Strong Foundations > Episode 2

Larry Ryan Headshot

Larry Ryan: Growing Ryan Lawn and Tree to $70 Million using an ESOP

September 2nd, 2022

Episode Overview

Darren Gruner interviews Green Industry expert Larry Ryan about his process of founding and growing his Lawn and Tree company to be on-par to hit $70 million in 2022. Larry discusses the importance an ESOP played in his company growth.

Key Takeaways


Larry Ryan is president of Ryan Lawn & Tree, headquartered in Merriam, KS. Ryan is a 35 year old 100% employee owned company. Ryan uses the Great Game of Business to teach financial literacy to our employee owners.

Larry Ryan got a forestry degree from the Univ of Montana in 1972. His work with the forest service inspired him to work hard to bring professionalism into the green industry. He was in the restaurant business for 10 years and gives that industry credit for teaching him marketing, recruiting, and financial literacy.

At 72 years old, Larry’s goal is to see our industry become a better employer, pay more to associates, and offer better benefits. Leading a faith based Ryan Lawn & Tree, Larry has watched first hand how not being afraid to have a higher purpose for work, has helped Ryan recruit an outstanding group of employees. Meetings are started with prayer and intentions are regularly prayed for.

Today Ryan employees 460 full time associates. The company ran $56 million in 2021. Growth goals for 2022 are $70 million. In 2004, Larry sat a goal to hit $100 million in revenue by 2030. Barring a massive recession, Ryan is on track to achieve this goal.


DG: Welcome to Strong Foundations brought to you by Nektyd software.

I am your host, Darren Gruner, and I am here sitting with Larry Ryan from Ryan Lawn and Tree, very, very successful company.
You’re going to learn more about him as we roll through this interview, so sit tight.
If you really want to build a strong foundation, he might have the answer that you are looking for.

Welcome to the show. Thank you very much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

LR: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

: We love it. We’re excited. You’ve been doing a lot of traveling. We’re glad we’re able to pin you down and thanks for taking this opportunity.

Obviously, you fit in right with those, I mean, business has been so good to you over the years, obviously, you can’t deny that, and you’re now willing to give that back and that’s what we need. We need more people like you.
So, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it.

LR: Very well.

: Well, okay, good. So, I’m gonna go through a list of questions and, hopefully, this is gonna be off the cuff. You already told me that you don’t have the list, which is great because we’re gonna hear it right straight from the brain, and we love that it’s not pre planned.
So obviously, for me, you have an incredible company. I mean, you are number thirty-seven on the list of Lawn and Landscape magazine. That’s an incredibly fee. You built this business from scratch, by the way.
Could you share with us your motivation, your story, how you got started and what has kept you excited and wanted to keep going after all these years?

LR: Sure, absolutely.
Probably my strength is motivation. I have a deeper purpose that I’m trying to fulfil before I leave this earth.
But the farm background, I grew up on a farm in the 50’s and 60’s and that time period, farms in America really struggled, I think because of the Cold War.
You got paid for storing grain, but we learned a lot about conservation.

Conservation was maintaining soil and water and all those sorts of things, and I grew up with that mindset. When I was fourteen, I read a book that it got me excited about forestry. I wanted to leave the farm and go into forestry.
Went to Kansas State University and University of Montana to finish that degree.
It was a good education at the University of Montana, but what I really learned was the value of a lifelong learner and that’s been my commitment.
There was not the opportunity with the forest service when I got out of school so, I literally ended up back in Kansas working for tree care companies. Spent five years there, and not at one time, I went back and forth a couple of different times. My family was in the restaurant business. I wasn’t finding opportunity in the green industry so, I spent ten years in the restaurant business, and there I really focused on learning business.
Learned how to hire well, and I think that’s been the strength of our company. Learned Accounting, Marketing, and some of those other things that I didn’t see in the green industry.
So, I lost my job after eight years selling pizzas in Kansas City and started in lawn care. I had been studying it for those eight years and it was interesting because I found that I needed to start lawn care, build that customer base in the back into tree care, which is exactly what we did.
So, we started in eighty-seven. That was thirty-five years ago. It was just one-on-one selling my personality, you know, my commitment, who I was to one customer after another.
 In the first two years I was totally a one-man-show. Grew six hundred accounts. I was working seven days a week. It was pretty awful. But family paid a big price for that. Kathy and I had just adopted two children and they we’re older children that had been abused so, we were really torn with how to manage those children, how to manage a business.
That third year she came to work for me and managed the phone and I started hiring employees and it’s just been continual growth ever since.
I’ve worked on spreadsheets in the restaurant business and so I projected out my growth for twenty years and I’ve always done that, and I found that if you set that kind of goal and put it on paper, it really helps you.
Then you start asking yourself, what do I have to do to make this happen?
And a huge part of it, was hiring, and we’ve spent a lot of time hiring.
The fellow who wrote the book Strengths Finder, Dr Don Clifton, said that hiring is a seven-day-a-week, twenty-four-hour-day thing. His company was totally focused on getting the right people.
Instead of just having a body, we tried to hire a person who had individual talents and first his personality. If you want to sell your service, you have to get people that have the right personality, that believe in it. If you want to grow your company, you have to get people that are growth oriented, because the company won’t grow more than the people grow.
So, that’s probably the foundation of building Ryan. And here we are, thirty-five years later. Last year we ran fifty-six million. We’re projecting to come close to seventy million this year in revenue, and 2004, walking from the coffee pot to the CFO’s office, I set a goal, there are four million dollars and I said, guys, we need to hit a hundred million dollars by the year 2030. Then I went into the office and ran the spreadsheet to see what kind of growth, it was just ten percent growth. So, I thought it’s very possible, depending on a recession the next year or two or three or four, we should hit that sooner than 2030.
But then, okay, I’m an old guy, I’m seventy-two years old, but we’re 100% employee owned now.
What makes Ryan unique is that I sought to help employees because I was one to be undervalued. We thought, how can we raise each position to a professional, career minded position? Every position, whether you’re pruning trees, landscaping, fertilizing loans or whatever it is, has to be twelve months a year. So, today we’re about 480 full time people, full benefits.
The seasonal people we hire are really interns for the summer that we get to look at them to whether or not we want to offer them a permanent job after college. So, how’s that for a foundation of where we are today?

DG: Well, that’s incredible because I can go flashback into my career and all the things I did wrong. I’m not a fifty-six million dollars a year business right now and because of all the missteps.
What I want our listeners to know. It’s like, how did you get there? It all sounds great and when people talk about this, it all sounds so easy, right?
So, here you are and the common denominator that I see when I interview people with the standards that you follow, there’s always one common denominator and it’s always about planning.
It’s always about the mission and there’s so many young companies in this industry that feel like they get caught in the run and they spin wheels and, you know, a year goes by, ten years go by, and they never really got any traction. How can you help our young guys get to where you’re going from there?

LR: Well, we’ve had three mission statements.
The first one was highest quality lawn care and an affordable price through efficiency, and I thought we could just grow and grow and grow by being more efficient. I did not realize that not everybody else wants to work seven days a week.
So, I was involved with our breed and board here in Kansas City and we were planning a mission statement for the agreement and that’s when I rewrote the mission for our company to grow great landscapes, grow great people, make the world a better place.
Pretty fluffy, right? But it still resounded with our staff. But one day I was challenged about bringing faith into the workplace and it took, I don’t know, a month or two, and that’s where we coined, or I coined, the mission statement that we have today that I think really has value.
To serve God by helping our clients create beautiful, sustainable environments, where we create opportunities for our associates and business partners.

So, we say we’re in the opportunity business. The whole thing revolves around that deep sense of purpose of doing everything for God’s glory.
You know, I say we’re God’s gardeners, but we want to create opportunities for our associates.
Well, if I work nine months a year, no benefits, etcetera, is it really an opportunity? Well, people will say, well, I came to nine months of work, and I go on unemployment. What’s the big deal? The big deal is you can’t raise a family with respect working nine months a year.
So, everything became about the employee, and we were actually there a long time before we wrote the mission statement. But that seem brought it together. It was published from the website, when people apply for jobs almost always, we say go to your website, at least the ones we want to, and read the mission statement, read your values and that sort of thing.
So, we’re in the opportunity business, but part of it, for our business partners, well, aren’t you partner? You know, you’re hosting a podcast, the supplier that sends something to us is a partner, the mower that’s mowing the lawns that who is fertilizing is a partner.
And, by taking that attitude we’re trying to take this selfishness out. We’re learners. I’ve read so many books in my fifty years of being in the workforce, I used to get condensed books every month. One that I just recently read was the Founder’s Mentality and it said when you get away from that founder’s mentality is when a lot of businesses start spiralling down. And then after that, when our COO gave me a book, it was called the Infinite Game, looking ahead. Well, if you go back to Peter Drucker in the nineteen eighties and nineties and seventies of the last century, Drucker was amazing and it really is rewriting his philosophy that says, if you have a lawn care landscape company that has a purpose that people really value, that company should go beyond you.
And so, we think, Ryan, it’s not about Larry Ryan. It really has to be about those 470 people that work for us, and how do we bring beauty to communities? How can we take that customer who’s really frustrated? You know, he’s had three companies and they’ve all done a poor job for him and by, you know, spending a little extra time, making every appointment on time, always returning that phone call immediately and all that.
Warren Buffett did a talk recently and he said that anybody can have a great business. You just have to absolutely commit to making that customer happy. You said what he wants… He wants me to visit with him on Saturday… Then go there on Saturday, but it’s not convenient. It’s not about being convenient.
I love sayings. There’s a great one that a Supreme Court justice told his daughter. He said, honey, life will be easier when you realize it is supposed to be hard.
You know, business is hard, and I’m just amazed how people want to make it easier for themselves. It’s never gonna get easy.

DG: I read something on social media the other day, said something about a guy who said I hated working nine to five, so I started my own business. Now I work twenty-four seven. It’s true.

LR: Very well said.
Yeah, and is it bad? Well, you know, we do take time off, but we try to make a time off that our customers understand because we want to be easy for them.
If not, somebody else is going to figure out making it easier and they’re gonna beat us.
That’s where I think we need to be competitive. I’m not into sports, but you really learn how to run a great business from sports. You hire your people very well, you take care of them, you get people that play the game. What’s the game? Well, the game is making people happy in creating beauty in our business.
You know, horticulture is not all about beauty, I mean, they’re in community gardens. Okay, I’m not, but people are, well they’re about providing food. So, figure out where your game is and play it very well.

: You mentioned that you’re a hundred percent employee owned. Can you elaborate on that?

LR: Well, ESOP, Employee Stock Ownership Plan.
There are ESOPs all over America and all sorts of businesses. So, we set up on 1988 and it is really a qualified retirement plan or program administered by the IRS.
So, if you’re going to make an ESOP, you got to get an ESOP attorney and set up the documents to make it legal and then you jump through the hoops. Every five years you have to rewrite your plan according to IRS guidelines.
So, I’m not going to do that, the attorney that is focused on that kind of business is going to do it.
But the beauty of it is, if you’re a corporation and you’re in ESOP, you pay no federal or state taxes on the portion of the company that’s in the ESOP.
Now you say, well, I’m saving a lot of money. I mean, is this fair?
Yeah, you do save money and it can be a lot of money. You know, in our stage, it is a lot of money. But two things: One, you spend a fair amount of money every year comply. Two, is that as you get to start maturing a little bit, like I’m going to retire sometime or die or whatever, and they’ll pay off my stage or me that amount of money that I haven’t stocked. And at a certain point what you save in taxes is almost balanced in what you’ll give back to your people that are retiring and leaving, and so that’s really good.
But wouldn’t you rather have the employees get it instead of the government? And I’m not anti-government and all, I mean, we need defence, we need roads and all those things, but I am anti-giving them more than what they deserve today because there’s a lot of waste, right?
So, and in business, hopefully, we waste very little.

DG: So, the people that are owners employees, what roles do they hold?

LR: It’s really no different. You know, they think, well, I’m an owner, therefore I get to tell the company how to run.
Well, you’re not, you don’t, and that’s not, it’s really no different than the other business.
But I’ll tell you what really has changed is the way we manage. You know, in the old days, maybe I’m the president of the company, I own 100% of the stock and I tell all of you guys what to do.
Okay, even when people didn’t feel like they really were a part of the company. But when you let them make the decisions buy into the decisions, etcetera, and that’s been kind of hard for me.
I thought I was really good that way. I wasn’t, and I’ve been pointed out to me that I wasn’t. Okay, so hopefully, if we’re growth oriented and we’ll say, okay, Larry Ryan, what do you need to do to get by, and sometimes you just like people, come on, guys, sweep the floor, let’s get it done.
But instead of saying okay, let’s vote, and I’m kidding, you don’t vote on things, but people have to see the purpose, the need for something, and so we worked much harder to get buy in, for people to understand the direction we’re going what they need to do.
You know, right now we’ve gone away from working a lot of Saturdays to kind of a five day a week thing.
We’re a little met behind. We need to go back to working some Saturdays and I’ve worked a lot of Sundays in my life, and I don’t like that because we truly want to serve God and take the day off.
But when I grew up on a farm, when the hay is down, you get that hay into the barn or it’ll ruin, and when the wheat is ripping the corn is ripping, you’ve got to get it cut, especially with wheat. Or if you get a storm, it’s on the ground and you’ve lost it. You’ve lost your paycheck for the year or half of the year.
So, we take that same attitude. If we don’t get our work done, we could lose it. And if we’re not profitable, the ESOP won’t grow, your shares in the company won’t grow. So, when people realize, oh my gosh, if I do this, my stock will grow much faster, then they’re more willing to pay the price, right?
So, that’s where I think the getting them buy in is so important. So, it makes sense.

DG: Is your strategy different when hiring somebody, when hiring an employee?

LR: No, it’s always been the same, the same as you get the best person for the job and the person has to be a team player.
If anybody is old enough to remember the old movie Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman, it was a funny movie. We laughed about it back then, but you don’t want that character on your team because they’re not team players. It was all about him. You know, what’s funny on a movie is not necessarily funny in the workplace. What do you mean? Where’s Paul? Well, he’s down and eating hardboiled eggs. Yeah, but he’s supposed to be…, you know, you really have to have people that say, okay, if our team is gonna win, I need to be practicing my hitting every day, my catching every day, whatever the game is.
In our case. I need to be practicing how I communicate with a customer. You know, the other day, and this is a for instance, but I had dealt with a customer problem that I hadn’t dealt with before and I didn’t do a very good job of responding to that customer. So, when I’m fertilizing lawns, I repractice that conversation over and over again. Well, Larry Ryan, I’ve done that for thirty years and you get pretty darn good at not getting caught off guard at giving a response that is truthful, truthful that for now they understand our position. We understand their position. I’ve learned to listen a lot better. So, all that kind of work together.

DG: I want to just get one more feel on your hiring process, right, and you’re finding somebody and just this is a new dynamic for me with the ESOP, right, because a lot of guys don’t know about this, or they don’t know that this could help them grow their businesses.
Might be a good angle, something different than we’ve ever brought on before.
So, you’re in an interview and you like this person, and you want to hire them. Does it make it easier for you to hire them? From their perspective, hey, I can be an owner operator. Does that help too? Is that a little advantage?

LR: It helps if you tell the story right. Okay, you know when you’re twenty-three years old and you’re trying to buy the first house and you’re looking at a wedding or maybe your first child is on the way, they would really prefer to have the money today.
So, you have to give a salary so that they’ll respond to today in addition, to the ESOP, but then ten years into it, you know, when you invest in something that’s compounding, the first five or ten years are kind of slow growth, right, but it’s called an exponential curve we all learned in high school math or college math. But then that curve starts going up and that ten percent or fifteen percent compounding starts increasing very rapidly and they had eighty thousand last year and this year they have a hundred and five and next year they have a hundred and twenty-five thousand in their account.
You know, those first years I had one thousand, twenty-one hundred, thirty-three hundred.
It doesn’t impress people, but man, when they’re see it growing twenty thousand a year, they are impressed.

DG: I was going to say, at the beginning it can’t be that appealing, you know, but how do you get that kind of stuff? How do you get that off the ground and going that way?

LR: You Learn to tell your story very well.
They have to be sold on more than just the ESOP, they have to be sold on the people they work with, etcetera.
The advantage of hiring your entire staff one at a time is that they’ll come in and they’ll interview, let’s say, with you, and then they’ll meet me, then they’ll meet a third person, and they’ll say wait, every one of those people stop and said hello, and how are you, and where are you from… Gosh, I’ve never had a place to work where people act like they really care, and that’s what they get in our organization.
One of the individuals I thought was really telling said, you know, Larry I came here, and, in a month, I have lifelong friends.
But one of the reasons in his case is that he met a fellow that works here with the name of Steve Cleakan, and Steve is one of those individuals who, in two minutes, makes you wish that he was your lifelong friend.
But beyond that, there were a lot of other people that did the same thing too. So, if you have some bad eggs that walk by and don’t say hello, don’t stop, they just don’t have that relationship as a part of their personality.
It’s hard for people to warm up and say well, I think I really want to be there, but the work is hard, we sweat hard outside in the sun this time of year.

DG: Absolutely, and we know that, we hear a lot of horror stories about morale, especially in July and August when it gets so bad at, right? How do you have 480 people that are all hello, how you’re doing, and happy to talk to each other on a daily basis?

LR: They see each other in the morning when it’s cool…. hahaha
They support each other getting through the day. They have each other’s cell phone numbers in their phone… It is so much different than it was thirty or forty years ago when we didn’t have phones.
And sometimes, in the afternoon, they’ll call each other, and we have great stories about… three o’clock and it’s a hot day and people are beat up and TJ called Mark or Mark called TJ and they go:
– How are you doing?
– Ohh, I’m just tired.
– Well, let’s get together and let’s do a couple of lawns together

And they’ll jump on, one of them jump into the other’s truck and fertilize a couple of lawns and write the notes to the customers.

That’s fine, and then they’ll knock out four or five more lawns.
And it’s making it sound like its just production. It’s not, because if you don’t write that note to each customer, you know, kind of individual.
So, we say we knock it out. You do. It is a production deal, but you’re also building relationship deal with your customers.

DG:  Okay, you know, you have a great family, right? You already know this and everybody that works for you and that’s been in the business for a while knows you’re a great family, right?
How do you know that the person, how do you find good talent that’s going to fit into your family?

LR: Okay, interviewing is so important. You know, you get to where there’s a lot of questions you can ask because they’re like, all right, you can ask them about this and this and this, but just talking and listening.
And then we do something else that we probably haven’t shared as much in the past as we should.
Well, I sold pizzas for eight years and fish and chips before that for a year and a half in the restaurants. But in the pizza business I watched Coca Cola come into my restaurant one day and there were two people and I said, okay, what are you doing? And well, I have a ride along today. What do you mean a ride along? This guy is considering whether or not he wants to work for Coke, and so he’s going to spend three days with me and just to see if he thinks he would like the job.
I saw the same thing at McDonald’s and I actually applied to McDonald’s between jobs once and, as a Store Manager, I had to go spend three days in the store.
So, we don’t do three days or two days anymore. We do a three- or four-hour ride along, just come and ride along with us and tell us whether or not you… watch us and see if you think you would like the job.
You can tell so much without asking a question in three or four hours. You watch how the person engages when you’re talking with a client that comes out. Do they walk up and say hello? Are they hanging back behind you as if they’re embarrassed or unsure?
You know, we’ll have people walk up and say hello, “Hey, I’m applying at Ryan for a job opportunity, and I saw you drive with Larry today”.

DG: That’s incredible.

LR: A lot about the personality

DG: On so many levels. On so many levels that really helps you, right? It helps you whether or not they’re willing, they’re really interested in the job, number one.
Number two, you know, there’s so many things that are happening.
I’ve never heard of it in the green industry doing that, by the way. I’ve seen it, I’ve heard about it in the dentistry and in other, you know, more of an administrative office.
People, well, they’ll work for a couple of days to see if they like the atmosphere, because you do have to get along before you make a commitment.
That’s a great thing. Why not? Why aren’t we doing that more often?

LR: For years we said we didn’t study the green industry. We studied other companies and what are they doing that are successful.
I get back to that Dr. Don Clifton. He said, if you want to be successful, study companies that are successful.
And I found they really stand out. Once we’re not in our industry because we don’t. We haven’t had the dollar volume for a year, that the years that have drawn the very best talent and we still don’t.
But food industry, hotels, manufacturing, there’s some great stories out there and so we worked really hard to learn from them and, you know, there’s nothing wrong with copying somebody else. And so, we’ve copied an awful lot, but then at the same time we’ve tried to create some uniqueness.
I heard it once that if you do nothing but copy somebody and if they take those dives, you’re doing it to.

DG: It’s so true.

LR: So, you know, just things like this podcast that you’re sharing today.
Every time somebody tells her story, it helps us to formulate our thinking.
Are we really on the right track? We really believe our own story? And if you don’t, you know, if there’s any untruth there at all, you’re in trouble.
So, it has to be based on truth and man, I’m not sure when I told that story on that podcast I was truly hitting it and we don’t. I don’t like that.

DG: Well, I’m gonna try to pull out as many answers as I can, and you can always deny answering if you like so, because you just say no, yes…
Going back into your plan, your employee owned, which is very interesting to me because, even though I’ve been in the business for almost over forty years also, I may… there’s something new that I’m picking. I’m doing now nationally, and it’s not the radio station, something a little bit differently, and it might be something that I might want to adapt.
So, I’m going to ask you and if you want to only answer certain things, maybe off the ear or not at all.

LR: I’m fine.

DG: Okay, okay, cool. So, your stock ownership plan, how does that work? I mean, you’re talking about telling the story. You’re obviously not going to be paying them as much money as they would have paid because something’s going to go into another account or whatever.
Can you explain that to us a little bit more? Can you get more detail? How does that work?

LR: Absolutely, and that’s not even quite true, because the money that we have to put into their stock ownership plan actually comes, a lot of it comes, from the taxes that we save by not paying federal and state income taxes.
So, we want to pay above market in salary. First off, we hire well, we train well, so we charge above market for our services.
We don’t want to beat your price or anybody else’s price to get a job. We want to charge above market.
They say, well, I can get the same thing cheaper, and we’ll say no, you can’t.
I mean, try to get the same thing cheaper, but if it is cheaper, you’ll get them. Well, but Larry, we hear great things about your company, we want you.
And the reason you hear great things is because you pay a little bit more.
We’ve hired a lot better and when you get somebody, you’re getting somebody that represents my values and our whole corporate values that come out.
And, really, if they were taking care of their mom’s yard, they couldn’t be any better.

DG: I want to bottle up what you just said. That’s got to be, I mean, that’s the message that we’ve been, it’s funny, we’ve been trying to let our listeners know on Turfs Up Radio.
That’s the message we’ve been telling them to portray to their clients. That’s why you’re raising your prices. That’s why, because of that, and unless you can’t perform, that’s what you have to adopt.
I love that, what you just said. That was great.

LR: But it is true. And one of my messages, we recruit directly at College, from a lot of Colleges, and we tell the professors: tell your students there has to be a different way to run the business.
We need horticulture be different in America. We need more pride in it, more full-time people. We all need to charge more. We need to deliver a better product, realizing we’re really here to beautify America. We need to share that with people.
I’m gonna take a sidebar, but one of the great tools we have are pesticides.
We never use that word except when talking with another professional. We’ll call it labour saving tools, insect control tools, call them anything but that, because that’s been beat up on a lot.
The second thing that’s been beat up a lot in news media is the whole thing of turf grass.

Turf grass is…, I’m a forester, it is one of the most amazing plants. There are ten thousand varieties of grasses in the world, about fifty of those can be cultivated into a lawn. Tell me another plant, that does what turf grass does.
I want my children to play on it. You can’t play in Melica, in English Ivy, but you can go out there in mow the lawn and, whether it’s Tall Fescue, Bermuda or St Augustine. You mow it at two inches, three inches, whatever the correct height is, get a nice dense stem and there are a few weeds and it’s not the end of the world, but your children are safe.

It’s the foundation of the whole landscape. Oh my gosh, we have a story to tell and we’re not telling our story.

DG: Yeah. I know.

LR: And Turf Grass, they say. Well, you run off from turf, it’s dirty and… there is nothing that runs off from turf grass. It is better than, as good as, better than native grasses on runoff, and why is that?

Dr. John Cesare, University of Florida, he’s retired now. His research was impeccable, and a lot of other people’s, Dr Beards, Dr Jack Fryatt, Kansas State, and the Christian State… You know, we need to tell this science story. Mix science and emotion together and we have the truth.

DG: Right. Well, I don’t want to jump too far away from the structure about your stock image.

LR: Bring it back.

DG: I want to because, you know, you have a lot to teach me and in similar years. I know it’s crazy.

LR: I’m crazy

DG: You’re not, because you do have a lot in your brain and that’s why I’m gonna invite you on Turfs Up Radio after this because I want to continue the story.
We want to learn more about this program, I mean, how it works.

And you’re saying, okay, you hire people at the same market, right? And then what goes into… do you set up some type of retirement plan or the structure… how does that work? Tell me what that looks like.

LR: Okay, we have a 401K and people can contribute up to 10% of their income into that.
We will contribute 25% of what they contribute up to 10%. They contribute 12% or 15%, I forgot what it is.
We’ll contribute 25% of that first 10%. So, they get an automatic 10% percent raise if they’ll just put 10% in.
So, that’s separate from the ESOP. The ESOP is we’ve taken a portion of the profits every year and we contribute that dollar amount to people’s accounts, and it’s been averaging in the first six or seven years, it averaged about three percent a year.
So, Cathy and I gave the first 20% of the company to the employees.
Well then, the next 40% of the stock we sold at one third of its value, and I’ll talk about the dollar amounts because we had to have outside auditors value the company. So, we sold three million dollars’ worth of stock to our employees for one million dollars.
And are we generous? Well, it was the right thing to do, you know, it had nothing to do with being generous, because we weren’t trying to make money of it, but we knew we had to put value on it, and so that gave a big boost to people over the ten years as they actually bought that stock from a private loan, and that put a lot of money into their account. And then a few years later we sold the last 40% of the stock for 80% of its value, and every year they’ve been getting that stock plus.

There are different ways you contribute to the ESOP account every year, but that money, let’s say, you have, I’ll just make real simple figures, if you have contributed a hundred dollars to it and there’s ten people, ten employees, they each get ten dollars, right?
Well, it’s been more like they’re getting about two thousand dollars’ worth of stock.
The higher wage journeys get a little bit more. The lower wage journeys get a little bit less.
So, it’s a percentage of your income for the year based on the whole labour pool. That’s the technical side. But I’ll tell you a quick story.

We have a pruner that’s been with us for twenty-two years, and Doug is an amazing young man. He’s 52 years old now. He’s been a pruner. He has not managed the department, but in those twenty years between his 401K, he’s put ten percent of a salary every year, so, in our contribution that’s netted him “x” amount of dollars, and the ESOP that we put money into it, the two combined, this past year, he crossed a million-dollar market value.

DG: Wow

LR: Well, that’s pretty good for somebody that prune trees.
Now someone who prunes trees, in my mind, is a hero. He’s an arborist, he’s awesome, he’s a professional.
But, you know, somebody is walking down the street, that’s an accountant, or an attorney, they might say, well, he’s just a tree pruner.
Okay, well, that’s fine, until the tree falls in their house and Doug rescues them.

DG: That’s not to mention the money that he made, that he got his salary every week.

LR: That’s exactly right. Plus, we really worked to have a family attitude here.
We’ve got branches in Wichita, Springfield, Tulsa, St Louis, Omaha and Kansas City, and each branch is kind of like a big college and you break down to your dorm, your fraternity or whatever it is, or your house you live in.
You can be as small as you want, you know, you think well, 460 people… No, I don’t know them all. I would like to. I know a lot of people by their name, but probably well under half now. I don’t like that. I have a hard time remembering names.
But you just created that. You’re making me feel very at home with your interview, we want them to feel very at home working here.

DG: Good. Thank you. That’s a good compliment for me. I appreciate that.

LR: You deserve it.

DG: That’s really interesting. So here, okay, on the flip side of the coin, you’re doing so much for your employee. They’re doing much, they’re doing well for you because, obviously, they’re great employees.
Now, they’re earning a lot there, you’re profiting, they’re profiting because you’re making so much.
Why they don’t just go on their own? You’ve done all this for them, and you know what, we’re gonna start our own company and compete with you.

LR: And they can do that, you know. But most people realize that they don’t want to do the paperwork, they don’t want to do the government chump and hoops, they don’t want to do the quarterly or monthly or weekly taxes, depending on what size they are. They don’t want it. They don’t want it; they don’t want to.

DG: Do you find that it’s more appealing for them to stay because of the situation that you have allowed them, you afforded them, and maybe if it was the other way around, they would leave quickly, more quickly?

LR: It’s every person is different, right, and very few people have the gifts to run a company.
In many ways, I probably didn’t have those either. I was very blessed. There’s nine and a half years, I always say ten, but it was nine and a half years that I did restaurants.
I learned so much about running a little organization, but then the other thing that I learned was really critical, was how to hire and how to get to, you know, really sharp people that join us, and honestly, it wasn’t just that.
My couple of first hires, I think, were Godly appointments and they drew talent. You know, no one person builds an organization.
And people said, well, Larry you built a great company. I said, actually, I got some phenomenal people here who built our company.
Because it really isn’t… I didn’t do it. And I think God blessed us because we have a generous heart and people want to be a part of that. And I’ll tell you another quick story.
A fellow worked for me, early, early, like the fifth or sixth year. He worked for about a year and he left. We thought we weren’t treating him right, so he left. Okay, I go to church with this individual today, wonderful individual, but one day after church he said, after mass, he said, Larry, how many employees do you have in this couple of years?
I said, I don’t know, maybe two fifty, and he just looked and said, Larry, that is amazing.
So, in thirty-five years we’re now 460, 470 in his thirty years, twenty-nine years, whatever it is, he has three, and when he said it’s amazing, he was serious.

Now, in lawn care you can make a lot of money as a one man show. If you can do that well and with three people, he probably makes as much salary as I do in a year.
But I think that’s the other thing that’s been interesting is, by not being greedy and taking a lot of money out. I don’t have a second house, I don’t have a big boat, I don’t have a motor home. You know, what I have is so much better.

I was telling that one guy, that TJ guy, that was our first employee, he said something about, and I don’t know, it’s complimenting.
I said, Tim, if you were my son, I would be the most proud man in the world.
That’s true.

DG: Hey green industry pros, this is Darren Gruner, your host of Strong Foundations.
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Hope to see you over there

DG: That’s amazing. So, okay, along the way, you’ve acquired other companies, correct?

LR: Right, some bigger ones, but mostly little ones, you know, the little two hundred and fifty thousand dollar pruning companies. You get a customer list. We did get a larger irrigation company in a town. It’s a million and a half dollars in revenue.
Oh my gosh, it was harsh.

DG: I want to ask you about that, but first I want to just remind everybody, you’re listening to Larry Ryan here on Strong Foundations, from Ryan Lawn and Tree, number thirty-seven on the Lawn and Landscape magazine, top landscape businesses.

Amazing story, this is incredible, what you’ve done and the accomplishments that you’ve made
Coming from a forestry background, this is what astonishes me.
You wanted to be a forester, all right, and you had quickly changed gears and then, in the middle of… and we’ve all gone through this.
We were not sure, for some reason or another, you’re not sure whether or not it’s a lot, you know, a viable business being in the landscape business, especially back in our day.
I’m not too far behind you, I’m fifty-seven. You’re a few years older than me, but we’re still almost first generation,
I think I’m right in that area, first generation commercialized business. I’m just a little bit later than you, but we weren’t regarded as a viable business as much back then, in those days, in the early days.
So, we had so much pushback by other people, my parents, especially, they wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer.
You didn’t know you wanted to be a forester; you really love that.
Then you left and, by the way, I believe your retail business and the things that you got involved with, retail absolutely helped you to build your business, because I worked in retail also. I really believe that a lot of guys starting out don’t go through that, and it’s almost as if they’ve missed out on that opportunity, because you do learn a lot as a manager when you are working in retail.

But what an incredible thing, and now you’ve stumbled upon this amazing business. You created this thing for many to enjoy and flourish, and here you are now, faced with acquiring new businesses.
Why go? Why keep going? Why just keep moving along and making that happen? It’s pretty incredible.

LR: Great question. I tell our people. If you took Kansas City and looked across to Virginia, down to Florida, back to Texas and straight up to Kansas City, and that part of the United States alone, I think we could be two billion dollars in revenue in today’s dollars.

That’s the part of the country that I’m looking at first. Why? Because you’ve got a lot of growing season. If we go north and we want to have full time people, well, another example is going west. There are towns out West and without saying a name, where you’re lucky, if you’re a turf manager, turf technician, that you get more than about six months of revenue a year, because you start your applications in April, you end in October.
You cannot make enough revenue to get a very good salary, and everybody basically is paying their own salaries. So, we haven’t figured out how to go north.
But we did buy a company in Omaha last year and he’s amazing.
Chuck Monico, he came in with a deep faith and a deep commitment to his people and that sort of thing, and they flipped some houses in the wintertime. So, they do some snow work. They flip houses.
Chuck’s out there driving a truck and he’s in his early fifties, certified public accountant, and he decided he wanted to be in this business early on. He knows the business, he knows numbers and all that.
He joined us because he wanted our recurring revenue model, which is a lot of lawn care, a little bit less landscaping.

DG: So, what was his main business?

LR: His main business is probably landscaping. Half his business was in landscaping.

DG: When you acquired him, did you get both?

LR: We got everything.

DG: So, you’re now flipping houses?

LR: Well, I guess we are.

DG: I was gonna ask you that. Well, that’s why I was gonna ask you, like, I was just scolded by Steve Cohen.
I told him I wanted to buy… I’m a design builder down here in South Florida.
We’re an architectural design builder, landscape design builder. So, we go, and we help homeowners improve their backyards.
And I’m thinking, there’s businesses down here for sale that are commercial businesses in the lawnmowing. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the lawnmowing business.
And I told him, I want to buy one of these businesses. If you could do it, I could do it, I need to…
He’s just told me no, no, no, no, get out of that.
So, I was just gonna ask you. Do you buy businesses that do other things, or should we just stay in our lane?

LR: Be Very careful, you know, again, I’ll go back to Peter Druker.
He said to be very careful about venturing out of your lane, I’ll use your term, because the idea that you can run one business well, doesn’t mean you run anything else well.
Now, we bought a little business that sells steel equipment, blowers, chainsaws, and all that, and it sells, it did sell, lawnmowers, it does maintenance on mowing.
Okay, why did we do that? That’s the same thing.

DG: Well, you’re building your own empire, that’s what you’re doing.

LR: That one has been a tough one.
My wife came out of retirement and worked two years there because the young manager who wanted to buy the business had been a customer, worked his way through college mowing lawns, and the owner, who was a one, two-man show, got sick and Evan said, Larry, I can buy this business.
So, we bought it together. We actually bought it. He worked for us. He really wasn’t cut out to be a manager, and so he worked first for three years, and I came to him one day and said, you need to do something else. This doesn’t fit your personality.
And he knew that by then, and so we brought in a stronger, actual manager from the industry.
But that was hard. My wife spent two years building the inventory. I spent two years cleaning out, making organization out, etcetera.
And okay, we do that again. Probably that’s a distraction. We can take in that same amount of time and buy a ten-million-dollar business instead of three-hundred-thousand-dollar business.
Today it’s doing a million and a half, employ six people, you know, there’s not enough margin in chainsaws.
To think, well I can get my own chainsaws for cost. Who cares? You know, to pay the extra hundred bucks and buy the saw and keep on working.

DG: That’s interesting.

LR: But we did it. Will we reproduce it or replicate it? We don’t know. I told the manager and said if we’re gonna do it, you’re gonna have to do it, and he’s got an assistant today that could run a store. But we have to find the right one in the right place.
If you pay too much for it, you spend ten years paying off the debt and that’s not worth it.
So, I say stand in your own lane. We are not in mowing. Mowing is an employment agency. It’s six months, eight months a year, and, you know, we get ten out of fertility eight out of mowing. That is a tough one. Unless you’re getting a margin on your mowing, I would say stay out of that too.
So, we’re very careful. We found irrigation is tough, much tougher than the other businesses we’re in.
I do like the idea of marrying these companies, these different departments together, though. If we could look at ourselves…
I did this when I worked on the city of Helena, Montana. That’s not on my resume, but I spent a few months there and worked for the Parks Department.  I pruned trees sixty, eighty percent of the time, I’d lay some sod a day or two here and there and it was a nice change.
So, if we could get our labour force, even as professionals, where they would switch departments once in a while, we can be a lot better.
In the wintertime we all become pruners, you know, the Forestry Department prunes all winter long and so, and we’re not training, we’re all out pruning and taking trees down and that sort of thing.
Anything you can do to make an extra dollar in your off days is absolutely critical. Critical to raise wages.

Well, we’re not totally about making as much money as we can for our employees having the highest wages we can pay.

DG: Well, we’re lucky down here in Florida. We don’t stop. We just keep it..

LR: You are lucky. I might be there someday.

DG: Hey, you know, listen, I might have an invitation for you anyway.
So, where do you think that you need to be as a company before you could start acquiring other companies. At what level?

LR: You have to run what you run very well.
If you don’t, you’re just acquiring a customer list and you have to have somebody that can step in and help.
Well, I guess the question is, are you going to create your culture in the new company? And we are. We do not want a customer list and a revenue stream.
If we don’t take our culture of employee ownership. I’m passionate, I have to be a partner owner in this, and I, you know, I’ll do extra things for the customer, and I’ll go out on a weekend or an evening to fix somebody’s irrigation system because, you know what? I own a piece of this company. If we don’t have that attitude, it’s not a Ryan employee, it’s not a Ryan Company, and it’s very difficult to do that if you don’t change the attitude.
So, you better have some talent that can move in there and start taking your culture into that, because it does not just happen.

DG: Since we’re on this topic, real quickly, this is something that’s come up for many, many years, and I guarantee you can help me answer this one.

A lot of people, and I’m not gonna tell you which way I feel, but a lot of people like to buy other small businesses.

And how do you find the value of buying someone else’s business?
They say they have a lawn maintenance company and you have maybe three or four hundred lawns, and you feel like, okay, I want to start buying other people around me that might have two or three or four hundred lawns.

Is that really worth it? I mean, have they really established anything that’s worth of any value besides just a customer list?
And if so, what would you pay for something like that?

LR: Nothing, because I don’t want it. I don’t want it when I at that size.
The very first thing you have to do is learn how to grow organically, and how you do that is all through relationship.
And if you’re going to double in size from three hundred lawns to six hundred lawns and that new guy that you’re acquiring doesn’t have the relationship, you just shot yourself.

My second year I grew from three hundred to six hundred accounts by shaking hands, calling people by their first names, creating them, talking about the pretty artwork that kids put on the front door.
I didn’t know lawns very well. I was a forester. I had not worked in lawn care, so I talked about what I knew and because of that they thought I made lawns really well.
Okay, but I did probably as good as the competition.
But you know, see, we grew six hundred accounts the second year, the third year we grew nine hundred, and twelve hundred, sixteen hundred, in 2000, twenty-five hundred.

DG: And you never bought a list?

LR: No, we didn’t need a list. At about the fifth or sixth, seventh year I had a guy come to me and said, Larry, I’m getting out of the business. You have my hundred twenty-five accounts.
He gave them to me back then. We were incredulous, but we took them.

DG: Did you keep them all?

LR: Almost all of them.

DG: Okay, because you don’t keep them all, right?

LR: Twenty percent of them were priced too high. Can you believe that?
And I don’t know how this guy came up with this pricing.
About a third were, maybe a third and a half were pretty much where our prices were.
Because this guy, we got to know each other, his first name was Pat, and we talked to him about pricing, and about twenty percent were way too low, and our guys went up to the customer and said, you know, Betty, we’re doing ten thousand square feet here for twenty-nine dollars. It’s just… you can’t do it, twenty thousand square feet, say, for forty bucks. It’s just too low… and Pat’s not in business anymore, he wanted us to take your account in the real price…
It was not uncommon people say, we knew it was low. Wait, what do you think the price should be? Price should be seventy-nine dollars, ninety-nine, whatever it was.
Okay, we’re comfortable. Give it a shot, and we lost hardly any of the hundred and twenty, and so it was kind of one of those serendipity things.

But we had another company in north part of Kansas City that we bought a year this January one.
But they called me one day, we became friends, he said, Larry, we have twelve accounts south the river. We don’t want them anymore. Would you take them over? They were beautiful accounts. They were probably worth five or six thousand dollars, you know.
So, they aren’t guilty except that we gave him a check for a million and a half bucks here a few months back and now they’re part of us.
And you know what, they joined us, husband and wife and they are ambassadors for the customers, and we love them. I think they really like us.

You know, when you’re not out to take advantage of people, some magic happens, and most people want mostly to get out of their business.

But we had a friend in another city south of here, and I’m calling him friend.
We tried to buy him time after time and the price he wanted a dollar for dollar or more. It’s okay, but he wasn’t making the revenue, the profits, we didn’t feel so, he finally sold to his friend.
The friend owned it for three years and sold the company off to TruGreen and he was mad, he said, you know, Larry, I talked to him one time, he said, my friends sold my employees out.

Well, when you have seven million bucks or five million, whatever it was, in your pocket, your friend didn’t sell you out.
That means your people, you sold him out, because once you give up control, you give up control and I’m sure that probably just the interest payments on that loan ate up most of the profits.
So, we have to realize that. Right now, there’s so much cash in America. People are paying prices for businesses that, honestly, businesses aren’t worth it.
If you don’t make enough money after you buy the business to at least pay your interest payments. Sorry, you know. Well, future growth? There’s a lot of opportunities everywhere.

DG: I find it easier, for the amount of money that people are asking, I think, I feel you can acquire those accounts on your own organically, like you said, you can go out there and advertise, whatever.
It’s much easier than paying, because then you’ll lose you still have that opportunity of losing them because they’re comfortable.

Remember, we all build our businesses. Well, most of us build our business because we feel as if we can build our own relationships and we can do better than whoever we’re working for, whatever. And then we build that bond and that bond… You can’t buy a bond. It takes time to build bonds with your clients.

So, it’s hard if you’re coming in from a standpoint where you bought those customers.
Some of those customers might not be too happy about that.
So, I never bought into the fact that I should buy somebody else’s business, by the way.

But I tell you what, I am jealous of you, and I’m jealous that you started, because after I did, you started in eighty-seven right? I started in nineteen eighty-two, and here you are, way past me, and we’ve hit the same bumps in the road, you know.

We went through all the different little recessions that we had, you know, with all the different pushbacks about being in the business.
And then two thousand and seven came in and we had a really bad recession that did not favour our industry at all.

It put a halt to it, a stop to it. No one wanted to spend any money at all.
I changed from building, doing more landscapes to doing more service, because people still had to go to work and they couldn’t take care of the lawn, and so that saved me.
I was doing tree and shrub care, not just like you, but that’s what I was doing, and it really did save me. Wasn’t on the scale of you.
How did you handle that? I know how I did. How did you handle those bumps in the road along the way?

LR: We had a lot of them. You know, if you look at problems as opportunities, they said that for years.
Most people don’t, because they tend to run the other way, don’t they?
In two thousand and eight I was talking with a friend that was in heavy and landscaping and I was whining about not growing.
He said what do you mean not growing? How much you’re up this year, and I said, I don’t know, maybe one and a half percent.
He said, Larry, we’re down 25% in landscaping. He said, that’s my business and he said, I have to figure out how to survive.
And boy did I get my eyes opened up. His point was good.
We grew in customers in two thousand and eight, but we only grew one and a half percent in dollar volume.
A lot of landscapers, well, I just read one that’s in the top one hundred that dropped from like eighteen million to four million and went down seventy five percent in two thousand and eight.
He survived, which it takes a really strong person to survive when you decline like that, because you have to be willing to give up everything that’s not necessary.
And I’m not saying people, but everything that’s not necessary, you cut your salary to zero, and so that’s really what happened to us.
You know, we’ve been lucky. It doesn’t mean I’m a better businessperson than you are. I think we were lucky to get to focus predominantly on renewable services.
So, four or five years ago we got back into landscaping after getting out in two thousand and one.
But we’re taking the attitude and this recession could dry up to half or less of what we have.
But we have forty or fifty thousand renewable accounts, and in two thousand, let’s say it’s two thousand twenty-three, that we hit a wall, the country hits a wall, and we have a big recession, or maybe four or five or whatever it is.
They say the longer we put it off as a country, the worst is going to be.

But let’s say it’s next year. I guarantee we will be probably cleaning gutters, and everybody will be pruning, and we’ll do anything we can do because we do not like the thought of laying off one single person.
We’re going to try to not do that.
So, we’ll see. It’s easy to sit here and talk, isn’t it?
And, when you interview me the year after, and what we actually did, if we’re still in business and we’re planning on it, we’ve got a lot of cash in the bank and we’re very jealous about guarding that cash because that’s gonna be paying salaries when things get tough.

DG: So, when stuff like this does get tough, you know, if we do hit a recession, it’s not gonna be great for the morale. We might lose clients, right, and then we’ll have to lay off some people, right?

LR: Yes, but honestly, in two thousand and eleven, we were one of the largest users of prelace in the United States.
We had three million dollars cash, I hope… I said three million… thirty million. Now I’m getting old and I’m, forgetful, of damage to our customers and properties. Thirty million. And you know, the EPA actually saved us in the industry that year.
They told Dupont, you will pay the bill.
So, it was kind of a ten-year deal with us day to day.
It was six years, one guy devoted one hundred percent of his time, and Matt is flat sharp, and Matt took, filled out file cabinet after file cabinet full of information.
We had property at times fifty people in the field.
Dupont let us be the secretary of our own damage, and they trusted us, and I think we did create some procedures that they followed.
That Matt felt that’s flat good. But we had something like fifteen file cabinets totally full of Manila envelopes that had those records in it.
Okay, we grew every year, every year while we were getting eyes blackened and everything else. But most of the time we found the damage before the customers knocked on the door and said you’ve got damage to your trees. We caused him, we’re going to help you fix it, and I don’t know what the biggest pay out was. It was probably fifty or hundred thousand dollars to a single client. But you know, we had some, especially the attorneys, that were customers went after us and we solved everyone.
So that was a huge negative that we turned it into a positive.
We said we wouldn’t wish that upon us again, but boy did we learn customer service Ma’am, I’m sorry, I caused a problem. I’m here to fix it. It’s kind of embarrassing doing that, but we did it time after time and we made it through.

DG: You’ve mastered customer service. You feel like you’ve, you know, you really have mastered, you’re doing everything you can do.
What about conflict inside your organization? Do you ever come across?

LR: Here we have it all the time.

DG: How do you handle it?

LR: Well, I said we’re readers, and actually a guy who’s no longer with us. I give him a lot of credit for that, but he had been back to…, well, Patrick Lencioni is the author of the book called Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The triangles called the trust triangle. We all have to have the same vision of the future. We have to say, okay, we got a problem. How we’re gonna work it through? Can you and I work this through in such a way that we’re going to come up to a conclusion that we can agree with, that we’ll both support in the end when we come up with our agreement, our conclusion?
And yes, my feelings have been hurt so many times and if mine hurts so many times, I can imagine how many times people’s feelings are hurt.
At the end of the day, you forgive each other. You say, you know what, it’s not the outcome that I wanted, but I can live with it, and I’ll work at checking my ego a little bit more.
So, it never stops. It never stops. Your point is really good.
So, Patrick Lencioni wrote that book, and then the next one he wrote, or that we read, was called The Advantage, and it’s who you hire.
You hire people that are hungry, humble and smart. Hungry means I’m ambitious. Humble means that, at the end of the day, I’m going to be truthful. I’m gonna keep my ego in check, I’m gonna say, Hey, you know, here’s my gifts, like, I’m really proud of them. Here’s my weaknesses. I’ve got to live with them. Can you help me out with my weaknesses, because they’re still important, even though their weakness.
Smart is emotional intelligence, more than IQ, but it really is both.
We want people that know how to get along with you, that know how to get along with me, that I know how to get along with and on and on.
You know, the last five or six years I’ve had to grow a lot because that last COO he was running the company and when I took over and he was no longer here, I found I really wasn’t very good at running the company.
We brought in a new CFO and the last retired a couple of years ago, and he is phenomenal. He helped us hire the new COO, which was a branch manager, who is very smart, both people intelligence wise and IQ wise.
So, we’ve shifted our company of a lot the last few years.
There is, if you think it’s an easy ride, oh my gosh.

DG: I can’t imagine, with four hundred and sixty, seventy, eighty employees. I can’t imagine it being an easy ride.
I do a show on Turfs Up Radio called talking trash and it’s about letting it all out about your clients, some vendors and even some of your employees who piss you off right? Because we all feel like that. It’s a funny topic. I mean, it’s just and we hope that we don’t hurt anybody’s feelings, but sometimes we have to let it out because we weren’t born together. But we have to work together, in the same environment, and there’s always going to be conflicts and stuff like that.
So, in light of all of that, I do the show to kind of make it feel like, Oh, let me look at it from that perspective and see how people think.
Do you have any people that, I don’t want you to tell any names, anything that’s coming up now that’s going on in your business, that you’re having to deal with, that you’re trying to find your way through? Anything specific, not necessarily specific, but any general instance where you might help us figure something out, you know, it’s like a pain point that needs fixing, and then you’re planning on doing and working it out now?

LR: We always have that. We always have that to some degree because no one ever is totally aligned. And if you think that it’s unusual in our industry, okay, again I’ll say I’m not a sports person, but I can promise you at the Super Bowl not everybody agreed on every play.
By the grace of God, one of the teams won, right? That’s why I said I don’t waste my time with sports, because I know the outcome of every game.
There’s gonna be a winner and a looser.
In our case, we should be able to win every year, shouldn’t we? Okay, look at your podcast. You’re interviewing people that have grown and grown and grown or whatever reason. But it’s different because we can win against ourselves. We can win sometimes just by surviving the year. We can win by being smarter than we were the year before. We can win by a great hire so, if we look beyond where we are today, the statement to serve God by helping create beautiful, sustainable environments. If that’s valid, that we create opportunities, if that’s valid, then shouldn’t not long after I’m dead, that we can be creating a more beautiful community, a more beautiful State and more beautiful country, and that be the purpose?
And sometimes beauty isn’t just the landscape. Sometimes, I think we’re going to find in the next ten years that marketing, telling the story is gonna be so much more important to our whole horticultural industry.
Look, if we ran TV ads, it’s said I want you, you, you’re like Google. You’re driving through the community, photographing the streets, look at this beautiful neighbourhood.
You want yours to look like this. It should look like this. You know, we’re gonna tell you to stay home a little bit more. Hire Ryan, we’re gonna come in and help you get there a little bit more. At the end of the day, grab your wife and kids and go out and sit on the deck and tell the kids you want them to play lawn darts or whatever, and mom and dad are gonna sit up there and watch them and cheer them on while you listen to each other.
I heard that story a long time ago. I’m simply repeating it, but..

DG: I love it.

LR: Shouldn’t we be telling stories like that instead of… if you want a beautiful lawn that will make you really proud of and the neighbours are envious…
I have had ads like that…, but it’s how can you have a lawn that you’re proud of, that represents your personality, a landscape?

DG: I tell people when I do a design for them, I tell them that their windows aren’t windows, are the lens to your imagination.

LR: Oh my gosh, I’m gonna hire you.

DG: Isn’t that amazing? And they love, and I was like, just let’s look at that. What do you want to look outside and let me help, and that’s great, and I agree with you.
I think that’s important, and that’s going to keep everybody happy. When we have our clients happy, we’re happy.
That brings me to my next question, and I’m gonna wrap this up soon. I’m not gonna keep you because I know you’re a busy man, but I want to, how do you define a successful day at the end of the day? At the end of the day, when you look back at the day at night, when you’re getting ready to go to bed, how do you define a successful day?

LR: It doesn’t stop at the end of the day. I don’t know if you’ve ever put together puzzles. Number of years ago I started with my mother-in-law, and I know I was trained with puzzles. It was just something that we could do together, that we could talk, kind of like, I suppose, when people used to dance years ago, when they didn’t know each other.
But we’re creating a picture. At the end of the day, I’m simply putting in one more piece of the puzzle. It’s like your radio show here when that is completed, It’s a beautiful picture, but actually the puzzle should never ever be completed. When we’re done with that one, we’re immediately going to start another one that tells another story, and then another story and then another story.
And I think that’s what we’re doing in business. It’s never finished. So, hopefully you’ll never be finished. You’ll find a better person, much better than me, to interview and you’ll say this guy is filling in another piece of the puzzle that people should know. And you know, it’s a gift. It’s a gift and God gave us those gifts to use.
You know, we had a Pope a couple of Popes ago, John Paul the Second, and he said, the problem with Socialism and Communism is that it robs the human spirit of the desire to work hard and to be creative.
And he said God made us for both and you’re looking through the window and that imagination in the future, that is so beautiful, and you created it, but selfish capitalism is just as bad.
So, he said, call it Free Market Society, and it needs to have a heart.
So that’s what we’re trying to do, is to put a heart into capitalism, so that everybody gets to share, and your picture when they look out the window. Wow I’m glad I live in this house, I’m glad I hired you to do my landscape. And well, let’s go outside and enjoy the fresh air out there.

DG: I love it. I love it.
Listen, two more and I’m gonna let you go.
If you could tell every lawn landscape in the green industry owner one way to create a strong foundation in this business, what would it be?

LR: Hire the right people.
You’re gonna have to pay enough to be able to afford them.
It’s gonna be more than you’re paying now. But once you start getting them one at a time and you train them a little bit more, you’re gonna charge a bit more to pay the salary.
And don’t be selfish. If you’re taking all the money out to build an extension on your house and build another house and all that stuff and you’re telling people like, I had a bad year and I can’t afford to give you a raise this year, they’ll see through that so fast that just, you know, delay the gratification to yourself. Living your little old house longer, work a little bit harder, don’t sit in the office when you can be out there working with the people. They love that, when you work with them.
I’ve ridden with these guys and push spreaders. I’m seventy-two. I’m still pushing two years ago, and I think I could push today.
You know, I’m being lazy. I need to get out there and push with the guys.

DG: You look like you could for sure, and you look like you’re in shape.
But you know, it’s funny, these guys, I see these guys buying these… I mean it’s so easy to buy a brand-new truck and pay fifteen hundred dollars a month, but we don’t want to pay our employees a lot of money.
It’s just doesn’t make… it’s kind of backwards. It makes no sense.

LR: Selfishness

DG: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s great. And so, where can our listeners connect with you? Can we connect? Remember I asked you during our pre interview I wanted to get involved with Turfs Up Radio.

LR: Absolutely. I have twenty-four hours in the day. I sleep about seven of those.
Call me on my cell phone (913) 710-3230.

DG: You really will. You’ll take a phone call? Do you offer consulting?

LR: Five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes.

DG: You’ll talk.

LR: We’ve got a young man who called me last night when I was looking at a new piece of property, and he said, Larry, we want to come visit you.
He’s not young, he’s fifty. I met him in the Summer in Florida, last January and he said my daughter’s getting married in Kansas in October. We want to come early and visit you.
So well, and it’s going to be a GIE and going to be on a panel discussion, but I’ll be there before them.
So, stop buying, spend a day or whatever.

DG: It’d very nice of you. There are people like you that have had a successful career seem to want to give back, and they do.
They want to give for free and they’re just happy to help and we love that.
I want to get you involved with Project Evergreen. Can we get you? Can you introduce you to them, to I thought I talked to you about that.

LR: Yes, you did, and we do sort of do that right now.
We’re up at Fort Leavenworth and we prune on the cemetery every fall, and so we do lot of community give back.
On July 1st we’re gonna do a donation to some of our retired Vets that are living in little tiny houses.

DG: And that’s what the Project Evergreen does.
If you do it through there, it’s like nice little write-off on top of the write-off.

LR: Remember, we’re employee owned, we don’t need a write-off.

DG: That’s very true. That’s very true. That’s good. I don’t I never really had a mentor to help me along the way.
It’s always nice to be able to talk to somebody that has grown in the business.
I won’t ever bother you, but if, you know, I’d like to remain friends if we can.

LR: You know, you made an interesting comment.
You said why do you give back? We’ve all been given so much by so many people, whether our parents, a friend or a neighbour, and I can think rough take my hat about ten people in my life that were steppingstones for me. I’ll never ever be able to pay those folks back.
So, what is it called? Pay it forward today? And we really need to do that.
Plant a tree that will never see and all that sort of things. So, that’s what we’re doing, and we do it all for God’s glory.

DG: Larry Ryan from Ryan Lawn and Tree and, uh, what is it? Flipping houses, and irrigation…

LR:  Lawn care, tree care… I’m a forester and I love my trees and planting a few flowers.

DG: That’s fantastic.

LR: Making the industry better, and you are too.

DG: It was a pleasure. I hope to have you on again.
Let’s do a recap maybe next year, and we’ll talk. I mean, for only to this because during our interview you talked about what’s going to happen this time next year.
So, I’d love to do a recap to go back to that, but I want to talk to you before then anyway, get you on Turfs Up Radio, if you ever want to get on and you want to be part of the station, please let’s talk about that.
I’ll send you a couple of emails and let’s do it again. Do it again soon.
Okay, thank you so much. Great to talk to you.

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You’ve been listening to Strong Foundations from the Turfs Up Radio Studios in North Miami with your host, Darren Gruner.

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