During his transition from high school to college, Andrew Pelkey started mowing residential lawns to help make ends meet. By his sophomore year, he had around 40 or 50 residential lawn accounts and decided to leave school to pursue landscaping full-time. By the end of year two, he was running a landscape and snow plow business with two or three employees and doing just under $300,000. Soon thereafter, he met Dave Fairburn, who had a business of the same size. The two joined efforts—and North Point Outdoors, headquartered in Derry, New Hampshire, has been growing rapidly ever since. Last year, the company did around $8.3 million. NALP recently caught up with Pelkey to talk about cash flow and labor challenges, as well as other business tips.
What has been your proudest moment in business?
This past September, we just broke ground on our new office and shop in the town of Derry, where both Dave and I grew up. We have about 8 acres of commercial land, smack dab in the middle of town, to create an 11,000 square foot warehouse and 5,000 square foot office that we’re really proud of.
What has been your biggest business challenge?
Our biggest challenges have been two-fold: cash flow and labor challenges.
First, when growing a business quickly, cash flow is tough. I think that a lot of people seem to be guarded about those conversations but it’s just the truth. You grow quickly and you don’t have that cash—particularly if you don’t have any big capital funding, as we did not.
I would say the challenge that has been equally as difficult is the continued labor pool challenges. To combat that, we do recruit heavily locally using social media. But this was first year I felt the need to supplement that local recruitment effort. We put in an H-2B visa application for the first time. By beginners’ luck, we got group A this year. We’re getting 10 guys from Guatemala for this spring. I’m a big supporter of H-2B and have gotten involved with other local competitors who are also using it in an advocacy effort. We’d like to do our part toward helping bring exemption back and increase the cap.
What motivates you on a Monday morning?
I think a lot of people have that cliché of living for the weekends. But I truly love what I do for work. I run a full staff meeting every Monday morning with the entire outdoor team as well as my managers. So, I think Monday morning is me being motivated to get there before them and have them see my face as they drive in. I’m motivated by helping get them motivated to start their week.
Who has been a business mentor or idol to you?
I have a couple local competitors who have been more than generous with sharing their strategies and information. I have really appreciated that over the years.
As far as a business mentor outside of the industry, I have someone who has taken me under his wing. It’s been incredibly helpful. He runs a very large health benefits administrative company and we do our health insurance through him. He has spent a lot of time being a great sounding board. Even though he’s outside of the industry, he does work with a large client base and has been a big contributor of ideas that have helped me. He is someone I talk to regularly. I also got involved in some things I might not have gotten involved in otherwise. We were the first landscape company into this association that we buy health insurance through. I sit on that board now. That’s something I never would have thought to do but it’s been a really great experience.
What is your favorite business book?
My favorite business book right now is “Partnership is the New Leadership” by Ty Bennett. It speaks to the concept that the days of managing from the top down and pointing a finger are over. You need to partner with your staff to get the job done as a team in a positive and motivating way. The book speaks a lot to when you’re talking to your team it helps to use stories—something they can relate to. So, if you have an existing issue that you’re noticing, coming up with something relatable—maybe from sports or something in the news—can make the subject not only approachable but easier to understand.
What does it mean to you to be a member of NALP?
There’s no question that being involved in professional associations helps increase our company’s professionalism. That’s important to our team members, too. We get copies of the magazine and we pass it along and circulate it around our staff so they can help see the greater industry that we’re a part of.
What does it mean to you to be a landscape professional?
I have been thinking about this a lot lately. There is a 12-year old here who is so into landscaping, and his dad asked if he could come see the shop on his day off of school. I thought a lot about the fact that you don’t see a lot of kids excited about entering the landscape industry these days—so that was a cool experience.
Service industries in general are struggling these days. This industry has provided me with my career and has provided for me and my family. I’m becoming more interested in ways I can help promote the industry so others can be supported in the same way. Part of it is beating the stigmatism that you can’t be financially successful in the landscape industry. I’m not just talking about owners but also project managers, foremen, and crew members. These are all real careers. You can make a good living wage, have access to health insurance, and receive retirement funding. It’s more than a job.
Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?
In business, we are continuing to increase our commercial landscape management snow portfolio to add additional recurring revenue to insulate against the down economy. We are targeting specific customers who look and appear to be a good partner for North Point Outdoors. We are slowly tweaking that customer base to work with customers that have same values and expectations as we do. Personally speaking, Dave and I are both new fathers. He has a three-year-old and 8-month old and I have an almost 11-month old—so having the business functioning and running smoothly with our management staff while being able to spend good family time is important. We need to be able to take a Sunday off and spend time with family, knowing the business will be in fine shape come Monday.