Every morning at 3:30 a.m., Justin Porter heads into work to beat the heavy Miami-area traffic.
Once Porter arrives at Tip Top Enterprises Inc., he begins making the schedules for his employees for the day.
By 5 a.m., his crew has arrived and is awaiting their assignments. After giving his employees their schedules, Porter checks to make sure they have enough fuel and any other resources they may need during the day.
Porter’s father started Tip Top Enterprises in 1973 with only a pickup truck, a couple of shovels and using a pay phone down the street. Last year, Porter took over his father’s 42-year-old landscaping business, based in Palmetto Bay, Florida.
Today, the company employs 65 people, offering lawn maintenance, landscaping, tree services, irrigation and fertilization in the Miami metro market.
“For landscaping companies to survive, they need to be balanced,”Porter says. “When the economy is good, there’s lots of construction and landscaping to do, but when it slows down you need back-up work to fall on, like maintenance.”
The start of a legacy
Growing up, Porter spent his summers working for his dad doing landscaping. Since then, owning a business has become much more complex.
“When my dad started the company, it was normal for a crew to work 65- to 70-hour weeks because the wages were lower but the jobs still paid pretty good,” he explains. “There weren’t as many regulations and taxes weren’t as high, so it was easier to start a company from scratch and get it to the size it is today. Now it’s harder to pay my crew overtime.”
Today, Porter’s crew works four to six days per week, depending on the season, cutting roughly 80 properties each month. They range from large residential lots to commercial properties like malls and parks for the city of Palmetto Bay. Porter enjoys the camaraderie between himself and his employees. “Tip Top really is like a family, some of our employees have been with us for 15 to 20 years,” he says.
To keep up with the demand of landscaping and maintenance needs, Porter always does more hiring in the summer. Even though the grass grows year-round in Palmetto Bay, growth slows in the winter months. Properties are typically cut twice a month in the winter and weekly in the summer.
In most of his jobs, his crew is cutting Palmetto grass. While usually easy to cut, Palmetto grass grows so quickly that just three days after being cut, the property looks like it hasn’t been mowed in over a week.
Every day challenges
As a second-generation business owner, Porter faces many challenges in keeping Tip Top Enterprises successful.
“In this business there is a lot of turnover so it’s difficult to find competent employees who want to work and will take care of the equipment we use.”
Since the recession, Porter has struggled with finding customers who are willing to pay for landscaping services. He blames this on budget cuts in the commercial businesses. While he believes that business has been better over the past few years, Porter says many property management companies have become frugal and are trying to do more with less money.
Another challenge Porter faces daily is the weather in Miami. “It rains every day by noon, and during the rainy season in the summer it’s not uncommon for the streets to flood,” he says. “When it rains, my crew has to stop production and wait it out. If it looks like it will rain all day, the job will be postponed and scheduled for another day.”
With rain, comes lightning. If there is lightning in the area, his crew immediately stops and finds shelter away from trees. Safety is something he has always stressed with his employees.
Satisfactions as a business owner
But even with the challenges he faces, Porter still enjoys the work he does. “It gives me satisfaction that I can actually see a project start from installation to the final stage of maintaining the property,” he says. “Most people never fully see the end product of what they’re working on, but I get to see it every day.”,
When asked what the craziest thing he’s seen at Tip Top Enterprises, Porter recalls the time one of his employees was using a zero-turn mower for the first time. “One of my employees was mowing a property ocean side and wasn’t familiar with the machine,” he explains. “He took the hill too steep and jumped off of the mower as he watched it roll into the ocean. The mower was submerged 8 feet deep into the water, so we dove down and tied rope to it and pulled it out. After draining all of the liquids, it still ran perfectly.”
By 7 p.m. each evening, Porter packs up for the day and fights the traffic to head home. Even though he spends long hours each day managing his employees and the business, Porter is happy he is able to continue his father’s legacy and life work.
PHOTOS: TIP TOP ENTERPRISES