The Great Outdoors
Ladies Landscaping Enjoys Steady Regional GrowthCandice Demers worked in real estate, but craved a change. And she loved being outside.
As it turned out, she was already helping two friends — Tiffany Brunelle and James Brink, who both worked for Mountain View Landscapes and Lawncare in Chicopee — do landscaping jobs for family members and friends on the side. They liked working together and decided to launch their own business.
“I realized that I really enjoyed doing that more than selling real estate,” she said, adding that the skills necessary for each career aren’t mutually exclusive. “I’ve always been a visual person — everything for me is very visual. When I sold real estate, I could walk into a house and picture it all redone and figure out what it would cost somebody to redo it. I took that with me — but now I can design very intricate patios, things like that.”
The three partners — Demers and Brunelle are currently co-owners of the South Hadley-based firm, while Brink still works for the company — named their venture Ladies Landscaping. And for good reason.
“It’s primarily women, and a couple of men; women are doing the actual labor,” Demers said. “Tiffany runs all the equipment — bobcats, excavators. And we hit the ground running.”
Perhaps surprisingly so. In their first year, 2007, the partners picked up numerous clients right away, and they’ve tripled their annual revenue since then.
“When we started, we didn’t have any money; we borrowed money from a friend to buy our first pickup truck, and we paid him back in one month,” Demers said. “From there, we just grew. We have five trucks, two bobcats, four trailers. It’s crazy.”
At its seasonal peak, the company employs about seven people, most of whom have been around from the beginning, or close to it.
“We do patios, fireplaces, retaining walls, sprinkler systems, plantings, fence installs, lawns — we’re capable of doing just about anything,” she said, adding that Amherst College is the company’s most consistent client, accounting for about one-third of its work. It also recently renovated the outdoor space at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House in Holyoke. To stay busy in the winter, the crew typically flips a house. “They can do everything except plumbing and electrical. We also plow in the winter.”
Demers took her new career seriously when she joined her partners in more than a side hobby. “They were both good at it — they were phenomenal — but when I became interested, I learned, I went to classes, just to get the structural things down, make sure I was doing everything correctly. I always had the visual part of it.”
So she has a particular satisfaction in seeing a job completed.
“For me, the best thing is the end result we get to see on a daily basis. Something as simple as going and pruning somebody’s shrubs, mulching beds — the difference from when we get there to when we leave eight hours later is substantial. Every day, we get to accomplish something we can actually see.”
Ladies Landscaping has one crew that does only construction and another that does only maintenance.
“The construction crew is always very busy, patio after patio after patio,” Demers said, adding that features like firepits and water structures have been, and remain, popular. And that scratches her creative itch. “I get excited when someone wants a waterfall — not for monetary reasons, but because building a waterfall comes completely from my mind. I can’t draw it; I can’t say this rock’s going to be here, and this rock’s going to be here. And every single one is different.”
Demers doesn’t do as much as labor as she used to, but she visits the company’s job sites constantly to make sure everything is proceeding smoothly. “I approach the job like I’m the homeowner — I check in the morning, then the afternoon, so I know what questions the homeowner may ask when they come home, and I can say, ‘yes, this will happen tomorrow, and everything is going to be fine.’
“I think that’s the difference with us,” she added. “Not just that we’re primarily women, but that I really will come onto every job. I might see something that could look even better than it was originally designed, and I’ll make a change for no other reason than the customer gets the best function and the best aesthetics in that space. That’s really the most important thing for me.”
Like other lansdscape-design firm owners, Demers has noticed a trend over the past decade toward people investing in their houses and yards, trying to create a getaway feel without having to leave home.
“People have lived in these houses 15 or 20 years, and they want to spruce things up, do a whole makeover,” she noted. “That’s probably my favorite thing to do — come in and do the whole thing, and a week and a half later, there’s a new lawn, a sprinkler system, new plantings, a new patio in back, and the whole house is kind of brought to life.”
That kind of transformation is worth it for a homeowner who might need several weekends to accomplish what professionals can do in a few days.
“A patio that may take someone a week takes us a day and a half,” she told BusinessWest. “The same crew has been working together for many years; they’re all paid exceptionally well, and they’re worth it. They work hard, and they’re all very skilled. Honestly, I feel like they could work anywhere. They’re fast, efficient, and then, at the same time, very detail-oriented.”
Demers said she and Brunelle feel fortunate about how far Ladies Landscaping has come, noting that hardly felt the effects of the recent recession.
“At the same time, we work very hard to accomplish it, and we work for great clients. I can pick who we work for at this point; that’s how lucky we are.”
In addition to a commercial workload that’s dotted with repeat customers, like Amherst College, “we still do patios and residences constantly. We have a bunch lined up for the year.
“I feel like, if we keep doing good, quality work, we’re going to always be busy,” she added. “There have been so many points where I feel like, if I had four times the people working for me now, I could keep them all busy. But I’ll never do that. I feel like I’ll lose control of the quality. I see everything we do; I’m there every day, stopping by to check on everything.”
And she couldn’t be happier doing so.
“I couldn’t ever imaging myself sitting in an office job every day,” Demers said. “I want to be here, there, and everywhere.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]