Careful hiring and employee training keep Anewalt’s Landscape on track

Anewalt’s Landscape Contracting

Owner: Edward F. Anewalt, IV, CLP
Founded: 1988
Headquarters: Bernville, Pa.
Markets: Berks, Chester, Lehigh, Lebanon, Montgomery and Schuylkill counties in southeast Pennsylvania
Services: Landscape design, landscape management, plant health care, holiday lighting and snow removal
Employees: 18 in peak season

As a kid, Eddie Anewalt started out mowing lawns for his grandparents and their neighbors. That introduction to entrepreneurism struck a flame that grew ever brighter as, at the age of 20, he set up shop in his parent’s barn. But, he realized he needed more formal training and education, so he went out and got it.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in landscape contracting from Penn State University, in 2001 he bought a former garden center in tiny Bernville, Pa., and transformed it into Anewalt’s Landscape Contracting. Bernville is a borough of fewer than 1,000 people 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

From that day to this, Eddie and his wife and partner, Lori, have focused on bringing the right people into their growing company.

A trustworthy right-hand man is crucial to keep crews accountable and getting projects done on budget and on time. And Brett Morris, who came on board in 2011 as an operations manager, is Anewalt’s right-hand man. Morris graduated in 2005 with an associate’s degree in horticulture and turfgrass management from Owens Community College, Perrysburg, Ohio.

The Anewalt Landscape crew (l. to r.) of Jose Pinon, Scott Beck, Jim Culley, Secilio Garcia, Shane Brunner and Rigo Cabello had their hands full removing damaged trees after the Oct. 31, 2011, snow storm in the U.S. Northeast.

“Eddie is responsible for daily operations and decision-making involved in successfully operating a business as well as the bulk of sales. And Brett effectively manages employees and presides over the job,” says Lori. “Daily, Brett’s responsibilities include keeping company standards and procedures implemented, developing crew leaders and ensuring quality work on the job. He holds the foremen accountable, oversees all jobs, and ensures they are on time and budget.”

Perhaps one of the most challenging areas in owning a business involves hiring reliable, hard-working employees. “We only evaluate potential candidates for crew lead on up. First, they must go through one, if not two or three, interviews, and we must be leaning heavily toward hiring. The evaluation usually drives home what we have already uncovered about the candidate,” says Lori.

Psychological testing

The Anewalts screen their lead employees with multiple interviews and psychological testing. The testing assesses whether potential hires’ skill sets, personalities and characteristics fit into Anewalt’s company culture.

What are the pros and cons of psychologically testing candidates? Lori explains the pros of psychological testing as:

  • 90 percent of the time, the test backs up upper management’s observations of the potential candidate’s strengths and/or weaknesses.
  • The test takes out a lot of the guesswork in the hiring process.

She also lists the cons as:

  • Psychological testing can unfairly evaluate a potential hire.
  • Thus, the Anewalts realize that follow up questions may be needed to clarify a potential hire’s responses to certain questions.

Morris weighs in on the training and management piece of running Anewalt’s crews. He says that he sticks with the basics when training his crewmembers. Additionally, he finds that repeating information helps employees to retain any information that the management team wants to drive home.

Eddie Anewalt is finding more clients would like him to design and build outdoor living spaces during these tough economic times. His wife Lori believes that the shaky economy is causing people to stay in their homes rather than buy newer or bigger houses.

“We’re all given our own traits, so if I’m speaking with a type A personality, then I’ll keep it short and get to the point,” says Morris. “My point is, each employee or crew I have to coach and manage differently. Knowing how each person/crew operates will keep me flexible and understandable as a manager.”

Lori says that the company has been hustling this season to make up for the revenue shortfall arising from the lack of a 2011-2012 winter. In spite of the freak snowstorm that hit the region, indeed most of the U.S. Northeast, on Oct. 31, 2011, the rest of the winter was virtually snow-free. This lack of snow left them short in their 2012 budget. “We have had to increase our sales drastically to make up for the deficit,” says Lori. And they have.

“We are having another thriving year despite the off-snow season. We have had positive design/build sales and average maintenance sales,” she adds. “We still view the market as volatile, and we are not comfortable with the long-term stability of the market. However, we’re able to capitalize on the design/build sales that are coming our way, and adjust our sales and marketing strategies accordingly.”

The company installs a variety of hardscapes and softscapes for both residential and commercial clients. These include patios, decks, pergolas, outdoor kitchens, balconies, overlooks, seat walls, fire pits and driveways. They also install ornamentals to complement these installations.

“We welcome these projects in that we have a highly skilled staff that is able to install them. The challenge of getting them completed in time and on budget motivates our staff,” says Lori. A few years ago, these types of projects were uncommon. She feels that the shaky economy is causing people to stay in their homes rather than buying newer or bigger houses.

Selling full service

The Anewalts have worked hard converting their a la carte customers into full-service ones, almost a necessity in sustaining their business.

“We offer customizable year-round services to our clients,” Lori says. “This benefits both parties: our clients, in that they can budget for the year and have their property looking exceptional year round; and us, in that we can schedule our work and crews accordingly, hire more efficiently according to how much work we have sold, and the skill set needed. And, of course, manage our accounts more efficiently.”

The theory sounds great, but how do the Anewalts actually sell these services to reel in full-time customers? Lori says that oftentimes when a client sees the finished product on his property, they easily sign on the dotted line to become a client who wants regular lawn care services.

“It’s not a difficult sell in that it benefits both sides. Our clients can take advantage of a prepay discount at the beginning of the season. If not using the prepay discount, the client receives one monthly invoice (and) can budget for landscaping services for the year,” she says. “A few years ago, when fuel peaked at $4 a gallon, we had to absorb the increase without any negative effects on the services we provided to our customers.”

Rewarding work

Both Eddie and Morris love working in the landscape industry. “Without a doubt, it’s providing a service to those (who) need it,” says Morris. “Here at Anewalt’s, we’re capable of providing anything the customer wants, and more importantly, what they need. Whether it be string trimming a swamp or providing a beautiful outdoor kitchen. It’s creating that ‘Wow’ factor to those who thought it was impossible.”

Eddie finds each day to be different, and he enjoys the variety that landscape contracting and entrepreneurism bring to him.

“Being involved in design/build allows me to put together a project and carry it out to the last detail with the reward of gaining the customer’s approval,” says Eddie. Also, he welcomes the multifaceted jobs associated with the maintenance services that his company provides. “The variety and vastness of the landscape business keeps it interesting and challenging,” he adds.

A member of the Garden Writers Association, Komancheck writes about the green industry from her home near Ephrata, Pa. Contact her at