Kevin Shackleford, CEO of Shackleford Landscape Group, based in Bear, Delaware, first started mowing lawns when he was 11 years old so he could earn enough money to buy a Microsoft Zune.
While he didn’t make enough cutting lawns, he did finally earn enough money from shoveling snow to buy his MP3 player. After that, Shackleford often spent his profits on hats until one day his father encouraged him to invest in a push mower. His father went half on the mower with him and Shackleford kept picking up houses until eventually, that push mower broke down.
He decided to spend $2,000 on a commercial mower and because he didn’t have his driver’s license or a trailer at the time his father had to drive him to houses. Eventually, his father bought him a truck and said he paid for it with Shackleford’s savings.
“That taught me a lesson of you have money and you have bills so that lesson came very early on,” Shackleford says.
Originally, Shackleford wanted to be a surgeon. However, graduating early from high school prevented him from being accepted at some colleges and another one was too far to commute. He decided to stay local and went to a business school and studied finance.
“I would definitely say it’s given me insight on how to spend smartly, how to avoid certain issues like monitoring cash flow and understanding my balance sheet and asset turnover,” Shackleford says.
He didn’t realize he could make a career out of landscaping at first and although his dream of becoming a surgeon didn’t pan out, he says he still takes a surgical approach to their jobs as they take care of the pain points of their clients.
While he started out doing residential jobs, SLG is now a full-service operation that works with commercial clients exclusively.
Shackleford’s favorite thing about working in the industry is how no day is the same and how a lot of different skills are required to operate a company.
“Some days I’ll spend my time working on HR-related tasks like hiring candidates and safety,” Shackleford says. “Also, I’ll spend some time on operations and figure out how we can do jobs efficiently and not lose money.”
He says the rapid growth of his company from one mower and one truck to multiple crews has been a challenge shifting his mindset.
“I’ve never really had a full mentor; I’ve learned from other people in the business,” Shackleford says. “But I would say my greatest mentor has been my mistakes. The mistakes I’ve made have definitely taught me what not to do. Those lessons I learned early on have helped us become where we’re at now and in the future.”
In five years, Shackleford sees his company continuing to scale up and furthering what he started.
As for things he’d like to change in the industry, Shackleford says he’d like to continue to promote the importance of safety and change how labor workers are viewed.
“A lot of people think it’s a job that anyone can do and it’s not the case because it’s really hard,” Shackleford says. “You think oh just trim the bush, but it all depends on what type of bush it is. Is it a rose bush or a holly bush? They all require different approaches. It’s really an art form and that’s something I’d like to see changed.”