NAVIGATE Is a Learning Experience for Both the Mentee and Mentor - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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NAVIGATE Is a Learning Experience for Both the Mentee and Mentor

(From left to right) Christopher Brown, co-founder of Teed & Brown, Stephan Saia, president and CEO of EPSI, and Adrian Santos, director of grounds maintenance for EPSI.

When trying to grow your company, you may think you’re on your own, but this isn’t the case. NALP’s NAVIGATE program provides you the opportunity to connect with industry mentors, knowns as Trailblazers, who have learned things the hard way so you don’t have to.

NAVIGATE is free to NALP members and offers three different mentoring options. One is to meet in person at either the Trailblazer’s or the mentee’s company.

EPSI, based in Lakeway, Texas, decided to take advantage of the program as grounds maintenance and landscaping is a relatively new business line for them. Their director of grounds maintenance, Adrian Santos, thought it would be a good idea to do a cross-tell with an experienced, respected mentor company through the NAVIGATE program.

EPSI is an AbilityOne non-profit agency that specializes in custodial, grounds and hospital environmental services for state, federal and commercial facilities. They provide job skills training, rehabilitation, support services, workplace accommodation and skills assessment services for people with significant disabilities.

They started in 2011 and have been growing steadily ever since. EPSI has approximately 120 employees working contracts across four states.

Stephan Saia, president and CEO of EPSI, requested to be paired with Trailblazer Christopher Brown, co-founder of Teed & Brown, based in Norwalk, Connecticut.

“We specifically asked Chris to be our mentor for several reasons,” Saia says. “I checked out Teed & Brown and they’ve maintained a stellar reputation for years. I also learned about Chris’s background through his company’s social media pages. I was impressed by how much space he devotes to recognizing his employees and to personally offering videos and articles with lawn care tips for his customers.” 

During the site visit to Teed & Brown, Brown gave Saia and Santos a personal tour of his offices in Norwalk and Bethel, Connecticut.

“We spent the day together and talked about what they’re doing,” Brown says. “It became a constructive strategy session. It wasn’t that I was bestowing any wisdom upon him; it was really more of a team thing.”

Saia says they came away from the visit with a number of ideas on how to improve their employee recruitment, retention, onboarding, and training, as well as a better design structure for their organization. He says they are implementing many of those changes now.

“We were hoping to learn a few key best practices from an established business,” Saia says. “Some of the challenges in our field right now are universal, such as recruitment and retention. If we had walked away with new ideas on how to enhance what we’re doing in those areas alone, we would’ve been satisfied with the result. But Chris Brown of Teed & Brown gave us many more takeaways that inspired a number of creative ideas in a variety of areas.”

Saia says the NAVIGATE program far exceeded their expectations due to Brown’s willingness to devote an entire day meeting with them. He was willing to share his knowledge and years of experience on how they can strengthen their grounds maintenance operations.

“Anybody can learn from anybody,” Brown says. “It’s actually an opportunity for me to learn as well as to share. I’ve really enjoyed the process.”

When Brown started his company with his partner 25 years ago, it was just the two of them in a pickup truck. Now they have 75 employees and about 4,000 clients. He says there have been many stages in between and he learned a lot over the years.

“Looking back on the number of lessons I’ve drawn from that, I probably can’t count them all, but it almost feels to me like a waste to just hold on to that knowledge and not go provide it for somebody else,” Brown says. “It’s almost as if I was able to go back in time and tell my younger self, ‘Hey here’s all the stuff you’re going to have to know.’”

Brown says being a Trailblazer is a way to pay it forward and encourages others to become mentors as well.

“If they’re able to give back and share what they’ve learned and the keys to their success, that’s only going to improve the quality of the industry,” Brown says. “That’s going to improve the ability for people to make a good living at this. It’s going to improve just across the board profitability, career opportunities, safety and customer satisfaction.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.