Get Swept Away

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Updated Mar 15, 2013

Originally from New York, Robert Bangs began doing lawn maintenance work at age 13 for a doctor with a small yard and impeccable landscape. He went on to attend the University of Maine for its top-10-ranked forestry program, but during his sophomore year, switched to plant and soil sciences, and turned his focus to landscaping. After meeting his wife, Linda, and graduating from college, he decided to open his own landscape business in Brewer, Maine.

Bangs started Windswept Gardens in 1974. At the time, he worked out of his home and stored his equipment in a nearby town. He moved to his current location in the riverfront town of Bangor in 1988. In the early years, he drove an oil truck in the winter to supplement his income. For many of those years Linda, who teaches school, was the sole income while Bob was in graduate school and working at the university.

“In the beginning, I did a lot more maintenance than anything else,” Bangs says. “But then I found my niche. Now, I enjoy designing and creating unique outdoor living spaces for people to enjoy.” Bangs says he only takes on three to five projects of varying size each year.

Today, his business is about 85-percent design/build, 10-percent maintenance, with the balance in nursery sales. Most of his customers are high-end residential properties in Bangor and the surrounding areas. “We pay attention to all the details,” he says. “Our budgets are big, but we charge the same regardless of who the customer is.”

Economically speaking
Bangs says the recession hasn’t really affected his business because most of his customers would invest in their landscapes regardless. All of his business comes from referrals throughout the community, so he doesn’t do much marketing, and can pick and choose which projects he wants to take on. “We work about eight months a year, and shut down in the winter,” Bangs says.

All of his installation designs are hand-drawn, just as he was taught in college, and he teaches a design principles course at the University of Maine twice a week. He also hosts a 15-minute segment called “Gardening with Bob Bangs” on television one morning a week.

Bangs says he has work scheduled nine months in advance, and a lot of the company’s projects take two years or more to complete. “We are small, and we take our time,” he says. “It also sometimes has to do with working around contractors on new construction or additions.”

Being an owner/operator
Bangs operates three landscape crews throughout the year: one for landscape construction and hardscape installation managed by his son Todd, one for plant installation, and one for maintenance on previous installs. Typically, there are eight people among the crews going out to customers, and three people man the nursery.

A lot of people in the Bangor area have weekend “camps” – some are primitive, some are like second homes – on nearby Phillips Lake. Bangs installs and maintains landscaping at many of these camps because they are owned by his regular customers in town. “When you develop a relationship and a certain level of trust with a customer, it makes the work much easier,” he says.

In the last six years, Bangs has put a lot of time and effort into learning to run his business more efficiently. He follows the principles of Gary Kinman

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