Landscape firms grow like…well, like a weed |

Landscape firms grow like…well, like a weed

Jennifer Rachel Baumer

Nevada’s green industry annually generates $751 million in direct sales including over $355 million in personal income, and supports over 15,000 jobs.

Not bad for a desert state, considering the largest piece of the industry, about 78 percent of all its jobs, is the smaller businesses – lawn maintenance and landscape companies.

Nevada’s seeing tremendous growth, and so are these companies, thanks to population growth and favorable economic trends in the area.Which is to say business is good.

“When I first started it was just myself and a couple kids,” says Rob Clabaugh, Custom Care, Inc.

He now has 35 on staff year round, 14 trucks running and a lot of annual maintenance accounts.

Much of Clabaugh’s new business is in upper-echelon residential areas such as Wingfield Springs, DeAndrea, Somersett and homes near Zoelezzi Lane.

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“These people are taking care of their yards, where before it was just mow, blow and go,” says Clabaugh.

“That’s improving our industry, making us pay more attention to details and be more involved.”

There’s enough work to go around.

Jeff Fisher, owner of the 21-year-old Reno Lawn and Landscape, says there are more than 140 people who call themselves landscapers in Reno.

Maintenance is an easy enough field to enter.

A trip to Home Depot can put someone in business the next day, and the owner of a small maintenance company who has the right stuff can work eight months, ski all winter and still make $30,000 to $40,000.

“The most difficult decision these small companies have is whether to grow and put in infrastructure and become a bureaucracy of sorts, or decide they’re happy just to have a job where they have total control over what they’re doing,” says Fisher.

“So they might do a 15- to 20-year run with no more than two crews five or six people and make a good living at it.”

New residents mean new business and new challenges.

Californians moving to Nevada are used to mild climates, a wide variety of flowering plants and yards that look nice all year.

“It takes more to make a yard look nice year round here, because of the colder winters, so we see more residential maintenance and installation business just to deal with the specialized climate,” says Scott Owen, one of three new investors in Reno Green Landscaping.

The company primarily did maintenance for the last 30 years and is now moving into construction and new home installation.With the tremendous number of building permits being issued, installation business is booming.

“It’s mind-boggling to see how people keep up with the amount of work out there,” says Owen.

Paul Flint, president of Lawns, Etc., celebrating 25 years in business, says his company saw a big spurt in lawn maintenance services in 2003, even more than in previous years.While demographics point to people with spendable cash, and retirees who don’t want the hassle of upkeep, the trend he’s noticed is geographic.

When he started, most of his accounts were in the southwest.

Now most follow McCarran and run into the north.

Spanish Springs is becoming a hot area.

“The work definitely follows new housing areas,” Flint says.

Older neighborhoods are dressing up, too.

To remain competitive on the housing market, people are taking care of their yards, but with free time at a premium, they’re using services.Which is good for maintenance companies, because the amount of turf in landscaping has reduced dramatically.

“When I started 25 years ago most of our lawns were in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 3,500 square feet,” says Flint.

“Today it’s not surprising to have a regular weekly lawn mowing customer who has less than 1,000 square feet.”

Twenty years ago a landscape architect could design a yard with 99 percent lawn.

Today they’re limited to under 35 percent, says Rick Clark, one of the owners of Signature Landscapes, LLC.

Signature is three years old, but its principals grew up in the industry during the California droughts, learning drought irrigation and water management techniques and technology Clark predicts will soon hit Nevada, along with more reliance on Xeriscaping.

Xeriscaping allows for a small lawn, preferably with drought tolerant grasses and plants that don’t require so much care and water, and makes maintenance easier for elderly residents and home owners who purchase in the area but live out of state, but has led to more industry work- weeding.

“Many people are unpleasantly surprised at the amount of maintenance required on shrub and bed areas,” says Flint.

“It’s not unusual to find property with ten times the amount of bed space and Xeriscaping as lawn.”