Pioneers, Then and Now

Updated Mar 15, 2013

This family-run company sticks to its principles and plans for the future.

When Doug and Carol Rowald founded Heart of Texas Landscape and Irrigation in 1989, landscape maintenance firms didn’t exist in central Texas.

“There was no such thing,” Doug says. “A landscaper would put in an installation, and in four or five months, it would look awful.”

As president of Heart of Texas Landscape & Irrigation, Tony Gallagher (center), plans to follow the business model developed by his parents, Doug and Carol Rowald.

 But Doug knew West Coast firms had successfully implemented comprehensive maintenance schedules for clients. And after doing research, he decided there was a market for it in Belton, the company’s home base, and surrounding area.

He made maintenance a fundamental part of the company’s services. The target was primarily commercial, industrial and municipal accounts, as well as bid work with neighboring Temple University.

The strategy worked.

Today, the company has grown to 85 employees with a $4.5-million annual volume and performs a range of services that break down to 58 percent maintenance and 42 percent design-build.

Although being early adopters of a much-needed market segment helped, it’s the couple’s character traits that have made Heart of Texas a highly successful operation with an impeccable reputation.

Doug and Carol have an enviable combination of business savvy and creative minds, making them perfectly suited for the landscaping industry – which requires both. They also have open, giving personalities and a talent for developing relationships and cultivating them during many years.

“When we meet a client for the first time, they understand we are not just trying to sell them something,” Carol says. “The idea is we create a relationship with that person. The sale may not happen then, but will happen eventually.”

Keeping Old Promises, Making New Ones

Doug and Carol made commitments early for their business – work hard, save money, provide quality service at a reasonable price – and sacrificed to keep them. They lived in the company office for more than 10 years, ensuring they could put as much money as possible back into the firm.

Although Heart of Texas concentrates on municipal and commercial projects, the company is in demand with residential clients, as well.

Although the office now includes conference rooms and separate workspaces, the main area looks as if it still serves as a family room with comfy sofas, a big-screen television and a pool table. The room doubles as an office for sons Tony Gallagher, the president and chief executive officer; Ben Pamplin, vice president and chief operating officer; and daughter-in-law Leah Pamplin, the company’s human resources manager.

Tony and Ben will eventually own Heart of Texas and have already taken responsibility for much of the day-to-day operations. “The transition started a couple of years ago, and now I don’t have to come in so early anymore,” says Doug, with a smile. He can afford to take it easy – Heart of Texas experienced a 29-percent growth last year over the previous year.

Doug and Carol have an enviable combination of business savvy and creative minds, making them perfectly suited for the landscaping industry – which requires both.

As Heart of Texas has matured, so has the company’s client base. Carol, the resident color expert, has educated customers on what will work best for them, as well as how to take care of their plantings. Everything is tailored for the customer, including Heart of Texas’ fertilizer, which is custom blended for the area.

“Education has been an important factor in our efforts,” Carol says. “We inform clients they need to be prepared.” Belton is adjacent I-35, halfway between Austin and Dallas, two cities that have had to accommodate severe water restrictions, and the Rowalds have made it their goal to inform clients how this situation poses a looming challenge. For example, they offer rainwater harvesting installations to help clients reduce municipal water use.Community Matters

Doug is devoted to the community that has sustained his family and company for more than 20 years. He requires each of his managers have “face time” and be active in the area. They can pick any charitable organization or club they like, but they must give generously of their time and expertise.

He allows them to attend board meetings on company time and donates to organizations such as the Ronald McDonald Foundation, the Children’s Advocacy Center and other youth programs.

Ben, as a member of Leadership Temple, helped spearhead the creation of an all-access park for children in Lions Park in Temple. The park, for which Heart of Texas donated the landscaping and irrigation, serves as a playground for children with mental and physical disabilities.

Family and Employees Come First

With a degree in park management and a lifelong interest in the industry, landscaping is the only career Doug ever considered. The Rowalds are a tight-knit family, and Doug and Carol had always hoped some of their five children would develop a passion for the family business. Tony often serves as a liaison, dealing with government officials and municipalities, while Ben has a flair for marketing.

Heart of Texas has more than 150 pieces of equipment in their fleet. The company spends approximately $120,000 per year on equipment.

“We balance each other out,” Tony says. “Finding common ground is the best possible situation, and we can ‘turn it on and off’ if we need to. Business is business and personal is personal.”

Having Doug, Carol, Tony, Ben and Leah in the office lends a casual family atmosphere to the environment, and Doug notes their attitude translates to how Heart of Texas treats their people. The employees say they feel they are family, too.

Heart of Texas has a high retention rate – even the company’s first employee, Martin Martinez, is still with them today.

As a result, Heart of Texas has a high retention rate – even the company’s first employee, Martin Martinez, is still with them today. “They’re the reason for our success. It’s never been about us; it’s all about them,” Carol says.

By the Book

Because the Rowalds place such a high value on keeping their employees, the health, safety and welfare of their people are their first priority. Heart of Texas has an immigration attorney on retainer to perform background checks, and a human resources attorney has vetted the policy manual.

Their recruiting process is a mix of word-of-mouth, staffing services and social networking. For key positions, the firm has relied on headhunters. “The expense of a recruiting firm would not exceed that of training a less-than-qualified employee,” Ben explains.

“Don’t be afraid,” Doug says, “to ask for your money when the job’s complete.”

With licensing costs for technicians on the rise, the importance of finding and keeping the right person for each position is crucial to a healthy bottom line. Jason Parker, an expert in sports field renovation, joined the firm five years ago and says he enjoys working with Tony and Ben. “I get to work independently,” he says.

In addition to protecting the firm from an employment and safety standpoint, Doug also believes in protecting the company financially. Although many firms still speak highly of the value of a handshake, Doug is a firm believer in the value of a contract, which is drawn up by an attorney.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for your money when the job’s complete,” he says.

This no-nonsense approach has led to steady growth that enables Heart of Texas to pick and choose their projects – as well as allowing them to split a $200,000 profit-share among their employees last year.

The company has grown to the point of relocating the shop to a larger 19-acre parcel just minutes from the office. They’ve taken advantage of the space by planting 1,200 live oak trees on the site for use in future projects, allowing them to give their clients volume discounts.

Future Plans

While Doug still serves as chief financial officer, Tony and Ben are already making changes within the company. The brothers plan on building on the proven success of the past, while implementing their ideas. They have no intention of abandoning the company’s foundation.

“We’re going to stick with our niche – that’s the way to stay profitable,” Ben says. “We’ll keep our guys available for what we do best. The industry gives us new ideas, as well as reinforcing our decision-making.”

Tony says he’d like to see the firm maintain steady growth while he and Ben lead the company forward. “We want to be as modern as possible,” he says. “For example, we’ve started recycling our own green waste. In the next five or 10 years, you’re going to see a big difference in the landscaping industry. We want Heart of Texas to be a trendsetter.”

Doug’s 6 Tips to Success

1. Expand your business only as your clients expand.

2. Learn to say no. If you can’t do it efficiently, and you can’t do it right, then don’t do it.

3. Don’t overcommit. Be realistic on what you can accomplish.

4. Have a good business plan.

5. Have a mentor, and be a mentor.

6. Invest in what you do and be involved.

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