Tom Brumfield, president and founder of Siteworks Landscape, based in Richmond, California, first got into the landscape industry when a high school friend offered him a job as a groundskeeper at a local retirement community.
“While working there, I found out another alumni from my high school was pursuing a degree from The Ohio State University in ornamental horticulture,” Brumfield says. “It sounded interesting, so I visited the head of the department and decided to enroll. I had grown up working with my father in the garden most weekends, so it was an easy choice.”
What is your proudest moment in business?
It would have to be witnessing the development of our labor force. Employees that were hired fifteen years ago with limited experience are now managing multi-million dollar projects at the homes of top executives from the largest tech companies and venture capital firms. Some are managing crews of 20-30 individuals building intricately constructed gardens designed by internationally acclaimed landscape architects.
What is your biggest business challenge today?
Finding employees with strong work ethics. Back in the day, young people would work in laborer jobs while they decided what careers to pursue. As a result, there was a strong pool of labor readily available. Some decided they liked the industry and made a career of it. Today, young people seem to be interested in working in an app-based economy.
The landscape industry has become heavily dependent on the Hispanic community due to their work ethic and strong family values. Unfortunately, Washington has treated immigration as a political football for many years and the results, or the lack thereof, have created unnecessary challenges for our industry. Our base wage has almost doubled in the last three years due to a lack of available talent. Those increased costs are manageable while the economy is strong, but will provide a headwind during the next downturn.
What is your favorite business book?
This is an indirect business book, but offers insights into how a business owner should live one’s life. It’s called ‘The Millionaire Next Door’. The book describes how a successful small business owner has the ability to accumulate wealth by living within a modest budget. It compares that approach with owners who let the temptation of a rise in affluence distract them. I give the book to anyone who is starting a business.
What motivates you on Monday mornings?
Coffee. I’m a less than half glass empty person. My goal was to get through Mondays. This is why I teamed up with Larry Steele my business partner. His glass is overflowing. I tried operating as a sole proprietor while still in college and for several years after. Trying to wear the many different hats required for a startup can be insurmountable. Teaming up with someone who has skills that you lack allows for 3x growth.
What is a great landscape life hack you’d be willing to share?
Our company uses an app called Basecamp to communicate inter-company messaging. With the bombardment of emails and texts from the outside, it helps to have a closed system for communication.
What business worry keeps you up most at night?
For the longest time, it was sales. Our business model was based on old school values of unmatched service and product quality, which when done properly, creates challenges with or profitability. Our industry has an unfortunately low barrier to entry. Individuals with little industry education and marginal experience regularly entering the market, have a negative impact on established businesses. It impedes a company’s ability to not only provide a high level of service but also challenges their ability to offer benefits to valued employees that commiserate with companies in other industries. This is why we chose to work for households in the top one-tenth of one percent where what is considered fair is still rooted in the price, but how the customer’s define value is aligned with ours.
In five years, where do you see your business going?
We are a well-established company with over $20 million in annual sales. Growth will depend on our ability to find and train employees. We don’t advertise for new business and have multiple solicitations per week from non-internet lead sources. Our focus is and has always been on how to improve the inner workings of the company to increase profits before seeking growth through increased sales.
In five years, where will you be as a business owner?
Retired. I have chosen two long term highly qualified individuals to replace me. I’m excited with the idea of Siteworks Landscape being around for generations.
This article was published in the Jan/Feb issue of the magazine.