The Future of Landscaping: Embracing Robotic Equipment for a Greener Tomorrow

The future of the landscape industry is exciting, sustainable, and surprisingly quiet. And The Greenery is at the forefront of leading new eco-initiatives through the Lowcountry and southeast region!

Teaming up with companies like Kress Outdoor Power Equipment, The Greenery is planning for a future where their landscape equipment not only produces less pollutants into the environment, but also reduces noise pollution — all while maintaining cost efficiency and capability. 

Kress Outdoor Power Equipment hosted a demonstration in December to demonstrate new technology that The Greenery is already implementing for a better community and client experience. At the event, The Greenery unveiled its new battery-powered and autonomous robotic outdoor equipment. 

Beautifully maintained communities like Hilton Head Island often face negative feedback from residents and visitors about loud landscape equipment that is used to keep these properties in pristine condition. But loud, gas-powered equipment may soon be a thing of the past as this new technology also operates without the disruptive noise. The new technology is also a “win” for the environment as it operates without emitting harmful pollutants.

The Greenery has been exploring electric landscape equipment options for years now but had yet to discover the right fit – electric equipment that is both cost effective and powerful. However, The Greenery CEO, Lee Edwards, believes that with Kress and its technologies they have found a “game changer.”

Currently, The Greenery is using Kress equipment on larger properties, as well as making it an option for various residential clients. And according to Edwards, the company has found that it can offer the same superior landscape services to their clients at about the same price as gas-powered equipment.

According to Edwards, the electric equipment is not only preferred by clients but also by The Greenery employees because it is a safer option. Featuring a sensor all the way around the device – it disables if an animal or person walks up to it or picks it up. 

The Greenery plans to make the transition to all-electric equipment at one or two of The Greenery’s branches in the very near future with long-term plans of being company-wide electric within the next several years.

These forward-thinking and sustainable initiatives are what sets The Greenery apart from other landscaping companies as an industry leader. Ultimately, this transition will benefit the environment, customers, and employees while The Greenery continues to enhance people’s lives through beautiful landscaping – just a little more quietly. 

That’s a Wrap on 2023

It has been a very busy and productive year for The Greenery, Inc. while commemorating our 50th anniversary!
We continued to fulfill our mission of enhancing people’s lives through beautiful landscaping across the Southeast. And what stood out the most over the past year is the persistent hard work and dedication by our faithful employee owners. We are so grateful for each and every one of the dedicated individuals that have led to our success over the last 50 years. Our company values the people that make up The Greenery, Inc. above all else.

We were thrilled this year to honor our “Crews of the Month” in each branch as well as some “Rising Stars” that have bright futures with the company. It was our honor to stand beside our employee owners who celebrated professional accomplishments as well as professional milestones in 2023 with some employee owners commemorating decades of service. The various training, Safety Rodeos, trade shows and job fairs that we participated in this year demonstrate our strong commitment to our employee owners and their future with The Greenery, Inc.

It was especially sweet celebrating our ESOP this year at our annual stock price reveal parties. To see the smiles on the faces of the employee owners knowing that they helped the company reach that point was particularly memorable. The pride that each person takes knowing they have a real stake in the company and its future is priceless.

This year, we enjoyed commemorating our 50th anniversary with each of our branches with unique celebrations because each person is valued and has helped The Greenery, Inc. to thrive in this industry for five decades.

The various landscape transformations and projects this year are evidence of our landscape presence in the communities we serve, but we also LOVED giving back to the communities in 2023 through donations, sharing our expertise and sponsoring community events. We participated in everything from Arbor Day in Savannah and Career Day in Port Royal to the Beaufort Water Festival and lots of activities in between.

Once again, it was OUR PEOPLE that helped make each of these events special and we are so appreciative for their willingness to go above and beyond.

Did You Know?

  • The Greenery, Inc. was ranked #27 in Landscape Management’s Top 150 Industry Revenue companies list in 2023 and recently featured on the magazine’s cover for December
  • The Greenery, Inc. was ranked #27 in Lawn & Landscape magazine’s Top 100 list for 2023
  • The Greenery, Inc. stock price for 2023 reached an all-time high
  • The Greenery, Inc. has more than 800 employees across three states
  • The Greenery, Inc. continues to acquire new customers every month
  • The Greenery, Inc.  looks forward to launching into NEW markets in the near future

… And we are just getting started. We are excited to see what 2024 and beyond holds for The Greenery, Inc.

A Glance into Heartwood:  The Greenery’s Project in the Heart of Richmond Hill

“Heartwood is a vision of those who dared to see the forest through the trees. A place with a purpose—to engage people and the landscape together in an inspired way of living that enhances the lifestyle that organically exists. Heartwood emerged naturally from the old soul that is Richmond Hill, Georgia.”

And The Greenery’s Construction Team was honored to play a role in helping to make the vision of Heartwood into reality for the community. Our team was recently involved in the beautiful landscape construction transformation that took place at Heartwood Outfitter’s Center and Ogeechee Park. 

Phase 1 of the project was completed in about a year with our team installing a one-of-a-kind park space anchored in the heart of Richmond Hill’s growing Exit 82 and Belfast Keller area. The Outfitter’s Center and Park spaces will anchor one of the most diverse footprints in the Coastal Georgia area. 

Over the duration of the project, The Greenery team worked diligently on the landscape development and planting, stormwater reallocation irrigation systems, pond aquatic plantings as well as the landscape lighting.

According to Rick Sotiropoulos LIC, The Greenery’s Director of Landscape Construction, he saw The Greenery’s construction team shine in several ways. Their collaboration with the owner/developer, general contractor, site contractor and landscape architect was second to none allowing the project to run smoothly and with very little setbacks. The team’s operational capacity and ability to modify and extend scope from the original contract was exceptional. In the landscape construction, you always have to be flexible!

In addition, the construction team took extra care to consider long term implications to the development and the landscape as well as the sustainable impacts on the environment. 

Some of the key project elements included:

  • The Outfitter’s Center: the anchor of the development and the event lawn will host a wide variety of activities for the entire community.
  • Stormwater pond reallocation: a six-acre stormwater pond was turned into an active reallocation of irrigation water source for the development area.
  • “The Hill”: a waste soil area turned into an integral recreation area to the community trail systems including trees, grass trails and a vista look-out over the community.
  • Community trail systems: integrated into this phase of development, they connect the active and passive spaces of the community.

Site and construction schedule as well as weather impacts on the development were a challenge during the project. However, our team overcame these hurdles by being flexible and nimble to adjust our implementation to finish even when we had impacts beyond our control. Using “outside the box” and creative methods, we were able to adjust in real time and reduce long delays.

“We were honored to work with such a great group of talented people including: Bill Cunningham of Raydient Places (owner/developer); Eric Pohlmann, PLA, and Lauren Cline of LandDesign (Landscape Architects); Todd Mayo of Omega Construction of Savannah (General Contractor); and Matt Hilton of Preferred Site Construction. Without our combined efforts, the project would not have been so successful” said Rick Sotiropoulos. 

In addition to Rick, who oversaw the client relationship and project coordination, The Greenery team was led by Nathan Hexamer (Construction Branch Manager) and Michael Ackerman (Project Manager) who both did an outstanding job overseeing this project to fruition. We are thankful to be a part of the Team at Heartwood!

This initial project was just the first phase of the vision of Heartwood with several other phases to come in the future and some very exciting plans. The Greenery hopes to continue to work with Heartwood to see the completion of this amazing community and the dream of Heartwood come true! More to come at Heartwood…

2023 LM150: The Greenery celebrates growth and community for 50th anniversary

*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.”

Being employee-owned
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.”

To read the article visit: https://www.landscapemanagement.net/2023-lm-150-the-greenery-celebrates-growth-and-community-for-50th-anniversary

By Brian Love

811 AWARENESS DAY

811 AWARENESS DAY

As a professional landscape organization, The Greenery’s mission is to enhance people’s lives through beautiful landscaping. Our mission would not be possible if we did not prioritize the safety of our Greenery team members and the community. That’s why we want to shine a light on a very important safety awareness campaign: 811 Awareness Day. Each year on August 11th, the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) spreads awareness about the importance of calling 811 before you dig anywhere in your yard. This awareness campaign aims to protect lives and avoid costly utility damages in our communities.

Each year, nearly 40% of U.S. homeowners risk their personal safety and utility damage by digging through their landscape. From minor garden projects to full-scale landscape installations, there is no project too small that can cause unintentional damage to your yard. Essential utilities like gas, water, electricity, or cable and internet lines are buried under ground at our homes and businesses. Digging without clearly marking these utility lines before hand can run the risk of hitting one of these utility lines, which can have disastrous consequences in some cases. It is also very important to know that you are required by law to call 811.

“Not only do you risk personal injury, but hitting a utility line can disrupt critical services throughout your community,” said Rick Sotiropoulos, Construction Business Development Director at The Greenery, Inc. “That’s why The Greenery wants to do our part to spread awareness on National 811 Day, so the communities we serve can stay safe.”

That’s where the phone number 811 can help! If you are considering a future dig, it is not only essential, it is also the that you must  call 811 at least two business days before starting your project. And the best part about this helpful process? It’s completely free to you as a home or business owner! Here’s how the process works:

  1. Step One: Call 811 or visit 811.com at least two business days before your project. Ask the representative to have a professional visit your property and mark utility lines in your yard with a flag.
  2. Step Two: Wait a few days for the utility organization to stop by your home and clearly mark areas with utility lines.
  3. Step Three: Confirm that all utilities have responded.
  4. Step Four: Respect the utility marks or flags as you begin your project.
  5. Step Five: Do not dig on or near utility flags.

It’s as easy as that! As landscaping professionals, we want to make a difference in our communities. The Greenery is proud to demonstrate our commitment to responsible landscape practices throughout the southeast. So, we encourage you to always call 811 before you reach for that shovel; it only takes a moment, but the impact can last a lifetime.

Gold and green

The Greenery is celebrating its 50th anniversary and 20 years as 100% employee-owned.

After 50 years in business, The Greenery, based in Hilton Head, South Carolina, has a lot to celebrate. The company earned $92 million in revenue in 2022 and ranked No. 28 on this year’s Top 100 List.

This year also marks another important milestone — the 20th anniversary of becoming 100% employee-owned.

Current president and CEO Lee Edwards says it was following a vacation to the island that his parents fell in love with Hilton Head and wished to relocate.

“They were looking to do something different. They came back from vacation a couple weeks later and said, ‘We need to find a way to move there,’” he recalls. “Somehow, somebody mentioned this little landscape business for sale and my dad didn’t even know anything about landscaping. But they went and talked to them, and he started looking at it from the numbers and from a business standpoint. Then they went to talk to the head foreman.

“When they bought the company, it had six employees and two pickups,” he adds. “They said as long as Leon, the crew foreman, agrees to stay on, they’d buy the company.”

And with that, The Greenery was born.

Welcoming the next generation
Fast forward 50 years and that landscaping company has expanded to more than 1,000 employees across multiple branches spanning from Greenville, South Carolina, to Daytona, Florida.

Edwards says his path through the green industry has been a unique one — noting that originally, he wasn’t planning on joining the family business. Growing up, he’d work on a crew during the summer but didn’t plan on returning once he went away to college. He remembers a pivotal moment that changed his mind.

“I ended up in Colorado one winter after college,” he says. “When the summer rolled around, I stuck around and got a job at a landscape company. I knew how to run all the equipment and spoke fluent Spanish. By the end of the season, I was running half the company for the guy and there was talk about us becoming partners.”

But Edwards says he didn’t want to work for just anybody.

“I called my dad and told him I wanted to give it a shot,” he says. “I think my dad had secretly hoped that it’s what I would do.”

In 1999, Edwards opened his own separate branch of The Greenery a little closer to home in Charleston.

“I was running my company in Charleston and doing well and then my dad got cancer,” Edwards says. “That sort of accelerated his timetable on retirement. He started rethinking his life and his priorities — and that’s when he created the ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Program).

“I took over as president of the company in 2007, and that’s the same year we became 100% employee-owned,” he adds. “We had started the process in 2003.”

Invested employees
Edwards says the purpose behind the ESOP goes back to a fundamental business philosophy of his father’s.

“I think one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned from my dad is he always said, ‘Hire good people. Get out of the way. Let them do their job. And reward them well,’” Edwards says. “He really believed that and took it to heart, and I do, too.

“His thinking was he built up this really successful company after all these years, but it wasn’t just him who did it — it was all these great employees who’d been here so long,” he adds. They dedicated their whole careers to this company and building it. This was a way to give back to them.”

CFO Ben Campsey says it was The Greenery’s ESOP that pulled him away from a lucrative career in the hotel finance industry.

“An ESOP gives a company its instant why,” he says. “For most companies, why we do what we do is the hardest thing to define… we provide beautiful landscaping, but we also build retirements and a good lifestyle for the people that produce our product.”

From the get-go, Campsey says he’s seen the good in the ESOP countless times.

“Someone was in my office a few months ago and this person started with very humble beginnings 25 years ago and has worked his way up,” Campsey says. “He told me, ‘I think I’m going to be able to retire a millionaire.’ Who would’ve thought this guy coming in to mow lawns would’ve been able to do that. It’s stories like that, as a 50-year company, that builds the culture of who we are.”

Janet DiNicola, chief technology officer, says she’s witnessed these kinds of stories as well over her tenure with the company.

“What’s great about being an employee owner is it’s not something you have to sign up for; it’s automatically granted after you make it through the initial waiting period,” she says. “We’re not in an industry that generally promotes pensions or 401Ks. Some of these guys after being here over 15 years have developed quite a little nest egg… they didn’t save it themselves. It’s just the money that is given to them.”

While Edwards says there haven’t been too many challenges associated with the ESOP, he notes that educating employees on the benefits of it has been a hurdle.

“A lot of the employees were very appreciative but a lot of them didn’t understand it, or understand how it worked,” he says. “When someone gets a stock certificate the first time, it’s not really worth that much. But over time, as the value goes up and people earn more stock each year, it really grows exponentially after they’re here awhile.”

Campsey says that the more time an employee spends with the company, the more they pay attention to their ESOP shares.

“Every year we do our big stock reveal and we put some education around that,” he says. “We use pomp and circumstance to make it feel really official and we hand out cards and certificates to make it a big deal.”

Outside of the annual reveal, Campsey says The Greenery tries find unique ways to promote the ESOP.

“Our biggest challenge is, ‘What are the means we use to communicate this?’” he explains. “We’re in a decentralized environment and companies like ours have industry-wide high turnover. So how are we finding ways to communicate the benefits? That’s where I find it the hardest.

“We have a website we post videos on, a text messaging application where we can push information out to their phones and we have posters with QR codes that educate on ESOPs,” Campsey adds.

Edwards says he feels the ESOP allows The Greenery to get the most out of their employees, therefore impressing clients and influencing their growth.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” he says. “You treat the company well and it becomes more valuable. If it becomes more valuable, you earn more stock for your retirement…They can influence that stock unlike a 401K or an IRA… If you take care of your client, take care of your equipment, work safely and provide great service — our company becomes more valuable. If the company is more valuable, then the employees are the winners because they’re the ones earning more stock every year.”

Encouraged to explore
Outside of the ESOP, employees enjoy other advantages of being 100% employee owned.

DiNicola says one valuable benefit is the ability to experiment and learn about the latest, most cutting-edge technology within the industry.

She adds The Greenery has prioritized technology in recent years as a way to differentiate themselves in their market and nationally. In 2019, DiNicola says the company moved away from typical Excel spreadsheets and invested in software designed specifically for landscaping.

“If you’re owned by a private equity company it’s all about making that dollar,” she says. “Lots of times in the beginning, robotics or any new technology doesn’t make you too much money in the beginning because there is such a learning curve. I don’t think a lot of those companies will be the ones investing or trying things out like this.”

Robotic mowers have been another new frontier for the business. However, DiNicola recognizes it can be hard for some smaller companies, and even ones the size of The Greenery, to find opportunities to test out the new technology.

“Right now, it’s still really hard to get our hands on a lot of technology,” she says. “There’s a big difference between who is going after robotic mowers and who isn’t.”

Seeing green
With the milestone anniversary upon them, leaders at The Greenery agree that steady, thoughtful growth is the vision moving forward.

“One of our biggest objectives is to become a $100 million company,” DiNicola says.
While the majority of this growth will be organic, Edwards says the company is interested in making more acquisitions in the future.

“We’ve continued to grow steadily,” he says. “The last few years we’ve expanded out of our traditional footprint. We made an acquisition in Florida and opened another branch in Daytona. Those were exciting moves.”

However, Edwards stresses those acquisitions will be dependent on finding the right fit, which he says is no small task.

“A lot of companies when they make an acquisition, they are mainly buying contracts,” Edwards says. “With us, it’s all about the right cultural fit. We don’t want to just buy a bunch of contracts or revenue. It’s the relationships, the people, the safety program — all of it. We looked at one company I really liked until I saw their safety program and it was terrible. I thought if they don’t care enough to have a decent safety program and take care of their employees, it’s not the kind of company we want to be associated with.”

Edwards adds all this prospective growth will be inspired by the company’s employees as it always has been.

“I’ve always said we’re a growth-oriented company. Not because we want to go up the Lawn & Landscape Top 100 list, but because the way you hold onto people in our industry is you provide a future for them,” he says. “Whether it’s the No. 2 guy on the maintenance crew, a kid right out of college with a horticulture degree or a highly experienced regional manager, they want to take that next step. We provide an opportunity for everyone.

“We haven’t changed our philosophy,” Edwards adds. “We not interested in bringing on any other ownership and we plan to stay 100% employee-owned.”

National trade publication, Lawn and Landscape Magazine, recently featured this article on The Greenery’s 50th anniversary in the June 2023 edition.

By: Kim Lux, Assistant Editor

Keep Going: Ronald Vargas’ Inspirational Story

He was not a runner but at age 47, like most of us, Ronald Vargas was feeling the pressures of life. You’ve been there. Family, work, aging, you name it, these mid-life stressors are real.

But one’s ability to “dig deep and keep going” is equally as real and Vargas is living proof of this. “I was not happy at home and didn’t want to be there. So I decided to go walking. Then I decided to walk-run. Then I just ran,” said Vargas, who is a Production Manager at The Greenery and no stranger to hard work.

Now at 57, Vargas has completed five 100-mile races, five 50-mile races, two 24-hour races, one 160-mile race, and numerous marathons and trail runs. Always striving, on August 11, Vargas will compete in his most grueling course to date: the Bigfoot 200, a four-day 200-mile race through high elevations in the Cascade Mountains in Washington state.

Talking about his preparation for Bigfoot 200, Vargas admitted, “There is a lot of pressure. You never know how you are going to do the day of the race. You can do all the training, but you never know. Elite guys even drop miles in.”

So Vargas has been concentrating on his mental game. “I’m hard-headed. I’m a push guy. However, I listen to my body and know how much to push it.” Vargas’ long distance runs have taught him how to tune out everything around him and just look at each foot as it steps in front of the other, propelling him forward toward his goal.

Vargas also has a hardcore training schedule. “Some days, I am up at 5 a.m. and work until 5 p.m. and then go home. I make sure everything is fine, eat, shower, and chill, and even though I’m freaking tired around 10 p.m. I run four to five hours. I have to be prepared for running at night.” During his workouts, Vargas also focuses on strengthening his legs. At times, he will run outside weighted down with 15 to 20 pounds of filled water bottles or inside on a 15-incline with a 25-pound weighted vest.

And yet, regarding race preparation, it is Vargas’ approach to life that gives him the competitive edge. “When I do something, I do it with a lot of passion.” Vargas began working at The Greenery 24 years ago as a crew member and likens his professional success to his running. “Work and running both take dedication. I do not compete with others. Just myself. I do not need to do anything better than chase my own dreams and do it with a positive mind.”

You should know, though, that getting Vargas across the finish line takes more than just training. “I really rely on the emotional support of other people. I wish I could have my best friend go with me, but he can’t go. I also need financial support. These races are expensive. I need three to four new pair of shoes, nutrition, and money to travel for training and to go to the race.” Jokingly Vargas then added, “And I need to sleep at night.”

Vargas manages his stress just as he competes in his races: one foot in front of the other, step by step. “When I get in a low patch, I know I need to dig down into my soul and keep going.” Vargas’ mental endurance has helped him overcome several physical challenges on the race course like losing a toenail, blisters, muscle cramps, and vomiting, as well as personal challenges off the race course. “We all have the ability to keep going.”

To support Ronald Vargas’ race journey, you can donate to his GoFund Me at https://gofund.me/2b16b20d.

The Greenery Celebrates 50 Years

Celebrates 20 years as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)

The Greenery, Inc., a landscaping company based in Hilton Head, SC, is commemorating its 50th Anniversary of creating beautiful landscaping in the Lowcountry.

Established on Hilton Head Island in 1973 by Ruthie and Berry Edwards, The Greenery started as a small landscape nursery with a staff of six employees, a couple of old pickup trucks, and the desire to do something different. With a focus on hiring the most knowledgeable and experienced landscaping and gardening staff in the area, the Edwards family was able to grow The Greenery into one of the largest and most highly respected landscaping companies in the Southeast.

While celebrating its 50th anniversary, The Greenery acknowledges that its efforts are about their people. Before his retirement, Berry Edwards started working towards an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) as a way to give back to the dedicated employees who had helped him develop and grow the business. By 2007, it became a 100% employee-owned company. This year marks its 20th anniversary as an ESOP.

The Edwards Family

Lee Edwards, son of Ruthie and Berry, who grew up in and around the landscape company, is now CEO. “Above all else, we value the people that make up The Greenery,” says Edwards. “From the commercial and residential sites to those in the offices, garden center and gift shop, The Greenery is comprised of more than 800 dedicated individuals that have led to our success day in and day out.”

In the last several years, The Greenery, Inc. has expanded to serve markets in Greenville and Spartanburg in South Carolina as well as Jacksonville, Amelia Island and Daytona in Florida.

“The first 50 years of The Greenery have been full of growth and expansion,” explains Edwards. “We look forward to seeing what the next 50 years has in store as we continue to provide our customers with exceptional landscape maintenance.”

The Greenery, Inc., an employee-owned company, has served Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Beaufort, Savannah GA and Charleston SC and other coastal Georgia and South Carolina regions since 1973 with comprehensive landscaping services including residential and commercial landscape installation and maintenance, hardscapes and irrigation.

National trade publication, Turf Magazine, recently featured this article on The Greenery’s 50th anniversary.

By Christine Menapace – Turf Magazine March 3, 2023

A Legacy of Growing Opportunity: The Greenery celebrates 50 years

CH2 Magazine recently featured this article about The Greenery’s 50th anniversary and a timeline of the company’s growth. 

Anyone at The Greenery will tell you that the company stands oak-solid on their motto: “A growing tradition.” As the landscape company celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, it is evident that The Greenery has maintained a long tradition of growing plants, trees, and grass. Also evident is the growth of the business since 1973 when Berry and Ruthie Edwards opened a small nursery with six employees, a couple of pickup trucks and the desire to do something different.

Today, The Greenery has over 750 employees, a fleet of vehicles, and is ranked the thirtieth largest landscape company in the industry, proving it can and will outgrow even big conglomerates. But more important to the ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company, they are also growing the careers of their employee owners.

“If you had told me 12 years ago that I would be in this position with this type of company, I would have looked at you like you were crazy,” said Melissa Brock, director of business development. “I do not even have live plants in my house. When I came to 

The Greenery as an office administrator in construction, I had no clue about landscape.”

Jerry Ashmore, director of work force development and safety has also risen among the ranks. “I graduated from Clemson and met a Beaufort girl while working for a small landscape business in the upstate. I started coming here on the weekends, and then a friend told me to talk to The Greenery,” he said. “I ended up having lunch with Tom Van Hise, Billy Gray, and Clay Kinard at Fiesta Fresh, and they offered me a job as an account manager. That was 22 years ago, and I still go there for lunch and think, ‘This is where I started.’”

Jim van Dijk, who is now the regional manager of Hilton Head and Greenville also found an early opportunity with The Greenery, starting as a summer intern. “In 1995, Clay Kinard came to Clemson University to talk to our horticulture class,” he said. “He told the story of The Greenery, and I spoke to him afterward. He said, ‘Since you are interested in the story and the company, I’ll give you an opportunity over the summer. It was a small crew with guys that had been there 10 to 15 years, like Alfred and Leon. Clay Kinard was the supervisor. We had great camaraderie and a great work ethic. They remind me of my Greenville branch now.” 

“We share a lot in common—Jerry, Jim and I,” Brock said. “We all want to grow our business. We all want to grow as people. And we all want our people to grow. The only difference between Jerry, Jim and me is that I’m not a Clemson fan,” she joked.

As all three continued telling their stories, more similarities surfaced including two character strengths: resilience and innovation. “When I started, I knew how to talk to people. I knew people in the construction industry,” Brock said. “And, after about a year, I decided to pave my way and grow The Greenery’s construction division. Opportunities did not fall in my lap. I worked my way up.”

Noting that both landscape and construction are male-dominated industries, Brock continued, “I do not hunt or fish. I had to find creative ways—ways The Greenery had not done in the past—to develop relationships. I had to earn people’s trust.”

To do so, Brock leaned on the support of The Greenery community and executive officers, who very much believe in motivating, not micromanaging, their employees. “I decided to focus on the property managers,” Brock said. “They are mostly women. They like manicures, pedicures and lunch. I also focused on getting to know people and personal information like how many kids they had, where they were from, and what they liked to do. I like to build a friendship. People trust you if you get to know them.”

Ashmore has built his career by wearing many hats. “Back when I started, you did whatever was needed to be done, spray yards, plant flowers,” he said. “I knew I wanted to grow in my career and create my own opportunity. I worked hard, and as the company has grown, so have my responsibilities.”

“When I started, I was focused on enhancements,” van Dijk said. “I did not want us to do the bare minimum. I thought, ‘What if I got more material? What about concrete work? What about a small garden install in this small space?’ and The Greenery was like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’”

In 2002, van Dijk told the company he could make enhancements and maintenance successful on Daufuskie, and he did. He also admits to facing some professional challenges. “In life and in business, not everything is rosy. The Greenery believes in promoting from within, and when mistakes, mishaps or challenges arise, it is not about demeaning or removing someone but rather to coach, lead to improve, and get ready for the next challenge.”

Brock, Ashmore and van Dijk then touched on the Greenery’s emphasis on legacy—preserving it, honoring it, and communicating it to create a culture of excellence. 

“My favorite memory at the Greenery was an annual meeting we had at Hampton Hall,” Brock said. “The meeting was really inspiring because it was then that I really got a sense of The Greenery’s story.” Linking the pride she felt for the company’s past to the present, she added, “I will see one of our properties and the sun is shining on it and it is so beautiful, and I think to myself, ‘We did that.’”

According to Ashmore, to create a culture, you need to pass down tradition. “Here, the older employees pass it down to the new ones. We may have grown, but we still have that small company feel. Our values are on display every day,” he said.

Van Dijk agreed. “Part of what I’m focusing on now in emerging markets is to tell the stories from the past as well as to know that every time we bring a new person in, they are bringing a new element into our culture. Their visions continue to evolve us,” he said.

All three also agreed that the current company culture began when the Edwards set out to do something different for Hilton Head. And it is this culture that enables The Greenery to accomplish its purpose statement, “Enhancing people’s lives through beautiful landscaping.”

Ultimately, this culture creates a legacy of growing opportunities: opportunities for individuals and their families, opportunities for business expansion and economic growth, and opportunities for our communities to be better both aesthetically and intrinsically.

“Growth is part of our culture. We want our employees to exceed their goals,” van Dijk said.

“Our people are our greatest asset,” Ashmore added. “And I tell people all the time, if you want to be fulfilled, this is the place to do it.”

Timeline

1973
February 1, Berry and Ruthie Edwards buy a small nursery with six employees, a couple of old pickup trucks and the desire to do something different.

1974
Ruthie, Berry and Lee (age 6) purchase a circa 1873 church and move it by barge from Ridgeland to Hilton Head to begin what is now the Antiques & Collectibles Shop.

1981
The Greenery expands and opens a maintenance shop on Arrow Road.

1992
The Greenery expands to serve Bluffton and the surrounding area.

1999
Lee Edwards opens a branch in Charleston.

2003
Berry Edwards creates an ESOP. The Hardeeville office opens to serve Bluffton, Beaufort, Sun City and Savannah.

2007
Lee Edwards becomes president of The Greenery.

2011
The Greenery opens the Beaufort branch.

2012
The Greenery receives a national award for landscape work in Palmetto Bluff.

2013
The Greenery opens the Savannah branch.

2019
The Greenery launches the Daytona branch.

2020
The Greenery launches the Greenville branch.

2021
The Greenery acquires Martex Landscape serving Amelia Island and Jacksonville.

2023
The Greenery celebrates its 20-year ESOP anniversary and 50-year business anniversary and now has over 750 employees.

By: Becca Edwards

How a business can survive 50 years on Hilton Head Island

Berry and Ruthie Edwards signed the papers on a car hood when they bought a piece of Hilton Head Island 50 years ago. They were buying a nursery in a place they’d seen for the first time three months earlier. The two-lane main drag out front was pretty empty in 1973, but Berry saw signs of growth coming. 

Still, it was a dare to quit his job as a textiles executive. He was a 30-year-old Sewanee English major. She was 28 with an art degree from Rollins College. They had two little boys, Berry III, 5, and Lee, 3. And Berry knew not one thing about plants. 

“We made flash cards,” Ruthie said, “and the only way he could get a drink at night was to recite the names of 20 plants.” 

They named their business The Greenery, and it has beaten tremendously long odds. As it marks its 50th anniversary this month, it joins David Martin’s Piggly Wiggly as one the few existing island businesses to survive that long under the same ownership. 

What Berry and Ruthie bought was called Hillside Nursery, with six employees, six lawn mowers and two pickup trucks. This summer, The Greenery expects a staff of 750 to work its locations on the island, Bluffton, Beaufort, Savannah, Greenville, Amelia Island, Jacksonville, and Daytona Beach. 

Through it all, the face of the business remains the same: a wood frame building they bought for $600 from Gethsemane Baptist Church in Okatie and barged it to the island. 

“We wanted something attractive there,” Ruthie said. “It was perfect.” 

That simple, decommissioned church stands as a symbol of a plucky generation of new islanders who dared to be different. They often struggled financially, but found other creative people here, and, as Ruthie says, “We worked like dogs all week and partied like dogs all weekend.” 

Lee Edwards now runs the company as president, while his brother owns and operates another venerable business, Island Tire & Automotive Services. 

In an interview, Lee Edwards discussed how a family business can possibly survive 50 years on Hilton Head: 

Have descendants. Lee took over as president in 2007. Mixing family and business can be hard. Ruthie said: “Berry fired me and I quit. We weren’t compatible business partners.” She opened a Christmas shop. 

Add services. They offered tennis court installation for a while; added landscape maintenance, then landscape design, then the design/build concept doing both. Ruthie said business was helped by referrals from legendary landscape architect Robert Marvin, who liked working with Berry. 

Adapt. Landscape maintenance has veered away from residential to commercial customers. The retail nursery in the old church building is now a small part of the business. They do more staff training and have moved to robotic lawn mowers and electric leaf blowers. 

Take care of employees. Berry Edwards said: “You can achieve sustained, quality growth by finding and keeping the best people at all levels of a company.” To do this, the company has become employee-owned. Employees earn stock, which has increased in value. It pays more, accepting that the minimum wage here is at least twice the government mandate. It provides transportation. Employees take company vans home to nearby communities, bringing others to and from work. It provides some housing for workers. The company owns six to eight condos on Hilton Head and rents some houses in the Hardeeville area. It offers a signing bonus to new hires. It offers a referral bonus to employees who refer new workers. It pays a lot of overtime. 

“I’d rather pay a good employee time and a half than pay somebody else who won’t get the job done,” Lee Edwards said. 

Give back to the community. They did landscaping for the island’s Youth Center in 1974, the forerunner to the Island Recreation Association, and in 2012 did landscaping for the Spanish Moss Trail in Beaufort. More than 250 employees were involved when they did a one-day tear-down and replanting of landscaping at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. Berry Edwards said, “You reap what you sew.” 

Grow. They did it by buying businesses. “We grow, not to be the biggest, but to give employees the next step up,” Lee Edwards said. 

Work hard. “Dad was a workaholic,” Lee said. He tells about the summer day when he was 14, sitting at home watching television when he told his father there was nothing to do. “Well, there’s going to be something for you to do tomorrow,” he was told, and that was his welcome to the world of landscape maintenance. 

By: David Lauderdale, The Island Packet

**Reprinted with permission.