From Farming to Career

user-gravatar Headshot
Updated Mar 15, 2013

Jerry Merrill grew up on a small farm in Moreland, Idaho, but says he couldn’t see a good way into farming as a career. However, he always enjoyed mowing the lawn and working in the yard as a child. After his teenage years of farm and ranch work, he went on to study landscape design, construction and management at Ricks College, which spring-boarded him to start his own landscape business.

He started Merrill Quality Landscapes in Rexburg, Idaho, in 1981, and moved to his current location, a former car wash and gas station on one acre, several years ago.

When it came to developing his logo, Merrill wanted something that conveyed the image of personalized quality, hence a person with a shovel caring for a tree. “I once read in an article that you should make your company’s logo stand out,” he says. “So, ours has always been hot pink and green. We used to have dump truck beds painted hot pink, and we would get some stares.”

He has since developed a niche market in the area in fine gardening for both commercial and residential properties, while contracting lawn mowing duties to former employees who now have their own companies. His company installs many intricate and varied landscapes for medium to high-end residential and commercial properties, and often helps customers choose planting and hardscape material during the design/build phase of a project. Several years ago, Merrill decided to add Christmas Décor and Weed Man franchises, and he says these offerings round out his services. Merrill’s son-in-law, Heath Edwards, is the Weed Man division manager.

Merrill’s service area includes about 200 miles all the way to West Yellowstone, Montana, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, providing four distinct seasons to contend with. Idaho is very much “the West,” Merrill says. “There is still a lot of wide-open space and unstructured land.”

Merrill and his Vice President of Operations Steve Winegar have built a great relationship with the BYU-Idaho Grounds Professionals and were awarded a three-year contract to install new irrigation on campus. He also won the bid to install the landscape and irrigation at the new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints temple in Rexburg in 2007.

To take his company to the next level, Merrill recently hired Chris Goodwin, a landscape designer familiar with design software and project presentations. He uses Dynascape design software because “it’s what I was taught in school, and I think it makes a difference when showing a customer what their finished landscape will look like,” Goodwin says. Depending on how busy the company is Goodwin may spend a lot of time on jobsites, or more time in the office. “I wanted to work for Merrill Quality Landscapes because their reputation for quality work is well known, and they provide the equipment their employees need. That impressed me,” he explains.

Merrill says he doesn’t have a difficult time finding employees, but because of the college atmosphere, it’s hard to find employees who want to stay long-term. Winegar began his career with the company as a crew member 15 years ago. He did his church mission work in Mexico, and is fluent in Spanish – one of the main reasons most of Merrill’s Hispanic employees have been with the company eight or 10 years. In addition, Merrill offers a Simple IRA retirement plan with company match and group insurance. Merrill sees his employees as partners in success and the greatest asset of the business.

Late February and early March is typically pretty slow for Merrill, and this is when they conduct training sessions, attend educational conferences and maintain the equipment.
Merrill and his crew have periodic safety meetings, and attend industry conferences in the winter including GIE+EXPO each year in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Idaho Nursery and Landscape Association’s Hort Expo, as well as the Idaho Environmental Care Association conference and the Weed Man annual seminar for his lawn care employees.

Merrill says in the future he would like to propose and install outdoor kitchens with infrared heaters, as well as synthetic putting greens for certain customers who want those in their landscape. “While we have noticed a bit of a housing downturn, the market here is still fairly strong, and most people still recognize landscaping as a good investment,” Merrill says. “The cost increases we’ve noticed business-wise have been in fuel and fertilizer prices; hopefully, those will stabilize going forward.”

In addition to his full-time job, Merrill and his wife Marianne are very active in the community. She is a schoolteacher and he is a long-time Kiwanis Club and Chamber of Commerce member, has enjoyed coaching Little League baseball and football and is chairman of the “Tailgate Party” committee for the Madison High School Athletic Club.

The Attachments Idea Book
Landscapers use a variety of attachments for doing everything from snow removal to jobsite cleanup, and regardless of how often they are used, every landscaper has a favorite attachment.
Attachments Idea Book Cover