Turf Magazine - January, 2013
Bringing a New Eco Brand to the States
Canadian entrepreneur says time is ripe for a network of environmentally focused landscape operations
Eco Grounds Care
Founder and President: Eric Gordon
Headquarters: Cedar Valley, Ont., Canada, with second location in Granbury, Texas
Markets: Metro areas in Canada, and Granbury (Ft. Worth), Texas
Services: A full range of environmentally focused landscape and property management services, including snow & ice management, janitorial and waste management
Employees: 15 fulltime, about 30 including seasonal employees
Eric Gordon, president of Gordon Landscape Company and founder of Eco Grounds Care, sold his successful software company in 2004 to re-ignite the passion of horticulture he discovered more than 20 years ago helping his mother in her beautiful garden. It's the passion that he and his wife, an equally committed gardener, exhibit every day in operating Gordon Landscape Company (GLC) where Danielle, drawing upon more than 20 years of horticulture experience, designs gardens and oversees the spring, summer and fall planting for all of the company's commercial and condominium clients. GLC has a 25-acre farm located in Cedar Valley, Ont., Canada, where they grow flowers and make organic compost.
Last year, Gordon decided to geographically expand to fulfill client requests for municipal, condominium, HOA, commercial and residential services. Consequently, he separated Eco Grounds Care as its own brand and is promoting it as a franchise opportunity throughout Canada and the United States.
"I've always loved working in the garden; my earliest memories revolve around working with my mother in our family garden. So, when I signed a five-year non-compete agreement with the sale of my company, I decided to produce a local television program about weekend gardening. The idea was to film a family as they were building their landscape project over the course of a weekend. Quite unintentionally, the people I was filming fell in love with some of my ideas and wanted to hire me to build their gardens. Within the first season, I had 50 or 60 clients for which I was either maintaining properties or building gardens."
Clients want "green" services
Gordon found his niche by listening to what his clients wanted. "People are really concerned about their environment and want a less invasive way to interact with nature. I had a business associate who was on the board of directors of a commercial property, and they were looking for someone to maintain the grounds for a 700-unit residential subdivision, both snow removal and landscaping. I sent in my bid and we were awarded the one-year contract; the experience was invaluable, however, we decided not to handle the project the following year. The corporate mentality was to fix the immediate problem and worry about the environment later. If they had dandelions in May, they wanted them killed right away; if we had a foot of snow in December, the cure was applying tons of rock salt immediately," says Gordon.
Eric Gordon left the software industry in 2004 to start a landscape company. Today he's building a network of franchise operations through his Eco Grounds Care model.
IMAGES COURTESY OF ECO GROUNDS CARE.
"Of course there are less stressful ways of handling these situations, but they were less interested in best practices and wanted results. So, it was not a good fit for us. I realized then that we would first have to educate any new corporate customers before we could offer truly sustainable solutions to their grounds care needs. I started contacting companies in the building trades, HOA organizations and townhouse communities who were either LEED-certified or who were working toward that goal. We've found like-minded clients and have been growing steadily since."
Gordon Landscape and Eco Grounds Care provide a full range of landscape services with the goal of reducing emissions and approaching carbon-free gounds care.
"Having a software background, I designed proprietary real-time software that allows us to measure our clients' carbon footprint, especially as it relates to CO2 emissions. What we've done is to recognize the challenge and measure our solutions. Our operations, methods and equipment are not like the typical landscape company. We use only equipment that reduces harmful effects on the environment, and couple that with best practices, which fit our short-term and long-term goals," says Gordon.
Eco Grounds Care has to be creative to provide the most environmentally friendly service possible to a diverse client base.
For instance, Eco Grounds Care employs at least one full-time team member on-site to help manage property management services and the grounds, and it keeps its equipment stored on the customers' grounds. It's part of the package that it negotiates. This system offers clients the convenience of having someone on the site 24/7. It also dramatically reduces the amount of fuel that would be used in driving back-and-forth to the properties every day. Each team manager is responsible for providing grounds care in a well-defined area of the properties under the company's care.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
These individuals manage mowing, fertilizing, leaf pick-up, organic-weeding, trimming, snow removal, flower-shrub-tree planting, smart irrigation and composting in addition to overseeing janitorial and waste management.
"Again, we listen to our customers, residents and communities wishes. Our team members practice the three R's - reduce, reuse, recycle - and sort the waste into recyclables. We try never to send anything to a landfill that can be reused," says Gordon. "It's a service that we're proud to offer and it's a profitable one for our local charities. We encourage our team members to sell the metals they collect. We provide a storage area and once a month we'll sell the scrap and contribute the proceeds, $300 to $400 a month, to local charities.
"In addition, when people throw away household items and furniture, we store the goods and offer them to people in the community, it's called free-cycling. Whatever we don't give away, we donate to the Salvation Army or to other charities," Gordon adds.
Like the company itself, their equipment is also quite unique. It now uses the Ultra Motor lithium-ion powered bicycles that have a range of around 30 kilometers (18 miles) on a single charge, and added custom trailers to carry a 21-inch lithium-ion powered push mower, lithium-ion blower, lithium-ion trimmer, rakes and hand tools. The firm's zero emissions team uses the electric equipment, recharged by solar panels on its trailers, to service urban city clients and HOA customers. When it's cloudy the company uses a storage battery recharge its units, as zero emission team members travel their respective service areas.
"But the real workhorse for us is the Kubota RTV 900," says Gordon. "It can quite literally go anywhere in the urban environment; sidewalk-parking alone saves a fortune in parking tickets, and allows us access through narrow passageways into small garden areas. It costs just a few dollars a day in diesel to operate and produces very little carbon output compared to a V8 engine, and it's very functional with disc brakes, power steering and the ability to handle 1,300 pounds when towing. It's perfect for our operation."
For the larger mowing areas, Gordon's preference is the Hustler Zeon 52-inch zero-turn. It has zero emissions and is quiet a mower. He says it can cut about an acre. When larger areas require cutting the company provides extra storage batteries
The company also utilizes four-cylinder Ford Transit Connect vans that can pull up to 1,600 pounds, about as much as the company's F150 trucks that they've replaced. "We're sold on them, they're easier to park and get around with in the city. The Transit Connect holds up to 135 cubic feet of goods, more than a full-size SUV, and the fuel savings is incredible; we can drive 580 kilometers (360 miles) on a $50 fill-up. And, as with our trailers, we've installed solar panels and a storage battery to keep it fully functional."
Little is wasted in the company's operation. "Any plant material we must displace, because of grounds repair or construction, is cross-planted at our farm for use later. Organic waste is mostly carried back to the farm for composting."
Let it snow
Winter brings snow, and his team is well-equipped with Ford's B-20 (DEF) 6.7 Diesel trucks equipped with Western 9.5 V blades for F350/F550's and SnowEx salt-spreaders.
"We use the trucks for the large thoroughfares and parking lots, and have the Kubota RTVs, equipped with Epoke salt spreaders for sidewalks and walkways. We've done a lot of research into the most environmentally practical way of removing snow, including Smart About Salt Training, monthly calibration, real-time accountability tracking software," says Gordon. "We use a combination of liquid brine with volcanic ash for traction, and finer salt grains for pretreatment. With our proprietary real-time weather reports we make the properties safer for our clients and make plowing less of a chore."
With a new facility in Granbury, Texas, the company is ready for additional expansion. "We must grow smartly," says Gordon. "We currently have 75 local and national commercial clients with sites broken up into urban office buildings, urban condominium complexes/ town home complexes, suburban HOA and freehold townhome communities. Many of these businesses have additional projects in a variety of states and provinces and they want the same LEED certifications and zero-emission team products and services we offer.
"So, we must grow; to that end we created the new brand, Eco Grounds Care, and will begin franchising Eco Grounds Care/Sustainable Solutions, spring 2013."
A technician providing service using a battery-powered bicycle isn't what anybody would consider a "production" machine. It does make a statement and attract attention, however.
He says that franchisees will enjoy brand recognition, public relations support, proprietary zero-emission tracking software, proprietary real-time weather tracking/forecasting, equipment specifications, expertise, comprehensive ongoing training and, of course, their growing accounts list to help franchisees facilitate new clients in their geographic area. Details for franchise opportunities can be found at www.ecogroundscare.com.
Mike Ingles is a freelancer writer living in Columbus, Ohio, who writes articles about business and the green industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.