Business Smarts: Balancing Family Bonds While Running Your Landscape Company - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Business Smarts: Balancing Family Bonds While Running Your Landscape Company

The idea of a family business can be appealing if you’re looking for a partner you can trust but this model also comes with its own set of nuances and pitfalls to be mindful of.  

“Having your own family members involved and engaged, it’s really special,” says Miles Kuperus Jr., founder and CEO of Farmside Landscape & Design, based in Sussex, New Jersey. “Seeing them in action, you really can get great horsepower in your organization, if you can pull it off. Because there’s nothing better than having your own people who think like you and are able to expedite tasks.”

Different Work Dynamics

Depending on which family members you’re working with will greatly impact the type of work dynamics you have.

Maldonado Nursery & Landscaping, Inc., based in San Antonio, Texas, was founded by Rogellio Maldonado and his three sons in 1987. Now, the company is owned by brothers Jerry and Oscar Maldonado.

Jerry Maldonado

Jerry Maldonado, owner and vice president of the company, says because he and his brother have been working together for so long, they’ve run across every problem they can think of. He says that he and his younger brother Oscar are equal in decision-making power, and they don’t let one dominate the other.

“With each other, we can’t throw in the ‘I’m the older brother card’ or ‘I’m the younger brother card,’” Maldonado says. “We’re just two guys trying to try to make this thing work. So there’s no throwing around ‘I’m your dad.’ ‘I’m your mom’ thing, which in Hispanic families, they do that.”

He and his brother try to give each other space to make decisions. He says their success is rooted in having set boundaries and respect.

“At the end of the day, it’s like a marriage, especially when it’s just two of us, there’s only so much you can do without having the buy-in from the other person, and divorce is not an option,” Maldonado says. “It’s been a great experience. I wouldn’t change it for anything over the years.”

He says running the business with just his brother is different than working with multiple family members.

“When there are more people involved, there are more checks and balances,” Maldonado says. “If there are four people and three people are telling you, ‘Hey, you’re wrong,’ it’s different with two people and one of them saying, ‘You’re wrong,’ and the other one is saying, ‘You’re wrong.’ There are really no tie-breakers here.”

Kuperus started his company in 1985 and his wife Lisa joined the staff in 1990 and became a co-owner in 1999. When they had kids, they always encouraged them to be involved and engaged in the operation. His son, Richard, spent six years working as a foreman before moving up to snow operations manager in 2021.

Lisa and Miles Kuperus

“You have to earn your stripes within an organization, especially when you’re dealing with blue-collar labor, and you just don’t get handouts,” Kuperus says. “That’s something that working with the landscape industry, you’re respected based on your performance. The kids have to earn their right to be involved in the company and they start from the bottom up and they build their respect and their camaraderie.”

Cole Weller, president and CEO of Weller Brothers Landscaping, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, says he started the business with his brother Brent in 2001 while they were in high school. He says their dynamic is good since they both have their own respective roles and job descriptions, which helps them know what to focus on day in and day out.

Their work relationship changed with Brent moved to take over the Rochester, Minnesota, branch and Weller suspects their relationship will continue to changes as they grow.

“The pace at which we are growing requires all of us to adapt quickly and learn where we can bring value to the business today, but also be watching where we can bring value in the future, whether it be a year from now, or 5 years from now,” Cole Weller says.  

Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries – both for work responsibilities and for family time – can help set you and your family members up for success.

Kuperus says they have clear operating lanes so they can each call the shots in their respective areas. When there is overlap, they always work to come to a consensus.

Maldonado says he and his brothers share a lot of tasks, but Oscar is mainly responsible for the construction division and while he handles the maintenance and residential and is more focused on the day-to-day side of things.

Weller says it wasn’t always the case, but now they very much stay in their own lanes.

Cole and Brent Weller

“I feel like there comes a time in every business, especially partnerships, where you have to sit down and document what each owner working in the business is responsible for,” Weller says. “This was a great exercise for us and has helped us in many ways.”

Because you’ll likely see your family member(s) outside of work, it can be very easy to talk about the business during your off-hours as well. Kuperus says it takes discipline not to fall into this trap. He says early on, the business was dominant, but now they can turn it off and encourage their kids to do so as well.

Weller says early in their journey the business was all they talked about.

“There really was no difference between family time and work time,” Weller says. “Both of us now have wives and kids, so we have learned to turn it off, or at least turn it down when we are at family functions.”

Similarly, Maldonado says because they each have their own families now, it’s not as hard to keep shop talk out of their free time together. He says they’re still close and do things together outside of work and get along very well.

“We’re still a family,” Maldonado says. “It’s the most beautiful thing that you can think of, and I would recommend it to anybody. But just make sure that you understand that it’s very difficult. It’s going to require a lot of give and take.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.