*This article appeared in the June edition of Landscape Management magazine, a national trade publication
When it comes to growth, few have done it like The Greenery.
This year, the company celebrates its 50th year of operation. Not a bad way to ring in the anniversary is ranking No. 27 on the LM150 list with $92,500,000 in revenue and 14 percent growth from 2021 to 2022.
The company, which offers maintenance, design/build and installation, irrigation and turf and ornamental care to primarily commercial clients, attributes its growth and success to its employees. As it acknowledges its history, there is a feeling of pride among the employee-owners.
“To me, being an employee of The Greenery means being a part of something,” says Romario Blackwood, a licensed pesticide applicator from the Sun City branch in Bluffton, S.C. He has been with the company for three years. “Since I’ve started working here, I can see how the properties we have worked on have developed. I’ve seen a lot of changes in myself. Being a part of The Greenery means getting the opportunity to learn and grow.”
The company’s employee ownership started when Berry Edwards, co-founder of The Greenery, began prepping for retirement in 2003. He was looking for an exit strategy that would serve as a proper thank you for his employees. His search led to the decision to establish an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), giving his employees the ability to earn ownership in the company.
Employees see the ESOP as a motivator to do their job to the best of their abilities. They want to see the company’s stock price go up year after year.
“Having this knowledge helps to push you toward improving yourself,” Blackwood says. “At the end of the day, my success is also the success of The Greenery. That works the other way around as well.”
Since making this shift, the number of employees at The Greenery has skyrocketed from 200 to 800 people. Joe Dubois, an account manager at the Sun City branch credits The Greenery’s investment in its people as helping establish the company as an industry leader.
“Knowing that your work can affect the bottom line makes you have a little bit more skin in the game,” he says. “It’s about accountability. You know that what you are doing can eventually affect the bottom line of the company, along with your retirement. You learn that other people have your back.”
Dubois came to The Greenery 10 years ago with a desire to learn more about the landscape industry. Wanting to gain experience, he saw a position with the company as something he could learn by doing as opposed to reading about it.
Blackwood agrees, noting a hands-on education is one of the best elements of the company.
“I wanted to learn and grow,” Blackwood says. “There are plenty of things that you can read about and classes where you can talk about those topics. (This) is hands-on work that I appreciate being able to do here.”
Dubois believes the ESOP model is a positive influence. In his mind, it is hard for any business to stay relevant for just 20 years, but even harder for it to be so dominant after 50 years.
“There were a lot of guys that were above me when I first started working here,” Dubois says. “They showed me how they do things. Those interactions and lessons help with the longevity of the company. I think I’ll be around for another 50 years as long as they keep this same model.”
The long journey
Ruthie and Berry Edwards fell in love with Hilton Head Island, S.C., while on vacation in 1973. After relocating to the spot, they bought a nursery with the desire to grow their business.
Starting as a full-service landscaping company at a nursery in 1973 with six employees, the Edwards’ hired knowledgeable gardening and landscaping staff from the area. Now, their son, Lee Edwards, serves as president and CEO of the company.
The Greenery now serves a broad list of clients requiring different service levels. The operation’s installation and landscape management clients include multifamily communities, hospitals, hotels, exclusive resorts and a few residential homes.
It continues to expand its reach to multiple cities and states. The Greenery now has locations in South Carolina in Beaufort, Bluffton, Greenville, Palmetto and Spartanburg; Daytona and Jacksonville, Fla.; and Savannah, Ga.
A retail center still operates on Hilton Head Island.
What it’s like to work at The Greenery
When asked if they would recommend working at The Greenery to their friends and family, employees unanimously say yes.
Leticia Jimenez, who works as a maintenance worker for the floral department (which supports The Greenery’s South Carolina branches), says her job means a lot to her.
“Everybody has been so friendly during my time here,” says Jimenez. “I love my job and what I do. The people here treat each other like family.”
Meanwhile, Romario Blackwood, a licensed pesticide applicator from the Sun City branch in Bluffton, S.C., says his favorite part of working for The Greenery is the chance to be in nature.
“This is going to sound corny, but I love getting to work outside in the morning, feeling the cool breeze and watching the sunrise,” says Blackwood. “In the past, I have worked in other industries, including the food industry. For many years, I just found myself inside a building all day. Now, when I get here in the morning, it feels like a complete 180-degree change from then. And I really enjoy it.”
All about community
Reflecting on his time at The Greenery, Blackwood recalls a moment from earlier in the year. As the seasons changed, he and his team treated azaleas on a property. This visit was a mixture of irrigation, maintenance and plant health services departments working together. At the end of it, they had perfectly maintained azaleas.
“I was driving by and I had to stop and get out of my car to properly look at it,” Blackwood says. “I took a picture of it and sent it to my supervisor. I was thinking, ‘That is why we are here.’”
Blackwood adds that the feeling of community has always been a highlight of the job. Everyone has a different role to play. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and they all come together to work through challenges.
Dubois says the entire team at The Greenery shares admiration for the communities they serve.
“People have worked here since (the Bluffton, S.C., branch) started and during the time when the company became employee-owned,” says Dubois. “Time has gone on and on, yet we maintain some of the stuff put in by our predecessors and former leaders. It continues to expand. I always tell people about The Greenery.”
By Brian Love