When Brian Oppenheimer started Brian’s Landscape Construction in 1999, he was talking with his mom about what he wanted to do with his life. Various members of his family, including an uncle and a cousin, were in the landscape business so it was something he grew up knowing. His family also had a large home and landscape in a high-end neighborhood in Carmel, New York, so they already owned landscape equipment to maintain it.

“She thought I needed a push,” he says, “so she put an ad for my landscape services in the local PennySaver and that’s how my little landscape company was born. She came up with the name.”

He took care of homes in the area and soon added landscape design/build/installation to the mix and fell in love with that side of the industry. His mom continued to encourage him as he grew his business, which eventually hit the $300,000 to $500,000 revenue mark. Business was taking off.

But then Oppenheimer’s life came to a standstill one day when they found out suddenly that his mom had stage four colon cancer. “There was pretty much nothing we could do,” he says. “We watched her go from healthy to having the cancer spread to her liver and her body just shut down.”

She died within a year on July 4, 2003. Oppenheimer was devastated. “After she passed away, I went off the deep end,” he says. “My dad sold our dream home and said we were moving to Florida, which is where my mom always wanted to move to. I didn’t fight him. I folded the business and just left.”

Beginning again

Oppenheimer spent four years in Florida before moving back to his hometown in New York.

He decided to venture into landscaping again. “I needed to do something and this is what I loved to do,” he says.

But this time, especially after the Great Recession, Oppenheimer decided against going back into the very competitive residential market that he was flourishing in before. Instead, he is focusing on commercial work and some niche market needs in the region, including synthetic turf installation and maintenance, swimming pool installation, golf course construction, equine services construction and installation and landscape supply. Oppenheimer Landscape Group continues to grow.

The unexpected can happen no matter how well you prepare for it. “Today, it’s important for me to do what is good for my family and the people who work for me,” Oppenheimer says. “For instance, my mother didn’t know her grandmother died from colon cancer, so if we would have known our family history and she would have gotten checked more regularly, we could have caught that cancer earlier and fought it.”

So Oppenheimer makes sure to think about preventive medicine and care in his own life, as well as in the lives of his employees. He offers health insurance and has medical professionals come in to take blood pressure and offer flu shots.

“I’d rather be a hypochondriac today and know that nothing is wrong,” he says. “In that same vein, I think companies need to put more emphasis on employees and their health,” he says. “Even if you’re just giving out discount prescription cards, it’s something that can help.”

Though Oppenheimer did suffer a great loss, he believes by coming back and starting again, he didn’t give up. His mom didn’t give up either. “Even a week before she died, she was making coffee and breakfast as if nothing was wrong,” he says. “She never gave up hope. I think my mom would be proud today of where I am.”

Survival Strategies

  • Stay on top of preventive health and know your family’s medical history to ensure your own health is in order.
  • Implement programs that put emphasis on employees and their good health (health insurance, prescription discount cards, flu shots, etc.).
  • Going through rough times will happen; you can’t plan for it and it’s not always preventable. But never give up hope.