The Yardstick: Q&A With Tim Fox, Meticulous Landscapes

The owner of Meticulous Landscapes in Indiana talks about his journey from sole laborer at age 45 to creation of a winning team.

By Jessica Schwartz & Christine Menapace
From the April 2023 Issue

The Yardstick

A Timeline Of Accomplishments

Tim Fox, Owner,
Meticulous Landscapes,
Cicero, IN

1. When, why, and how did you start your business?

I started Meticulous Landscapes in 2004 at the age of 45 out of the garage of our home in Noblesville, IN. I bought a new pickup truck, a dump trailer, and some hand tools. I had one client—our next-door neighbor—who encouraged me to start my own business by agreeing to a proposal to install a new backyard landscape which included a paver patio, shrubs, trees, and perennials.

Initially, that was all the work I had on the schedule. Working by myself, I calculated the job would take roughly 2.5 weeks. By the time that job was completed, due to word of mouth and aesthetically-pleasing results, the schedule became full, and I didn’t leave the neighborhood the rest of that year. Services offered that first year were: landscape install and maintenance, paver patios, walkways, and retaining walls. At the end of year one, I had 20 maintenance clients.

For the first five years, my wife and I were the only employees. I performed all the labor and my wife, Heidi, handled the invoicing and book- keeping. In 2009, five years after starting the business, we hired our first employee to help with the labor.

2. Please describe your business now.

Our company has relocated twice since beginning in 2004. After operating for two years out of our home garage, we purchased a property with a pole barn on two and a half acres. After 10 years there, we had the good fortune to purchase a much larger barn on four acres in Cicero, IN, which is where our business currently operates.

Our business now has three divisions: Maintenance, Installation, and Enhancements. We still offer the core landscape maintenance, installation, and patios as we did in the beginning, but the scale has dramatically increased. Our maintenance division currently maintains the properties of 125 different clients year-round. Our installation division has expanded services to include pergolas, outdoor kitchens, outdoor fireplaces, outdoor lighting, and most recently, holiday lighting.

Meticulous Landscapes

Meticulous Landscapes
The team at Meticulous Landscapes, from left: Mark Sodja, Vince Stanger, Tim Fox, Heidi Fox, Quinn Fox, and Jacob Nix.

Our enhancements division was created last year and focuses on reaching out to existing clients about enhancing the beauty of their landscapes. We have grown from one employee to 15-20 depending upon the time of year.

3. What is your educational background or skill set? Is there a degree, continuing education class, or skill you recommend for success?

I studied Landscape Management at Purdue University and graduated with a degree in General Agriculture. I have 46 years of experience in the landscape industry. I got my first job at the age of 14 when I rode my bike to a local garden center.

I worked there for two years after school, on weekends, and during the Summer doing general labor (watering, weeding) and customer service. I started my second job at the age of 16 when I worked as an estate groundskeeper for a residence in Indianapolis, IN. I remember it like it was yesterday. During the Summer my Dad would drop me off at the residence in the morning on his way to work and pick me up on his way home. That was when I started loving landscaping.

My core foundation of experience was developed at two separate design-build landscape companies over a period of 24 years. The first was Altum Landscaping in Carmel, IN during high school and college Summers. The second was Landscapes Unlimited in Zionsville, IN for 18 years after college. I was able to take what I learned in college at Purdue and apply it to what I did daily for both companies. I progressed from a laborer to a crew leader and then to a manager… from the ground up.

Those experiences were second to none. I was exposed to everything… hard work, long days, tough conditions, challenging jobs. I also was learning how to manage and motivate people. I loved what I was doing and how people trusted me. When you love what you do and have a solid work ethic, things fall into place.

Then, as stated before, in March 2004, I decided it was time to venture out on my own. Why the name Meticulous Landscapes? So many people have asked me… it fits everything I am as a person. Neatness, cleanliness, organization, attention to detail, promptness, thoroughness, everything has a spot.

In the spring of 2008, I added my first “employee” which wasn’t an employee at all. It was a piece of equipment: a Toro Dingo. I needed help lifting heavy materials on jobs and it was the perfect fit.

A skill set that has been helpful over the years is a hobby that I have had for 35 years. I coached basketball and football (junior high to high school) up until six years ago. Those coaching experiences were very beneficial in helping motivate and encourage those working for our company.

4. What do you see as the main reasons why your business grew successfully?

Our clients trust us and recommend us. We do what we say and are prompt with communication. We have been patient with our growth, taking time to hire a fantastic group of managers and team members.

Our managers each run their own division and I step back and let them perform. I let them have their freedom and don’t micromanage them. They are passionate about their work, and I believe they see that I am also.

The top filters down for sure. Respect is gained at our company because people see the owner helping on jobs and team members see managers working on jobs. This creates mutual respect and clients enjoy it also. I’m very proud of this.

Meticulous Landscapes
Detail to attention in work done by Meticulous Landscapes.

5. How did you set yourself apart from competition?

Our company culture revolves around being neat and organized – it’s in our name and it’s our commitment to the client. Our team members wear company apparel with khaki pants which presents a professional image. Our vehicles are kept clean and organized and we regularly hear “you have the cleanest trucks and equipment of any landscape company.”

We are friendly, down to earth, and trustworthy. We provide an exceptional product. We aren’t the cheapest. In fact, we’re likely one of the most expensive, but the experience is enjoyable and the end product is amazing.

6. What was your best business decision?

Hiring our current management staff and several of our current team members. They bring such value to our organization. Working by myself for the first years, I developed independent routines. I once had to do it all, so it’s been an adjustment letting go and providing others the freedom to perform what they are good at. It’s very fulfilling to see what others can do when you trust them and give them the opportunity to shine.

I’d like to highlight our management staff:

Our General Manager, Quinn Fox (who happens to be my son), majored in Business Administration and minored in Landscape Architecture. Quinn’s experience began early. He spent most childhood week- ends and Summers shadowing me in the field— picking up on equipment operation, bed maintenance, landscape construction, and job site vision. Quinn was like a sponge and couldn’t get enough of everything “landscape.”

Today, experience leading crews has helped Quinn relate to and train new employees. This has helped our company maintain its consistent quality. Quinn loves detailed plant design, demanding landscape maintenance, and everything business. Quinn has found his home helping run the family business.

Jacob Nix is our Construction Division Manager. Jake’s role is to sell, organize, and make sure the projects are executed to the client’s expectation. In the construction division, we handle things such as patios, overhead structures, decorative fence panels, outdoor lighting, and holiday lights.

Jake got his start in the Industry in 2015 when he opened a small company doing basic mulching, plantings, and mowing. When he started working at Meticulous Landscapes, he liked that he had the opportunity to grow his knowledge and experience with hardscape. He also enjoys utilizing other talents in low voltage lighting, holiday lights, sales, and carpentry.

He’s grown to love the Industry and different things he does every day! Jake continues to excel in sales and building things and is a very valuable asset to our company!

Vince Stanger has been our Maintenance Division Leader since 2018. Vince started in the Industry in 2006 and to say he is a magician would be an understatement. With 125 year- round maintenance clients (and growing), Vince is tasked with providing new client proposals, maintaining ongoing client communication, efficient crew routing, and problem resolution. He handles it all with an impressive calm confidence.

Mark Sojda is our Installation Enhancements Director. He started with us last year. Mark has a degree in Business Agriculture and his experience includes 17 years in inventory and plant purchasing. He also worked in horticulture and with greenhouse potted plants. Mark is like a walking plant encyclopedia and applies that knowledge by helping educate our clients about plant growing habits and ideal choices for their home.

Heidi Fox is my wife and has been our “volunteer” office manager since the beginning. I say “volunteer” because in addition to doing all the invoicing, payroll, bookkeeping, and pre- paring financial statements, she also maintained a full-time job at a bank for almost 37 years. In April 2022, Heidi left the bank job to focus solely on office manager duties at Meticulous Landscapes.

Meticulous Landscapes
A well-maintained shady path enhances this peaceful setting.

7. What was your worst business decision?

In the first year or two after starting, I overcharged a client to fix a pond and waterfall that another company installed and wasn’t working properly. My communication to the client about the expected cost was poor and I used poor judgment sending him an invoice for what I did. I lost the client and I regret the heck out of that. Lesson learned the hard way.

8. What was your funniest business experience?

There are so many. There is something every day at our company. Seriously! There is always something hilarious that one of us shares with the group. We all feel comfortable sharing with each other and it’s a really neat atmosphere to have. For me personally, I was trying to start a backpack blower one time… couldn’t get it started. I took it to Jake, who handles our equipment. “Jake, this thing just won’t start, can you look at it?” “Ummm Tim, it’s out of gas.”

9. What’s your favorite piece of equipment/landscaper tool?

Without hesitation at all, our Billy Goat Leaf Vac! This equipment was expensive, and I was hesitant at first. But with this vac, our leaf cleanup season is now something all our employees look forward to. When a machine can suck a pumpkin through the hose and make “applesauce” out of it… sucking wet leaves will never be a problem again. This thing is awesome!

10. What is your advice to others? What do you wish you had known?

Set attainable goals daily and keep things simple. At the end of each day, if you can honestly answer the question: “Did you do your best today?” and say “yes,” you are probably going to be successful.

On the other hand, I wish I would have learned to say “no” more often. Some job sales are not always a must if they don’t fit your company capabilities and strengths.

Meticulous Landscapes
A lineup of Meticulous Landscape trucks ready to start the day.

11. What is your plan for the future of your business?

We want to keep our management team and team members together! We have great people that are passionate and are great at what they do. We want to keep growing and keep getting better every day. Our chemistry throughout is solid!

We want to continue to do for clients what we have consistently done for 19 years. There is nothing I don’t like about that recipe and formula. We will continue to tweak things here and there. We have to, that’s business!

Finally, we are growing out of our current office space. The plan is to expand or build a new office in the future to support our growth and pro- vide individual office space for the management team. They deserve this for sure!

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