiencing 90 percent growth per year.
Miller’s business follows the seasons in the Boston area. Throughout the winter, Mulligan’s employees stay busy with snow removal. In the spring, summer and fall, the firm does cleanup work, and lawn maintenance. Concentrating primarily on commercial properties and condominium associations, Miller stays busy with maintenance and hardscape work. He does most of the estimating and has recently hired a landscape designer to join the team. Miller says design is a labor intensive process. “I used to work directly with the customer on design,” he says. “Hiring an in-house designer enables me to focus on other avenues such as marketing and sales.”
Miller freely admits he handles a heavy work load. In addition to his estimating and design duties, he does most of the coordination for his crews. Although he delegates some responsibilities to his crew leaders, he’ll continue to be on hand. “I’ll never be able to let go of it,” he says. “I’d like to be able to play golf every day, but I’ll probably be in the office or the shop.”
Providing professional, quality work on every job is crucial in Miller’s market, where competition is fierce and new landscaping firms are born daily. “I’ve felt I had to take my company to the next level,” he says. “There are a lot of reputable businesses out there, and I’ve set my business apart with honesty and quality workmanship.”
The work in the area, as well as the materials used, varies greatly. Miller says he uses a lot of segmental wall block, which is cheaper to put up than fieldstone and saves on labor costs for the customer. However, he says, there’s no emphasis on one type of application, and there’s a lot of variety in the area. Miller attracts clients primarily through word-of-mouth, but has done some advertising and written a how-to-guide for a local newspaper.
Miller has a few long-term employees, including a high school friend who works as his operations manager. All of the employees, including Miller, are well-trained. Miller and his supervisors are Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI) certified. His long-term employees also keep his equipment looking good and running good. Miller’s employees are responsible for fluid changes and service intervals, and Mulligan’s has a half-day devoted to maintenance each week. For Mulligan’s, maintenance is key, particularly with the harsh New England winters. “During the winter, trucks break down and plows break down,” Miller says.
The company’s training extends to safety, which Miller takes seriously. In addition to regular safety briefings, he has job-specific safety training. “I try to go over anything that can happen on a particular job,” he says. “Danger is always lurking.”
He takes a personal interest in his employees’ welfare, as well. Last year, when a young man who worked for him dropped out of school, Miller was encouraging. The employee, Charles Hill, says Miller helped him immensely. “Ryan pushed me,” Hill says. “He helped me get my GED and gave me clothes. I had a baby last year, and he gave me a bonus and time off.” With Miller’s encouragement and help, Hill was able to manage the situation and Miller eventually promoted him to maintenance supervisor.
Attracted to landscaping at an early age, Miller knew from day one this was the road he wanted to travel. “I have that determination,” he says. “I started out slow, and I can remember standing on a lawn raking leaves and asking myself ‘what am I doing?’ But I always knew I could make it.” He acknowledges starting your own business from scratch is a daunting task. “My advice to someone interested in going out on their own is to buck up,” he says. “It’s a scary ride.”
Even though Mulligan’s is experiencing a high rate of growth, Miller hasn’t counted out expanding services. In addition to establishing a fencing company, future plans include an irrigation division and holiday lighting. He’s taking things one step at a time, though. “If you take on too many things at once, you can spread yourself too thin,” he says. “We want to flourish.”