Joe Gonzalez has had a successful career spanning everything from finance to fashion before purchasing a small landscaping business in 1990 to build on a dream of owning his own company. His focus on customer service has helped grow that business — which rebranded as ArtisTree Landscape Maintenance & Design in 2005 — from a tiny mowing service to a multi-million-dollar business that serves luxury builders and community associations in Southwest Florida.
We recently caught up with Gonzalez to find out more.
What has been your proudest moment in business?
I have been in business a long time but I would say that my proudest moment goes back to discovering my passion for running a business when I was just 32 years old and had just relocated from the U.S. to Canada for the business I was working for back then. Before that, I was in finance. But I realized that being in charge of a business was everything I could have wanted in life. Since then, for the last 30 years, I have either been working for someone, running their business — or running my own. Eventually, I moved to Florida with two young kids at the time. I knew I had found my passion in running a business. So, in 1990 I bought an air-conditioning business in Venice, Florida. It came with a small mowing business on the side that I bought for my father-in-law. After he passed, I sold the AC business but kept the mowing business. It was just a four-man crew but grew substantially over time. Fifteen years ago, we rebranded as ArtisTree and I’m proud of what we’ve become.
What has been your biggest business challenge?
The biggest struggle is pricing and competition in this industry. There is such a battle over pricing — and that can make it hard to compete. We don’t want to be the lowest price — we work hard to be the best at what we do. Another challenge we face regularly is staffing. We’ve been involved in the H-2B program for 20 years and it’s been a great asset to us, but like many, we have not always been able to get the workers and are not sure what will become of that program. It really makes us realize the value of it when we’re missing it.
What motivates you on a Monday morning?
Mondays start off with possibilities in my mind. I’m excited. I walk in and have conversations with my main managers. We talk about what the week looks like. Inevitably, as we move the way through the week the realities always take place — weather being one of the big ones. Sometimes the week doesn’t shape up the way we expected it to — but then we always have that fresh start again on Mondays.
Who has been your business mentor or idol?
To be perfectly honest, I was born in Hell’s Kitchen in a broken family with no dad and no strong mentor during my youth. But I have had people throughout my life that have been supportive. In the way of mentors, it was the president of the company I was working for when I came to the realization that business was my passion. I was in the pattern business back then — home sewing patterns were an integral part of the fashion industry, though they’ve since faded with time. But he saw something in me — and that inspired me. Someone believing in you can really set you up on the right path.
What is a great landscape life hack you’d be willing to share?
We developed a state-of-the-art work order system that has really taken our entire system to the next level. It’s our ArtisTree Request Tracker, who we call ART. ART allows our customers to track the progress of their work orders. It also keeps everyone on our end completely in the loop and eliminates any surprises. Customer communication is really important, and ART makes a huge difference. The other hack would be simply remembering to thank your employees for all the hard work they do. We believe so strongly in this that we created a website called thankalandscaper.com to raise awareness for our industry’s often invisible workforce.
What does it mean to you to be a landscape professional?
I think the fact that the work we do is something that can be seen — that it comes down to the core of living material and keeping plant material and living environments in good health — makes it a commendable job. At the heart of things, we are problem solvers. We’re not just someone doing maintenance. We’re more than that. We bring it to another level.
What does it mean to you to be a member of the NALP?
My favorite business book, How the Mighty Fall and Why some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins, has taught me a lot about not “being an island.” You need to be in touch with the world. You also need to be in touch with your industry and your people. Too often businesses just assume that they’re safe and secure — and that makes them become complacent. I like to be in touch with our industry and what’s going on and NALP allows for that. It’s good not to keep yourself away from the competition. We need to be open and to see what others in our industry are doing. So, we’ve always gone to the conferences. We use our NALP membership for all of that. And we want our customers and prospects to know we belong to a large national industry. That we are keeping up with best practices. So, we feature our NALP membership on our website because we feel it lifts our reputation and gives further credibility to what we do.
Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?
If you had asked me that question six months ago, my answer would have been quite different. But reality has struck and I’m just thankful we’re an essential business during this pandemic. We are operating at full speed and I’m grateful for that. But going forward, there’s some interpretation for sure. I do think this will slow down opportunities. We were making great breakthroughs. We were working on getting minimum wage up to $15 an hour — and that’s not easy to do in our industry. We’ve been succeeding, but now we’re somewhat worried about what the future holds. We anticipate things will slow down a little. I’m hopeful that as we get a new thrust of energy from the election and some problems being solved that we will surge ahead, but I anticipate that we will be facing challenges like everyone else in the short term. So much is being restructured and so many businesses are hurting right now. Six months ago, I would have told you that we would like to grow 30 to 40 percent in the next five years. Now, I’m being more conservative in my goals. But the truth is, that’s life. You never know what obstacles you are going to face and you have to adapt, as we always have.