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"Don't be afraid to fail ... Don't let the fear of striking out keep you from swinging the bat." -AJ Davis
Adam "AJ" Davis, 23, is on a roll, having doubled his company's customer base and nearly tripled its revenues in 2012. Now what?
You keep learning. You keep taking calculated risks. You start devoting more of your planning time to find ways to improve your bottom line.
You keep growing, yourself and your company, says Davis, who came to Turf's attention because of all the questions he was asking on a busy online landscape business forum.
This young guy is obviously serious about the business - and about learning and about doing it right.
"Our goal this year is to focus on adding clients and reaching maximum quality of service. If we could double in profit from this past year, it would be a great push forward," says Davis, founder and owner of Davis Outdoor Jobs, based in the tiny community of Apalachin, N.Y. (pop. 1,045).
Davis Outdoor Jobs
Owner: Adam "AJ" Davis
Headquarters: Apalachin, N.Y.
Markets: 25-mile radius of Apalachin, N.Y.
Services: Decks, patios, retaining walls, water features, koi ponds, plant installation, shrub trimming, weeding, mulching, mowing, trimming, edging, fall clean ups (leaf removal), spring clean up and more
Employees: 6 peak season
Davis Outdoor Jobs provides services within a 25-mile radius of Apalachin. Fully insured, it offers a broad range of services including patios and walls, plant installations, mulching, seasonal cleanups and property maintenance. This past season the company also started designing and installing water features.
"Water features can be high-maintenance if they're not put in correctly," he says. "If you work with the environment and use a system when building your water feature it can be very easy to maintain."
Installing the most appropriate and attractive water feature on a property, apart from the obvious customer education aspect, involves keeping up with technology and products.
"You have to learn about gallons per hour, head pressure and the different skimmers, filters and pumps," he says. "For instance, waterfalls have come a long way; it has been popular to use concrete when building your water feature, but in the cold, there's a chance they can crack. The liners and underlayment liners being used for ponds and waterfalls now are flexible. You can be more creative when using them."
The company's staff, like its owner, is young and educated. Davis completed his education at SUNY Delhi with a degree in landscape design and management. While in college he traveled the East Coast and participated in a multitude of landscape venues. He was chosen as an ambassador for his school in the world's largest trade for the green industry in Kentucky, and served as the University's Hort Club and represented the school at the GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Ky. His brother, Nate Davis, who serves as the company's lawn care foreman, is completing his education at SUNY Cortland with a degree in physical education. Tom Dugon, landscape foreman, interned with the company before completing his degree in landscape design and management, also at SUNY Delhi.
Davis believes that proper organization is the key to doing great business.
"The biggest thing about owning your own business is staying organized. If we can stay organized and have a well-planned system of operation, then we can be more efficient at what we do," he says. "Communicating with your staff is huge; making sure everyone is on the same page. We plan on having brief staff meetings at the start of each week. Spring is a very busy season; we must stay organized and efficient," he says.
Davis considers the relatively small size of his company to be both an advantage and a challenge within its market. The advantage lies with the skill level and dedication of its young, eager employees. The challenge is mostly one of marketing and visibility within the market.
"We're a smaller company than most, but this allows us to build customer relationships. We don't go after customers; instead, we try to build relationships," he says.
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After a long day on the job: (l. to r.) Isaiah Butler, Nate Davis, AJ Davis, Tom Dugon and Ryan Longo.
PHOTOS BY DAVIS OUTDOOR JOBS.
"People see the passion and dedication that we have, and that we're highly educated in the field of landscaping. I truly believe education is a huge aspect of our success. Tom Dugon and I have degrees in landscape design & management as well as many hours spent in research and study of landscape practices. My brother, Nate, who has been with the company since we started, has a very diverse set of skills and is an avid gardener."
Davis and his staff have joined a business networking group and their local landscape association, where they've developed relationships with other business leaders in the area. During the off-season, they attend seminars and trade shows, perform research, provide estimates and designs, attend meetings and work on improving business methods.
"Being a younger company, we continue to learn by going to workshops and reading the latest books and articles. Even though we do quality work now, experience will only make us better," he says.
Beyond that, he wants to make sure his company always does business the right way and protects both itself and its clients from the unexpected.
"Having insurance is another plus; homeowners need to be careful about who they call and should hire a company that has insurance."
Realizing that the bottom line in business lies in good customer relations, Davis does his research; employing a variety of tactics to ensure they are keeping their customer base in the loop.
"We make it a point to keep in touch with our customers. Good communication with our customers is something we will continue to do, as well as improve," he asserts. "Our goal is to have a leader respond quickly to customer requests. If you don't call back within 24 hours there's a good chance you have lost the customer."
Small Town Made Big News
If you're a fan of the gangster genre of movies, the name Apalachin, N.Y., may ring a bell with you. This small hamlet, located about 200 miles northwest of New York City on the banks of the Susquehanna River, was the scene of the Apalachin Summit.
On Nov. 14, 1957, the heads of the American Mafia, from across the country and Canada, convened at the 53-acre estate of mobster Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara here. More than 100 gangsters gathered of this hamlet of barely a thousand people to discuss gambling, loan sharking, narcotics trafficking and other illegal activities.
Local law enforcement, noticing all of the luxury cars with unfamiliar license plates, became suspicious. Asking for and receiving the help of state law enforcement, they surrounded the estate, set up roadblocks and raided the home, rounding up about 60 participants; another 50 or so escaped into the woods.
Eventually, 20 of those attending the meeting were found guilty of "conspiring to obstruct justice," fined and received prison sentences. While the convictions were overturned the following year, the raid and the publicity it generated cast a bright spotlight on organized crime. The raid and its aftermath are generally credited as igniting the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's efforts to break up the mafia. Prior to the meeting and raid, Hoover had denied the existence of national organized crime organization.
The Apalachin Summit is mentioned in several popular movies including "Analyze This" starring Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal, and Martin Scorcese's 1990 "Goodfellas".
The company's commitment to providing personal and outstanding service is working judging by rave reviews posted on the company website. They range from praise for having contributed to the sale of a home in a difficult market, to being masterful in rebuilding a retaining wall badly damaged in a flood.
While Davis obviously has no regrets for the career path he's chosen, he does on occasion reflect on what he might have done differently in getting his operation up and running.
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Davis Outdoor Jobs has been expanding beyond mowing/maintenance into more creative projects, such as this customer-pleasing residential water feature.
"I may have stayed smaller for a little longer. Last year, we grew so fast I had to invest in equipment and bring in employees. If I had stayed smaller for couple more years, I would have waited and saved for the investments," he says thoughtfully.
"But, I'm a guy who likes to take risks. Plus, it is a great honor to employ and have staff members with strong qualifications - and they contribute great ideas."
When Davis refers to risks, he qualifies that by calling them "smart risks," that he realizes will likely result in greater challenges. The key, he says, will be to meet the challenges intelligently and learn something from each one.
"Don't be afraid to fail," he continues. "If you fail, it is how you respond that makes your company a great company. Don't let the fear of striking out keep you from swinging the bat.
"I am 23 years old, yet I have had an official business since my senior year of high school. A lot of people have said I'm too young to run a business or to manage employees, some of them older than me, but I continue to prove them wrong."
Davis' latest project is to plant some altruistic seeds in the community; his employees are donating gratis services for the local fire department. "We want to give back to our area," he says, grateful for the community's support.
Last year the company's revenues tripled in size largely through word-of-mouth. This year, Davis is focusing on marketing and purchasing a dump truck to help in expanding the business.
"With some new equipment and continuous research, we are going to improve the services we have and make them more efficient," he says confidently.
With an abundance of ideas for increasing outdoor entertaining options and the greater tendency for homeowners to stay put and focus on improving their current homes and grounds, Davis sees a bright future for the landscape industry.
"The industry continues to expand; everyone wants a living space outdoors, and homeowners don't have time to do maintenance. Our plans are to offer low-maintenance landscaping and for us to keep expanding; have a store and a greenhouse, and another location to service more people."
Using the Internet, informative blogs and social media sites, Davis Outdoor Jobs is spreading the good news that they have what it takes to keep their customers satisfied.
Pamela Walton is an experienced reporter and editor that lives and works in Gainesboro, Tenn. Contact her at <45 light="" oblique="">firstname.lastname@example.org>