Greg Cole, president of Cole Landscaping, Inc., based in Ipswich, Massachusetts, originally started out framing homes but when his boss went bankrupt, he ended up starting a landscaping job. Within a year he was running two crews and when he asked for a raise and only received a 50-cent increase, he struck out on his own in 1991.
At first, Cole didn’t take the business seriously until 1998 when he had underpriced a job by $100,000 and had a quarter of million dollars in bills because of mismanagement. In 1998, he hired a consultant and they revamped the business, raising their prices by over 40 percent. This was a very scary time as it was a struggle. From 1998 to 2014 they had 15 employees and after a restructure in 2014 they have grown to 54 employees as of this season.
What is your proudest moment in business?
I guess it was when I bought my first building in 2011. That was my proudest moment because I had something that was extremely tangible. Currently, we just bought a secondary facility this year and we are super excited as it is 8 times the size of our current one.
What is your biggest business challenge today?
Everybody says labor. I want to put a spin on it. I agree with this, although it’s the right placement of labor. That’s really a challenge to make sure the right people are in the right seats to drive their roles. We as owners are guilty of just promoting everybody we possibly can without realizing the effect on the business. As an owner ensuring the right seats are filled with the right people is the biggest challenge.
What motivates you on Monday mornings?
I am the visionary of Cole and my most creative ideas come to me at 4 a.m. As a visionary, I love change and strive to make my people, systems better and constantly improve. I am a very intense, passionate owner and drive change sometimes on a daily basis as another core value is ‘we embrace intensity” I ensure my staff has the right tools in their hands and the right software platforms to work off of.
What business worry keeps you up most at night?
We as owners make probably 100 decisions a day that affect clients’ and employees’ lives. I think the biggest worry is on daily basis to make sure I made the right decisions. I am extremely fortunate as I have a wonderful, dedicated staff that stands behind me and executes the vision.
Who is your business mentor?
I have some great mentors outside of all the great people in NALP. My first was Richard Gottschalk. I met him through a vendor Roger Lummus and Roger always told me business is won with a pencil and not the mower. I always laughed at him and said to myself ‘What do I need to know this stuff for, I cut grass.’ Richard taught me to know the numbers and take the emotion out of the business.
The second was Bob Coulter with JP Horizons as Bob taught me and my staff how to work together and strive for excellence. Bob was my people mover/shaker. Currently, Cole is an Entrepreneurial Operating Systems Company (EOS). Kirsten Smith is our EOS implementer and with my leadership team and her we rock EOS with full accountability and a clear vision pushed through the company.
What is your favorite business book?
I have so many of them but my top are Traction and Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman, Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone.
What is a great landscape life hack you’d be willing to share?
I have a few. First, we as leaders try to overcomplicate everything. When you sit back and think about it you have to keep it simple. And the simpler it is, you’ll win the day and the year will follow. Secondly, we all invest money in equipment, although take a back seat to software. We have made a commitment to Aspire Software and the Aspire Team. Since our implementation in 2019, we have seen upwards of 30 percent growth a year and consider the Aspire Team a great partner that ensures we drive success.
What does it mean to you to be a landscape professional?
You hold yourself to a high standard as we hold to honesty and integrity and are passionate about our brand as two of our core values. My word is my bond, my name is my bond and protect those at all costs. That’s what it means to be a landscape professional. You do whatever it takes to get the job done, in the client’s eyes correctly and do what you say you’re going to do.
What does it mean to you to be an NALP member?
You have a voice and you have support. We love LANDSCAPES. We’re coming down there this year. To be an NALP member is being part of an association that constantly wants their members to be better and speaks their voice.
In five years, where do you see your business going?
Our five-year plan ends in 2023 and it brings us north of 100 people and our ten-year goal brings us north of 150 people.
In five years, where will you be as a business owner?
I’m starting to help companies right now with business and Aspire Software. I’m trying to get a feel for what it means to be on the other end and consult. I want to grow out of my comfort zone and give back and teach best practices.
This article was published in the September/October issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Landscape Professional magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.