As a landscaper, Bill Lloyd’s superpower is being able to envision a final project before he even begins. When he found a smashed-up dump truck abandoned on the side of the road, for example, he imagined the start of his own company fleet – and after a few repairs and a fresh coat of paint, he hit the road in Genoa, Illinois as Lloyd Landscaping in 1994.
He used that superpower vision again five years ago, when he drove past an empty auto parts store and conceived the garden center that he’d always dreamed of adding to his business.
“I was driving to a job when I saw this place was for sale, and I could just see the potential here,” Lloyd says. “A lot of people thought I was crazy – and still think I’m crazy – but it’s my dream and it’s starting to happen.”
Though the landscaping business has grown slowly over the years, Lloyd says, “the company has grown significantly with the addition of the garden center” in the spring of 2014. By diversifying his offerings, Lloyd is working toward more exciting opportunities ahead.
Slow and steady. Lloyd had 12 years of experience working for other landscaping companies and nurseries before his dad convinced him to start his own company in 1994. “He saw that I was really passionate and excited about it, and he prodded me to go out on my own,” Lloyd says.
Several friends volunteered to help Lloyd fix up the old dump truck, and his retired father-in-law offered to help in the field.
“The first couple of years were what I call my friends and family years: All my customers were either friends or family,” Lloyd says. “I did very minimal advertising, but through word-of-mouth, I just slowly started growing. After a few years, I realized I needed to get a couple extra guys to help me out.”
By 1999, Lloyd began growing his team and his fleet. He got a new dump truck – “it had power steering and everything,” he laughs – along with some other equipment. “I felt like that was big time for me, back then,” he says. “By around the year 2000, that’s when I started to keep really busy all year long.”
Niche focus. As his business grew, Lloyd stayed laser-focused on hardscaping and landscaping services, steering clear of lawn care. “When I started out, I decided I was going to focus on hardscape as my niche, because at the time, a lot of landscapers in this area didn’t do it,” he says.
Although hardscape specialization sets him apart, Lloyd also offers landscape installations and renovations, as well as spring and fall clean-ups and bed care. His business is about half hardscape and half landscape, and mainly residential.
Over time, Lloyd built an informal network of other specialized contractors who regularly refer clients to one another. So, if customers request a service such as lawn care, tree trimming, or stump grinding, Lloyd has a small group of local connections he can recommend. “Trying to work together is a lot easier than trying to compete,” he says.
Barn razing. For most its history, Lloyd Landscaping was located on the six-acre farm where Lloyd’s parents lived. One of their barns served as his shop, and he was able to store trucks, equipment and bulk mulch on-site, rent-free.
Then, in 2012, a friend of his bought a small farm nearby, with plans to tear down three barns on the property. “For whatever reason, I said, ‘Hey, can I tear them down for the wood?’ and they said, ‘Sure,’” Lloyd remembers. “It was hard work, but I really liked it because old barnwood is so cool.”
Lloyd’s superpowers kicked in again, as the salvaged barnwood inspired new waves of creativity. “I never thought of myself as a carpenter or a furniture builder, but it just came naturally to me,” says Lloyd, who began crafting harvest tables, entertainment centers, and other furniture from his finds. His wife, Mary, also contributed her creativity to make signs and art out of the wood.
Lloyd launched a separate company called Old Barn Salvage in 2012 to sell barnwood and furniture crafted from it. Thanks to the popularity of TV shows like “Barnwood Builders,” Lloyd’s furniture immediately drew attention. “One time we took down a barn that was all shiplap and I threw on Facebook that ‘we have shiplap,’ and it sold out in no time,” he says.
"I never saw myself as a carpenter or a furniture builder, but it just came naturally to me."
Bill Lloyd, owner of Lloyd Landscaping and Garden Center
Move to retail. About 14 demolitions later, every barn on Lloyd’s parents’ farm was full of barnwood. “It was taking up too much space,” he says. “I needed a storefront to start selling the barnwood finds and projects we were creating. I came across this property in Genoa and it really opened up a whole new world.”
With a 10,000-square-foot building on almost four acres, the new location offers plenty of space for all Lloyd’s barnwood – and more. The garden center stocks plants, pots, and other tools and décor, in addition to bulk mulch, topsoil, stone, compost and soil amendments. Lloyd has a couple employees in the garden center, in addition to the 4-6 seasonal employees on the landscape side.
A lot of Lloyd’s landscape customers come into the garden center to add on to their own gardens, and vice versa – garden center customers regularly request landscape services when their backyard vision exceeds their DIY capacity.
Adding retail to his business has been a boon. Lloyd says, “It keeps me sharp with the latest trends and adds uniqueness to our landscaping.”
Party time. When Lloyd first envisioned the potential of his new property, he didn’t just see a garden center. “When we first acquired this neglected junkyard, we had the vision of someday having an event venue here,” he says. “Now, on our sixth season, we are seeing this vision start to take shape.”
Lloyd’s currently planning an addition to the garden center called “The Warehouse on Park” to host parties and events. He’ll begin phasing out Old Barn Salvage and turning the existing warehouse into a venue.
“I’m getting to the point where I’m getting too old to be salvaging these barns,” Lloyd says. “I know some guys who are still salvaging, so I’m able to get wood through them, which is a lot easier. A lot of people still contact me, so I give them the leads and it’s a nice big circle of happiness.”
Lloyd hopes to open the venue by 2020, as he continues enhancing the entire property to showcase his landscape capabilities with patios and other displays. Until then, he’s easing into the event business with a small party room that holds about 40 people. The new warehouse will accommodate about 225.
“We’re having some small parties just to get our toes wet, so we know what we’re doing by the time the big event venue opens,” Lloyd says. “Right now, we’re holding small parties and DIY events for the garden center every Saturday to draw people in and have some fun doing it.”
Lloyd even acquired a liquor license so his parties can offer guests a special experience that gives his venue an edge. As he continues diversifying his business, Lloyd predicts that he’ll continue to grow – both in revenue and in customer relationships.
“We’re excited. Having a bar sets us apart from other garden centers around here,” Lloyd says. “I’ve always tried to make it unique and different, to make it a good experience so people want to come here and then want to come back."