The Power of Collaboration: How Partnerships Propelled SunWorks Landscape Partners' Rapid Growth - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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The Power of Collaboration: How Partnerships Propelled SunWorks Landscape Partners’ Rapid Growth

Photo: SunWorks Landscape Partners

SunWorks Landscape Partners, based in Carrollton, Texas, was founded in 2021 and has already reached No. 55 on Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 list for 2023.

“We are proud of what we have accomplished and are grateful to work with so many dedicated and talented teammates,” says Nate Carlson, CEO of SunWorks Landscape Partners. “Our presence on the Lawn & Landscape Top 100 list is also a testament to all of the incredible founders and entrepreneurs who have entrusted SunWorks with their legacy. We would not be here without them.”

Like many in the industry, Carlson had a neighborhood lawn care business when he was 13. He went on to serve in the Marine Corps and learned how to lead teams in a decentralized environment. In 2016, after leaving the service, he went on to work for a large energy company. He says the entrepreneurial itch was still there.

“In 2020, I quit my corporate job and was looking for a landscaping business to buy when I was introduced to a co-founder of Orion Services Group,” Carlson says. “Orion had roots in the HVAC industry but was looking for other field services industries to invest in. Orion is a great organization, and it didn’t take us long to realize we wanted to build a landscaping business together.”

Photo: SunWorks Landscape Partners

Orion Services Group is a commercial and industrial field services company that invests in and grows market-leading businesses. Carlson says in the beginning, they weren’t worried about naming the holding company for the landscape vertical of Orion Services Group.

“As our family of brands grew, we decided our growing parent organization needed a name, and we settled on SunWorks,” Carlson says. “Our focus has always been on elevating the businesses that we partner with, so promoting and growing our local brands is our top priority.”     
SunWorks currently has seven partner companies operating 11 branches, including ColoradoScapes, based in Denver, Colorado; LandCare Management, based in Denver, Colorado; LMI Landscapes, based in Dallas, Texas; Landtamers Landscaping, based in Tucson, Arizona; Top Notch Lawn Care Inc., based in Melbourne, Florida; SunGrow, based in Austin, Texas; and one unnamed partner company.  

Selecting Partner Companies

Carlson says they are focused on companies in the southeast, south-central, and southwestern United States. He says they hope to grow their footprint in Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Texas while expanding into additional markets through new partnerships.

Team members in Colorado install flowers at a customer’s property in Denver.
Photo: SunWorks Landscape Partners

“We prefer to invest in large markets with strong population growth, so that’s the first thing we screen for,” Carlson says. “We’re also a commercial maintenance business, so the next thing we look at is the percentage of revenue coming from maintenance customers. Finally, we look for customer-oriented teams that take pride in doing high-quality work. Quality and customer service have to be at the heart of the culture – they are the foundation of every great landscaping business.”

Most of the founders of SunWorks’ partner companies sought them out because they were contemplating retirement or wanted to focus on other business interests.

“They are looking for a partner who will preserve their brand and take care of their team,” Carlson says. “Sometimes a trusted lieutenant is ready to take over as company president, but not always. If we need to make an outside hire, we work with the founder to find a candidate who is a great fit for the business.”

He says that each of their deals is unique, as many sellers want a full exit from the business while others want to keep some equity and stay involved.

New managers at Top Golf after a SunWorks onboarding course.
Photo: SunWorks Landscape Partners

Because the companies are spread across the country, Carlson says they are very picky about who they hire to maintain a cohesive culture.

“We all want to work with professionals who are driven, team-oriented, and customer-obsessed,” Carlson says. “All new hires go through an onboarding process led by our incredible training and development team. Relationships start there and are sustained through regular offsites, continuing education events, and opportunities to visit and learn from other companies.”     

Carlson says another benefit of having a family of brands is they can bring everyone together to learn.

“Our leaders aren’t alone on an island – they are supported by a network of peers they can call on for help and advice. We go further and faster together,” Carlson says.

Organic Growth

While SunWorks added four partner companies in 2022, they have also grown organically by double digits each year. On average, their companies grew revenue by 27% from 2022 to 2023.

“New partnerships will always be part of our growth strategy, but our goal is to sustain strong organic growth in each of our operating companies,” Carlson says.

After work, employees get snow cones on a hot August day in Orlando.
Photo: SunWorks Landscape Partners

SunWorks also launched three new branches in 2023, with LMI Landscapes adding locations in Denver and Fort Worth, Texas, and Top Notch Lawn Care opening a branch in Orlando.

Carlson says SunWorks is structured to honor and build upon the legacy of strong local brands that are well-known in the markets they serve.

“I believe decentralization and autonomy promote an ownership mentality that is much more valuable than any cost synergies that might be gained through centralization,” Carlson says. “We give our local operating leaders a great deal of autonomy and expect them to build great teams, serve their customers well, and grow their businesses.”

Carlson says that their approach is very collaborative.

“We have had the opportunity to learn from some great entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the green industry, and we want to share that knowledge with all of our partners,” Carlson says. “But it is also important to understand where markets are different. What works well in Texas is not always the best approach in Arizona or Florida, so we give our partners a lot of autonomy.”

He adds that their combined scale allows them to share resources like talent acquisition, training and development, and systems implementation teams that would be difficult for a single company to afford on their own.

“People are at the center of everything we do and we are committed to providing unparalleled support, professional development, and opportunity for our team members,” Carlson says. “When you invest in people, great things happen.”

At the SunWorks level, their role is to hire people who are very driven, align incentives, and set ambitious goals.

“We have big goals in each of our businesses, but the common themes are to be a top destination for the most talented professionals in the green industry, and to be the first-choice service provider of every property and facility manager in our markets,” Carlson says. “We are just getting started!”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.