Photos by Jon Arman

Even though Outdoor Expressions PA has been open since 1990, the new owners, Lamont Hess and Kimberly Rowe essentially have a clean slate, and want to restore the once multimillion-dollar company.

The husband-and-wife team purchased the company in July of 2017 after the business had suffered a significant downturn. What was once a $3-million, award-wining company according to Hess and Rowe, dwindled to $200,000 at the end of 2017. But Hess and Rowe say they have what it takes to turn the company around.

A business background.

Hess operated his own landscaping company in Idaho for about seven years from ages 12 to 19. He had a crew of three working for him, but it became too much to handle with schoolwork so he sold it.

He graduated college with a finance degree and had a career in the insurance business for 30 years. Rowe has a marketing degree and worked for Revlon in sales for 17 years. The couple met in Las Vegas in 2004, and later moved to Colorado where they opened a bed and breakfast. Hess had a great opportunity to start his own company in the insurance industry, which took the couple to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 2013 with a stop in Cleveland in between. He eventually became tired of the insurance industry and sold his company with thoughts of returning to the service industry.

“It brought back memories of how much I enjoyed landscaping,” Hess says.

After a lot of deep thought, the couple took the jump and purchased Outdoor Expressions in July of 2017.

But just like taking over a job from someone, the couple has inherited a few problems – namely skeptical employees and old equipment.

“Our crew members, they haven’t had any supervision for the last four to five years,” Rowe says. “The first week that we were here they said, ‘We have seen more of you guys than we have the previous owner in the last four or five years.’ They were just working unsupervised. It was like a breath of fresh air to have us come in and show them we are there to help them and to make their lives better. I think they really appreciated that.”

“Our goal this year is to make this a superstar landscaping business. It used to be, and we want to bring it back.” Kimberly Rowe, owner/CFO

Ready for battle.

With Hess’ background in finance and, though it was three decades ago, his brief experience in the industry, and Rowe’s marketing background and resilient nature (she’s a three-time breast cancer survivor, last beating the disease in November of 2012), the couple says they have the foundation to succeed.

That wasn’t the case when they first bought the business, partly because Hess and Rowe still owned the insurance business for a few months until that sale closed in October of 2017. That was one of the first lessons for the couple – you don’t take on a landscaping business when you own another business, Rowe says.

“We lost it a few times,” she says. “We stressed way beyond our point of comfort.”

After selling the insurance business, Hess and Rowe could focus solely on Outdoor Expressions. One factor in their corner for success is the area around them. Mechanicsburg is growing with new construction, the couple says.

“There is a lot happening in this area. Commercial-wise, they’re building warehouses all over south of here and trucking is expanding in this area tremendously. With that, the service industry is going to boom,” Hess says.

“The economy is doing so well, people are looking at services,” Rowe says. “They don’t want to mow their lawn, they don’t want to take care of it, and so they are looking at landscaping business probably for the first time because they do have added income coming in because of all the growth.”

With work available, they need to add to their crews. Lamont received applications through a job posting on Indeed.com, and they have some workers who responded and are slated to start in March. When they are in a pinch, they’ve used a staffing company that Rowe says is more expensive, but available. “We keep hearing all about the labor pool out there being horrible, but we haven't experienced that,” Rowe says. “We need to increase the wage we pay them. We have experience interviewing to help find people, but now we feel comfortable with job descriptions and zeroing in on the right people.”

An equipment update was also needed. Hess spoke with the current employees to get their feedback on what needed to be fixed or replaced.

They bought a 2004 Ford F450 dump truck when they first bought the company. Since then, they’ve also purchased a used zero-turn mower, a new walk-behind mower, which they’ve financed and recently traded in Hess’ F-150 King Ranch for a 2017 work truck with a plow and salt spreader.

“We will need to purchase another walk-behind with the additional crew we are planning to bring on board,” Rowe says.

Ed Laflamme, left, and Bill Arman, right, have high hopes for Lamont Hess and his wife Kimberly Rowe, and say they can have a successful 2018 and beyond by improving in a few areas.

While upgrading equipment and finding more quality employees is a good start, Hess and Rowe know they’ll need to stay focused throughout the year to make Outdoor Expressions a top-notch landscaping company once again.

“Our goal this year is to make this a superstar landscaping business,” Rowe says. “It used to be, and we want to bring it back.”

Harvester’s take:

First impression: Kimberly and Lamont are seasoned businesspeople who are not afraid to invest money for immediate help, but they are also good long-term thinkers.

What they are doing well: They are networking really well and have established strong relationships with successful business people who can refer considerable business to them. We call these folks the “influencers” and both Kimberly and Lamont understand how this works.

Immediate areas for improvement: Their facility, which they are leasing, could use a good cleaning and paint job, even though they will outgrow it in the next year or two. A clean facility illustrates to employees that your company has a professional culture. They also need to analyze the gross profit margin on each job so we know which jobs to drop, raise the prices or reassess in other areas. They could also use some help finding and retaining quality, long-term employees.