Memphis landscaper keeps focus on future as company prospers

Updated Dec 2, 2016
This landscaping project transformed a bland bank into a beautiful outdoor living space. Photo: Marc BurfordThis landscaping project transformed a bland bank into a beautiful outdoor living space.
Photo: Marc Burford

Some people seem like they were born with an extra share of enthusiasm. When that aspect of their character is genuine, it can be inspirational. When it seems the least bit contrived, however, those hyper-positive types can drive you crazy.

Truly inspirational personalities are rare indeed, but the founder, owner and namesake of Michael Hatcher & Associates Inc. is the real deal. Hatcher is fully engaged, interested and energetic, yet his modesty and lack of pretentiousness make Hatcher’s enthusiasm about the landscape industry infectious rather than feigned.

Michael Hatcher says he knew he wanted to be a landscaper while he was still a teenager. Photo: Marc BurfordMichael Hatcher says he knew he wanted to be a landscaper while he was still a teenager.
Photo: Marc Burford

Serving the greater Memphis, Tennessee, metro area from its new 10,000-square-foot headquarters in Olive Branch, Mississippi, Hatcher’s landscape company will do nearly $10 million in revenue this year.

The full-service company handles both residential and commercial accounts. Construction contributes about 60 percent of the company’s revenue, with maintenance representing the other 40 percent.

Hatcher calls the new headquarters building, which sits on 22 acres, The Landscape Center, and he looks forward to making it not only the base of operations for his crews and managers but also a place the public visits regularly.

“Sustainability is a word you hear a lot these days, and that’s not going to change,” Hatcher said in a recent interview at his office. “And urban agriculture – that’s a trend that is coming, and it’s coming like a train.”

Hatcher wants to be out in front of those trends. His 22-acre property will include “display libraries” where he’ll feature edibles and other plants in raised beds, including modern examples of urban gardening.

In addition to attracting customers to The Landscape Center to learn about and obtain help with their home growing efforts, Hatcher also looks forward to visits from schoolchildren on field trips and “maybe even the residents of senior citizens centers, as a day out for them.”

Here is a quick video tour of The Landscape Center:

Those ideas aren’t just passing enthusiasms for Hatcher. One look at what his company has accomplished, and the clockwork organization of the ongoing operations, and you’re convinced the day will come when his maintenance crews have to ease their trucks around a school bus or two as they’re heading out to a job.

Hatcher traces his start in the business to 1974, when at the age of 14 he began picking produce at Brookhaven Nurseries in Mississippi. Once the picking was done, Hatcher asked if there was other work he could do and the nursery owner decided to have the teenager begin scraping the old paint off his house in preparation for a new paint job.

“Then he put me to work in the greenhouses,” Hatcher recalls. “Some were glass and some were plastic. We’d clean the soil with steam. There were lots of vegetables, flowers and bedding plants.”

He liked working in his spare time and on weekends. Those few dollars he made were a lot more than his friends were making by taking it easy.

While he was working at the nurseries, Hatcher was one of several high school students chosen by garden clubs in the state to participate in a weeklong visit to Mississippi State University for an introduction to horticulture, landscape architecture and entomology. (In fact, he was chosen twice to participate in the trip – in 1974 and again in ’75 – before graduating from high school in 1977.)

“That was my real introduction to the industry,” Hatcher said. “From that point on, I knew what I wanted to do.”

In the meantime, though, he kept working for Brookhaven Nurseries, which occasionally did some landscaping work.

“Mr. (Frank) Burns, the owner, let me get involved in that,” Hatcher said, and by the time he finished high school he had started his own company. True, the business consisted mostly of cutting residential lawns, but “even then we were able to do a couple of landscaping projects.”

Michael Hatcher & Associates can work wonders on job sites, as these before and after photos illustrate. Photo: Marc BurfordMichael Hatcher & Associates can work wonders on job sites, as these before and after photos illustrate.
Photo: Marc Burford

Come fall, however, it was time to head up to Mississippi State as a student rather than a visitor.

“I spent three years in landscape architecture,” Hatcher said, “but in my junior year I decided to shift my major to landscape contracting.”

At the time, he said, an industry legend, Robert A. Callaway, was running the landscape contracting and management program. To this day, Hatcher feels extremely fortunate to have studied under Callaway, who died in 1995.

“Switching majors meant I had to go back and take a lot of business and accounting courses,” Hatcher said. While unhappy about the chore at the time, he said he’s been grateful for all those business courses more than once as his career has played out.

Thanks in part to Callaway’s genius, Hatcher says, pretty much all of the MSU graduates from his landscape contracting program had multiple job offers. At the time, the girl Hatcher was dating had been accepted to dental school in Tennessee, so he decided to look there for work.

He was hired as a project manager right out of college, but Hatcher says he had the good sense at the time to “realize I had a lot to learn.” He worked hard, did manage to learn a lot, and about a year later another company hired him away as a foreman. He stayed there about two years before starting his own business in 1986.

Called Germantown Landscaping and Contracting (after an upscale suburb of Memphis), the company was established by Hatcher and a partner. The business held its own, but Hatcher eventually moved on to start his own operation.

He bought the property on which the new Landscape Center sits in 2007, finally developing it, building the office and moving in this fall.

A walk around the property tells the story of Hatcher’s management: He runs a tight ship.

In addition to the raised beds in which extra turf and some small plants could be found, a giant pile of recyclable material was segregated into a back corner of the property. Nearby was a mulch pile that, while large and containing various organic matter, was obviously kept neatly in its place. Several holding ponds ensured that the company met all environmental requirements when maintaining and cleaning machinery.

The equipment, meanwhile, was organized according to both function and size. A large gasoline tank was being installed underground in one corner of the site to fuel all the company’s vehicles.

Michael Hatcher & Associates’ maintenance contracts include some extraordinarily beautiful homes in Memphis’ best neighborhoods. His construction work includes jobs there – including a major outdoor living area and terrace the company was just finishing earlier this month – but also a variety of work within about 150 miles of Memphis.

“That’s the territory in which we can be competitive,” Hatcher said, adding that the company was currently bidding a job in Starkville, home of his alma mater.

Michael Hatcher (left) credits loyal and hard-working employees for his success. Photo: Marc BurfordMichael Hatcher (left) credits loyal and hard-working employees for his success.
Photo: Marc Burford

Having achieved the level of success that enabled him to build The Landscape Center, and with plenty of outstanding work to show prospective customers, Hatcher says he has gotten to this point only “by the grace of God, first and foremost,” but also “the loyalty and hard work of good people.”

He eagerly introduces a visitor to a man who’s been with him for more than 30 years and several others who have worked with Hatcher for 10, 12, 15 years and more. Hatcher prizes their experience but also makes sure that all of his employees participate in various types of training.

The largest room in the new office building is designed for training and seats 144. On the day of TLC’s visit, an irrigation training session was going to be held there, followed by a fish fry for all employees – a way to say goodbye to the H-2B workers who were wrapping up their temporary assignments.

Michael Hatcher & Associates employs about 100 during the height of the season and approximately 90 people year-round.

“People – that’s the bottom line,” Hatcher says. And while, yes, he includes the importance of establishing and maintaining good relationships with customers and suppliers, when Hatcher talks about people, he’s primarily talking about his workers.

The Mississippi native doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve, but he’s candid in expressing his belief that not only has God helped him make it through the difficult years, but also that his religious conviction motivates him to treat others – no matter what their station in life – as he wants to be treated.

It’s an attitude that helps one establish and cultivate personal relationships with the professional person who decides to spend $300,000 on a magnificent outdoor entertainment area and also with the worker who does the concrete finishing on that job.

Here is another project that Michael Hatcher & Associates has completed:

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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