Some landscape company owners start their business in order to help pay for their college education, but for Kinson Desmangles, he started his company to help a local student raise funds for college. This is why Desmangles named his business Academic Landscaping, LLC.
The company was started in 2017 with Desmangles and his mentee, Anhuar, mowing neighbors’ properties. Every dollar earned by Anhuar goes to his NC 529 college savings fund. So far, he’s been able to save $2,900.
“When he’s ready hopefully that’ll be enough to buy him some books or make a dent in the total,” Desmangles says.
Anhuar is a currently a sophomore in high school. Desmangles connected with Anhuar through his partner who participates in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Desmangles says they took some college tours and Anhuar was originally excited about college until he heard the finances required.
“Affordability should not be the reason you can’t go to school,” Desmangles says. “If you have the work ethic, if you have the drive, then nothing should get in your way.”
Aside from helping Anhuar, Desmangles says they’ve also made an effort teaching life skills to the kids who worked for the company last summer.
“When the discussion came around to college previously it was ‘I can’t afford it’ or ‘I’m not smart enough to go to college,’” he says. “By the end of the summer the conversation was ‘This is where I’m going to school.’ We are determined to have an impact there.”
Desmangles is also a student himself at UNC Charlotte, double majoring in systems engineering and business administration. While he thought he was going to be an engineer, Desmangles says his major has helped him run his landscape business.
“One thing that systems engineering has taught me is if it doesn’t work, change it,” he says. “You need to try something out to figure out if it works for you and what you want to do. There’s no cookie cutter way to run a lawn and landscape business. You really have to decide what you want to do and how you want to do it and how you want to differentiate your lawn care business from others.”
Desmangles says systems engineering is about going through the inputs to give you the outputs you’re looking for. One example of this is when they bought every single available trimmer line and tested them to determine which brands they liked, and which lasted the longest.
“We went from buying trimmer line basically every time we went out to a property to now we’re able to stock up on it and we buy it every six months in bulk,” Desmangles says. “If you add up the time it takes somebody to replace trimmer line, it takes about seven minutes. So, seven minutes per property throughout the year is a huge amount of money. So, if we can make a small improvement, the input, to get the output we’re look for, more efficiency, that’s the systems approach.”
Academic Landscaping is small for its market of Charlotte, North Carolina, but Desmangles says they try to be the go-to landscaper for customers. He says being small allows them to be open to try new things.
“Our biggest differentiating factor is that we are small enough to know our customers,” Desmangles says. “We really do care about the details. Almost all of our new business and continuing business has been word of mouth.”
Desmangles’s favorite part of working in the industry is the impact he’s able to make.
“It’s a very proud moment when you have people visiting and they are commenting on how well this property looks and being able to tell them that ‘I did this’ or ‘Our company did this,’” he says. “That for me is incredible. The actual impact of building something that, hopefully, will last longer than us.”
His two current biggest challenges running his company is having capital and employees. He wishes that the public understood you can have a career in the landscaping field.
“You really could have a middle-class life doing landscapes,” he says. “There’s a lot of opportunity and it really can afford you a lifestyle that I think characterizes the American dream.”
As for what he’d change about the industry, he says he’d like to see more diversity.
“I think there are so many different types of jobs or careers that you could have in landscaping,” Desmangles says. “There could be a lot more diversity.”
In five years, Desmangles jokes he hopes he’ll be able to take a vacation by then. On a more serious note, he wants the company to be in a sustainable place with a variety of revenue types that can handle the ebbs and flows of the market.
This article was published in the Sept/Oct issue of the magazine.