Bloomin' Success Landscaping began as a department of Cascadian Landscaping in Hillsboro, Oregon. David Palm worked a crew for Cascadian while training for his landscaping license. He was honest with his employers, and they supported him to the point of giving him time off when classes conflicted with his work schedule.
When Palm opened his own shop, his immediate success didn't bother Cascadian's owners. Hillsboro was experiencing record growth and there was more than enough business to go around. This was during the tech boom of the mid-1990s, in a city with the largest concentration of Intel facilities in the United States. A lot of wealthy Californians were moving into the area, buying big lots with acres of land for Palm to work on.
Lesson One: Leverage Your Success
When times are good, experienced businesspeople use the excess income to invest in their businesses. They buy equipment or expand into new markets. Palm used the income to borrow money so the slow winter period wouldn't be so rough. He'd pay it off with the summer income he learned to count on.
By 2000, urban growth restrictions in Hillsboro meant newer properties were on small lots that needed less landscaping, or townhouses that need no landscaping at all. Add to the restrictions a slowing economy, and Bloomin' Success took a real hit. Palm says, "I had debt in proportion to my earlier income. Making payments in leaner times while still paying my bills was a problem."
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Lesson Two: Always Be Learning
Married to the president of the local chamber of commerce, Palm had unparalleled access to classes on small-business management. He continued to study at the local community college, attended workshops at a small-business resource center, even took Spanish lessons to better communicate with his employees. Although the education and training didn't make Bloomin' Success survive the recession, he credits much of his success during the good years to what he learned in those classes. It's one of the things Palm knows he did right.
Lesson Three: Know Your Business
Asked what advice he would give aspiring business owners, Palm says, "Make sure you know what you're doing." Despite his continued education, he owns mistakes he made from not knowing his industry as well as he could have.
Winter income slows, and can even stop, in the landscaping business. To give his crews income during the winter months, Palm would hire them to work on his own property. He paid for this out of pocket, often with money he'd borrowed. With better perspective about the ebb and flow of landscaping business, he might have accepted what other landscapers already knew and laid off his crews until spring.
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Similarly, he entered the industry during one of the strongest economies in U.S. history and during the fastest period of local growth. A more robust understanding of economic cycles in landscaping and construction might have kept Palm from taking on burdensome debt.
Ultimately, Palm sold his accounts to a competitor and accepted an offer to resume work for Cascadian. Three years later, he's happier than he's ever been. "I love the simplicity. With Bloomin' Success, I was handling accounts, managing crews, budgeting, doing the books, even the payroll. Now I'm a hands-on guy, running a crew and planting trees."
This brings up a fourth lesson in the story of Bloomin' Success: know what you want.
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