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Business Observer Thursday, May 12, 2022 4 months ago

2022 Top Entrepreneur: Brandon Duke, Juniper Landscaping CEO, Fort Myers

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Juniper Landscaping under Brandon Duke has quickly grown into a statewide landscaping force. But challenges, from inflation to hiring, linger.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributor

Company: Juniper Landscaping works with developers, builders, HOAs and other commercial clients to design, build, and maintain landscaping plans. The Fort Myers-based firm currently has 17 branches statewide, about 1,700 employees and posted annual revenue of $140 million in 2021.

Duke has been CEO for six years — he bought the company from his father in 2016, when annual revenue was at about $40 million. (When he started working at the company in 2008, annual revenue was at about $3 million.) Since taking the helm, he’s focused on collaboration and innovation, making moves like putting in best-in-class operating and enterprise resource planning systems and embracing technology like CAD design, drones for documenting progress on jobs and a new autonomous mower the company recently obtained.

"If you have an aggressive desire to grow, you have to make sacrifices financially to do it. You have to be disciplined financially to, say, forgo profits or things you want to do because you want to grow your business." — Brandon Duke

“We’re definitely not your typical landscaping business,” says Duke, 37. “We have a lot of data and analytics on our business. We also feel like that’s a big plus in attracting talent, where most companies aren’t thinking through those things.”

Juniper Landscaping has also grown through acquisitions — buying seven acquisitions since 2016. The company had to do a lot of reaching out at first to find potential deals but that’s gotten a lot easier of late. “We’ve done so much and grown so much and done so many deals that we get inbound calls all the time asking us to look at a company,” says Duke.

More acquisitions are definitely a possibility. “We’re looking to expand outside of the state and continue to aggressively grow,” he says.

 

Tipping point: When Duke bought the company, he made the decision to build out a branch network to help the business keep growing. “That was very, very challenging to do that,” he says. “But we could not scale the business any further continuing to run that much revenue through a select few people, and so we decided we were going to break the company down into much smaller chunks and allow individual operators to run their branches. If you can do that, you can basically infinitely scale.”

He’s also made financial decisions to support growth. “If you have an aggressive desire to grow, you have to make sacrifices financially to do it,” he says. “You have to be disciplined financially to, say, forgo profits or things you want to do, because you want to grow your business.”

Biggest mistake: Personnel decisions that didn’t work out have taught Duke a lot about the importance of having the right people on your team. “Hiring the wrong person with the wrong values can really set you back,” he says. “So you’ve really got to concentrate on the intangibles of a person and their character and make sure you’re making the right decisions, especially in any sort of leadership positions.”

Working with a consultant and using resources like the book “Traction: Get A Grip on Your Business,” by Gino Wickman have helped the company define its vision and values and use that information during the hiring process. “When you really get focused on specifically your values as a company…it makes the people who don’t fit in really stick out like a sore thumb,” he says. “It can be like a cancer that can eat away at your culture if you allow someone to stick around who is really hurting your culture.”

Up-at-night worry: Not surprisingly, it’s rising labor and supply costs and whether consumers will be willing and able to absorb those higher prices.

Stefania Pifferi. Juniper Landscaping posted $140 million in revenue in 2021.

One advantage Juniper Landscaping has over many other landscaping companies? “We’re just very aware of our costs,” says Duke. “We’re very dialed in on what things are costing us, what jobs are coming in at, what our margins are. So it’s having confidence that when you ask for price increases on certain jobs, you know you need it.”

He says many businesses make the mistake of absorbing cost increases themselves for too long without raising prices for customers. “What they don’t realize is every year they forgo price increases, they’re eroding their margins and making it harder for their business to actually survive and thrive,” he says. “No one wants to give their customers price increases, but if you don’t do it over time, you’re risking your whole business.”

Best pandemic decision: Staying the course. As Duke was having lunch to discuss acquiring Fort Lauderdale landscaping company Green Source at the onset of the pandemic, the restaurant literally shut down during his meal. “It was kind of dicey to think about buying a company going into that headwind,” he says. “But (it) turned out to be an excellent purchase, excellent people, and really great for our business. We didn’t let the noise get to us; we knew we had a good deal on our hands.”

Outside work: The married father of three spends time off with his family, often boating around the area. He also got his pilot’s license in 2018 — something he’d wanted to do since college. It’s not only something he enjoys personally but also has business benefits.

“I just wanted to do it and I also saw that the business was expanding,” he says. “So I thought there would be utility to being able to get around to different branches more quickly by flying.”

 

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