One family with two companies offers clients a one-stop shop

Carolyn and Rick Gillows’ RC & Sons Garden Center, the 10-acre cen- terpiece of the family-owned and operated business in Easton, Pa., was established in 1987. Ten years later, their sons, Josh and Jon, started TimberRock Landscaping, the design-build landscaping, hardscaping and turf portion of the joint effort.

Between the two companies, the Gillows offer virtually every product and service under the sun, including master plan designing, garden bed installation, patios, pools, new habitats, lawns, fences, garden walls and other distinctive landscaping and hardscaping solutions. There’s mature tree and shrub installation for privacy and shade, renovation excavating, grading and outdoor lighting.

TimberRock Landscaping’s sales display.

“It’s two companies, but it’s one-stop shopping,” Jon says. “A lot [of people] come into the center, and we get leads above and beyond any marketing. The more foundation we can show to new clients, the better. They see our operation, and it builds confidence; we’re not just landscapers with a pickup truck, and clients buy into that.”

The brothers offer all kinds of services, such as spring and fall cleanup, and tasks like re-mulching beds; pruning plants, trees and shrubs; edging flower beds, opening and cleaning water gardens, water features and ponds; leaf blowing; and gutter cleaning. And, in the winter, they also offer snowplowing and ice melt applications.

Joshua Gillow, left, and Jonathon Gillow, right, started TimberRock Landscaping in 1997. Their father, Rick, center, started RC & Sons Garden Center, which is the centerpiece of the family’s business, 10 years prior.

TimberRock’s lawn care services include fertilizer applications, weed and grub control custom applications and weekly mowing. Josh and Jon “talked turf” from day one in response to the classic question, “Do you mow grass?” However, they were more interested in becoming design-build landscapers and handling hardscapes. “It got to the point where clients began saying, ‘We like you so much, and trust you, do you mow grass?'” says Jon, who runs that division of the business. “Clients were asking for it, and if they weren’t going to get it from us, it would be someone else. With the relationship we have with our clients, it just made sense to purchase the equipment and give it to them. Now, we’ve brought more clients in through mowing. In our eyes, it’s all worked out for the best.”

TimberRock started to offer turf-specific services four years ago, initially with entirely organic procedures, but Jon says without the results he thought he’d get. This is the second full year since returning to a more traditional and synthetic approach. There are some 30 residential and small office clients. He’s caring for 400,000 square feet of turf a year. He chalks up the two and a half years of organic applications as experience. “No matter what you do out there in the turf industry, if you want a lush, green lawn with no weeds, you have to go synthetic,” he says.

Jon uses two LESCO push-behind spreaders, which he says offers “good broadcast with no trouble,” and a 200-gallon LESCO sprayer. He’s mowing with a Scag 61-inch rider, a new addition at the beginning of this season, and a walk-behind John Deere push mower for smaller areas.

There’s no ceiling on growing the turf care side of the business, he says, and he’d like to ease toward commercial expansion into townhouse and condominium developments and malls. “I feel the turf side will keep growing, and it will grow as much as I put energy into it growing,” Jon says.

Getting started

As Josh was finishing his post-secondary technical school training in mechanical and architectural drafting, Jon was graduating from high school. Their parents, Carolyn in particular, had already started the garden center, as a hobby at first, but “that got out of hand,” Rick says. Rick, a retired butcher, took a buyout at Acme Markets in 1995, and turned his attention to helping his wife and sons. “We built one greenhouse, and it was successful, and every year we built another greenhouse and sold more material,” he says.

Now, there are 10 greenhouses, encompassing 24,000 square feet. The boys grew up in the business, then took on landscaping and kept growing.

“I always imagined it growing in size, and it has,” she says. “We feel work is part of life, and it’s very unique in that I get to spend time with them as a family, but also in business as well.”

Many companies have a complete garden center or a landscaping business, but it’s often just one or the other. “We are two separate companies working together,” Rick says.

Josh knew early on that he preferred designing landscapes and gardens. He handles the sales and design, while Jon handles the logistics and relations for customers, employees and the turf contracts. Rick usually delivers materials.

The loyalty and customer base at the garden center is a big plus. Having a reputation makes it easier. “Like I’ve always said, ‘People buy from people,'” Josh says. “It’s not our goal to do a job then take off. We want to build a relationship and rapport with our customers so they will call us back year after year, and then tell friends.”

A customer-centric approach is integral, “or they’re gone, especially in the spring when they all want the job done yesterday,” Josh says. “We have an extraordinarily strong reputation in the market. There are always contractors out there who will charge half of what we charge, but then the customer finds they come back to us anyway for something that was half done or broken. Sometimes people search for a better price; they find it, and then eventually come back to what is a fair deal.”

Managing it all

Counting the Gillow brothers, TimberRock had a total of eight employees last year, but added two for this coming season. They’ve hired another designer in sales to help relieve Josh’s workload. Jon is also training two employees to help him on the turf side; what was once two crews will now be three.

“We can then focus our minds back on the heart of business – growing it – after getting the right guys in the right spots,” Jon says. “The first 10 years were the hardest, when you’re working 60 to 70 hours and 50 of them are out in the field.”

Last year was one of TimberRock’s best years, and the Gillows plan to build on that momentum. A clean fleet of trucks helps, as does inspiring everyone on the job to be a marketing and salesperson. “They know if they do that they will work longer and work overtime,” Josh says.

With the push into “greener” trends, TimberRock is installing its first green roof on a residential property.

The brothers develop a business plan for the next year around the winter holidays, deciding how much they want to spend, determining goals and making decisions based on the master plan. “There are no fuzzy ideas,” Josh says. “You form a Plan A, but have a Plan B.”

TimberRock Landscaping maintains this commercial property, where they planted colorful annuals.

They always buy equipment that serves multiple tasks, and they train employees how to use each piece of equipment. “You can lose a lot of money if you’re not using the machine properly,” Josh says.

When hiring, TimberRock prefers know-how and drive.

“The first thing I always tell people is that I’ve never gone to work,” Josh says. “I don’t consider it work because I love what I’m doing. The best part is that I can take ideas people have given me for a property and turn them into a design they love. It goes from idea to project, and then it’s a matter of how can we most effectively make it happen.”

One of the residential properties maintained by TimberRock Landscaping.

Garden center trends

The Gillows grow 90 percent of their plants, and shrubs are bought wholesale, as needed. Today, most customers want low-maintenance plantings, but when Carolyn and Rick first started there were more clients interested in personal gardens and big flower beds. They bought more annuals as bedding plants. Today, smaller potted container plants are more popular.

“People can’t take care of things themselves because they don’t have the time anymore,” Rick says. “They’re looking more for an installation, whereas before they’d want to do it themselves. They come in to buy materials and have an idea, then they ask TimberRock to go and install it, so it all hooks together.

“We’re happy the boys took the next step and took everything to the next level,” Rick says. “We would have stayed a garden center, but with them, they took on TimberRock and brought in more customers for us. We opened up more interest all the way around.”

The author has been published in national and regional magazines as well as daily and weekly alternative city newspapers. A gentleman farmer in Quakertown, Pa., he writes about people, social trends, historic preservation and 18th century America, agrarian culture, land use and sports and recreation topics.