Tips from the top: Mark Tomko

I got into landscaping because I didn’t have a job. I was a stock broker back in the mid-eighties and the stock market blew up. So I got out of the stock broker business and couldn’t get a job, so I said, “OK, I’m going to start mowing lawns.”

I don’t know anything about landscaping – still don’t. Mostly I’m a customer service guy.

So we just started mowing some lawns and then trying to find work. So that’s ’87. Probably all the way until about ’98 we were this little goofy mowing company that didn’t do anything right. I mean, we were horrible.

In ’98, somebody asked me to do some install work. Of course I told him, “Yeah, that’s easy. We could do that.” So we just started doing install work and we learned kind of the hard way. And then about 1999, a homebuilder asked us to help him. That’s when things started to take off pretty good.

We just started chugging along for many, many years. We really didn’t start to become a real company until after 9/11.

A guy sent me a brochure. It said, “Hey, would you like a business consultant to come in and help you?” So he came over and started to organize us.

I was on a trip in Hawaii. I called him from my balcony and I said, “Hey, dude, I’m not going to implement any of this shit. You need to come work here yourself.” Because, you know, I’m a marketing and customer service person. I come up with the great ideas and I can tell people once to do it, but I’m not so good at implementing.

His name is Greg Ritscher. He came over here for six years and got us organized. And we went from – 2001 our revenue was $3 million. By the time he was done with us in ’06 our revenue was $33 million.

It was a hell of a lot. We had some serious growth. Then the housing market crashed – ‘07, ‘08 and ‘09 were just horrendous years. We went down to $15 million.

When the market did crash, even though we weren’t necessarily very profitable, we didn’t have too much debt. So for a couple of years – ‘07, ‘08 and ‘09 – we paid off all our debt and managed things there very closely. We came out of that crash very strong, and in 2010 we started growing again.

So second time around, we did a lot better because in the early growth of 2000 to 2006, we were just developing systems. Mostly just corporate structure-type stuff because prior to Greg coming, the guys didn’t even have time cards. We just kept their time on a pad of paper in the office. We’d call them every day and there would be their name and then we’d just write the hours down.

We put in safety procedures, we put in purchasing procedures, any kind of operational procedure he helped us develop. We evaluated talent. We’d have people come over, “Hey, you want a job?” You know, “You like Mountain Dew? I like Mountain Dew. Come on, let’s go to work.” That’s true.

We were just like cowboys. He just modernized us. So he brought in key people: a CFO, a CPA group. We got hooked up with some banks, so that things started to become more real.


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