TaiRenee King, left, is among horticulture students nationwide who are constantly evaluating the state of the green industry.
Photo courtesy of TaiRenee King

They’re new to the industry, but the next generation of landscapers has been watching. And they hope you have an open mind.

Take Cuyahoga Community College student TaiRenee King for instance: Currently in her final semester and weighing which university she can transfer to that will offer her the right degree for her career path, she says she believes the industry is slow to embrace change.

“From what I’ve experienced, I think it’s a little stagnant. I just feel like the industry can be a lot more open-minded than it is,” King says. “I would love from an employer, just the opportunity to be creative and try new things.”

King says she and other future landscapers around her age are excited about jumping into the industry, but apprehensive about dated mindsets or an unwillingness to adapt.

I don’t need a lot, I’m easy to please,” she says. “I want the freedom to make changes. It keeps the industry in a box when they just do what works or what’s working.”

A marketplace of ideas.

All 22-year-old Chance Howard has done is adapt. The owner of Howard Landscape Group says that at age eight, he was making about $200 a week in helping with yard work around the neighborhood. He eventually dropped out of high school after recognizing the financial opportunity he had already started making for himself in landscaping.

Armed with a beat-up pickup and basic tools he purchased at Walmart, Howard says by the time he was a teenager, he reached roughly 150 to 200 clients around Chattanooga, Tennessee. However, he realized that maintenance wasn’t for him because it was too repetitive, so he moved into design/build and moved quickly on developing a website, hiring employees and has now surpassed $1 million in revenue.

But he says he didn’t get there by refusing to embrace new ideas. He approached countless folks in the industry and outside of it – one of his closest friends and mentors actually works in the catering industry. Combining their perspectives with his own viewpoints, Howard says he’s reached success because he’s never been afraid to talk with people who might have better ideas than his own. He even meets with some of his competitors in the area and swaps stories over some beers or lunch.

This marketplace of sharing ideas, Howard says, is one of the things the industry can continue to encourage to get better as a whole, especially as the field switches to largely Millennials.

“One of common trait that I see with a lot of guys in the industry that I talk to, whether they’re smaller or larger than I am, is that a lot of them can be very stubborn. A lot of them are getting in their own way,” Howard says. “I’ve never been scared to approach anybody. If I want to learn from somebody, I’ll ask and do whatever it takes to learn. I think having that kind of mentality, having that mindset… has always been the biggest asset.”

“I just feel like the culture of horticulture could be a lot different if we tried to reach out more.” TaiRenee King, a student at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio

Treated as equals.

Preston Stroupe is projected to graduate this coming December from Mississippi State with a degree in landscape contracting. With his impending graduation, he’s spent several hours attending events like career fairs to meet with potential employers. He hopes to work for a company that’ll value his opinion and promote open dialogue between bosses and the employees. He doesn’t want to simply be a cog in a machine or be treated like cheap labor.

“For me, I would say the most prominent thing that I’m looking for in a company is to be treated with professionalism and not treated as a student that just got out of college because I invested a lot of time and a lot of money in learning how to do these things,” he says. “I know experience goes a long way, but at the same time, I want to be treated as an equal.”

Even at the time of an interview, Stroupe says he can tell by observing an interviewer’s body language or tone of voice if they’ll give him respect to share his mind. If there’s not a warm welcome to begin an interview, he says there are immediate red flags.

“They want to treat you like they don’t have time or they don’t think you know anything about what you’re doing. I feel like you should be given a fair chance, at least at the beginning (of working there) or at least the interview,” Stroupe says. “If you’re going to be interviewing a professional of 20 years, at least give them the same respect as you would the professional.”

Embracing technology.

Stroupe says that someday, he hopes to start his own lawn and landscape maintenance company. But first, Stroupe wants to cut his teeth in the industry and work for someone who embraces technology.

“Specifically, I want to see the battery-powered options on the hand tools and the trimmers, chainsaws and stuff like that because honestly, that could completely change our industry,” Stroupe says. “I’d like to see how well they do run so I could have some experience with them for later on when I do want to branch off for myself.”

King agrees, adding that as she enters the horticulture field, she’ll want to help companies explore studies and research that also helps those in the green industry stay environmentally friendly.

“We could be a lot more advanced than we are. We just need more youth in the industry and more fresh ideas,” she says. “They should be willing to take what they already know and constantly try to learn more.”

A bright future.

All of these criticisms of the industry are not to say there aren’t positives. In fact, King views landscaping as a good thing for society as a whole. She says she comes from an impoverished neighborhood, but exposing citizens to better plant care practices – like she plans to do after graduating – can help inspire overall growth in the community.

“I just feel like the culture of horticulture could be a lot different if we tried to reach out more,” she says.

Beyond that, landscaping can also be lucrative, especially as the labor field continues to appear skim. Stroupe says that while it’s probably frustrating for employers to deal with less people wanting to spend time laboring outdoors, it’s also good for the industry because less homeowners are doing DIY projects in their yards.

“People are going to be willing to pay for a service more often than not, especially when my generation gets into being mature adults,” he says. “The service industry, and the landscaping and green industry, they have a special set of skills to go out and do things that other people don’t care about doing.”