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Business Observer Thursday, Apr. 8, 2021 3 months ago

Lawn and garden business plants seeds for succession

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While the second generation is under 30, seeds are being planted for an eventual handoff of the business.
by: Elizabeth Djinis Contributor

Company: When David and Elizabeth Taylor purchased their original Venice garden center in 2003, the building was essentially a rundown shed. The roof leaked, the parking lot wasn’t paved, and there was no air conditioning. The couple put in $800 worth of light bulbs the first day they owned the place. 

MRT Lawn and Garden Center has since grown from its humble beginnings to a pair of locations, one in south Sarasota County and one in Port Charlotte, which opened last year. The company is now one of the largest plant nurseries in Southwest Florida, serving customers looking for gardening, landscaping and decorating products and services. In 2019 MRT partnered with ACE Hardware, in which the Taylors operate independently, or what Ace calls a co-op, to offer a more complete shopping experience at both retail locations by offering full outdoor living, hardware, paint, electrical and plumbing departments.

'The kids are showing an interest in wanting to continue on. Our succession plan is not in stone — we haven’t gotten to that point.' David Taylor 

Succession plan: The Taylors’ entire second generation now works in the company. The oldest, Joshua, 27, runs the landscaping division, which accounts for about a third of the total company revenue. Justin, 25, handles the human side of the operation, such as marketing, human resources and retail compliance. The youngest, Jessica, 22, started her full-time role shortly before the pandemic. She manages relationships and orders products from vendors for decor and pottery, as well as ordering items from ACE Hardware. 

David and Elizabeth Taylor are no strangers to a family business. David’s family hails from an agricultural line of farmers throughout Florida. His grandfather’s pine table still sits in their conference room.

Both David and Elizabeth feel too young to turn over the family business entirely. At 58 and 54, respectively, the Taylors think a full succession plan conversation might happen when they are in their 60s or 70s. “The kids are showing an interest in wanting to continue on,” David says. “Our succession plan is not in stone — we haven’t gotten to that point.” 

Challenges: Every Sunday, the Taylors try to have a family dinner. They aim to keep work and life separate — but every so often, something slips in. Justin’s boyfriend has gotten so used to this phenomenon that even one look can communicate his frustration.

“Other family members not in the business and our friends all feel the same way once the conversation goes to work,” Justin says. “They don’t know anything about it, and they feel left out.” 

Like many family businesses, the lines between family and business blur often. “Sometimes I feel like we have so much family time at work that we might go a while without having family time outside of work,” Justin says. “We do take for granted seeing each other so much. We have to focus on spending quality time together when we do.”  

And although they usually don’t mind talking about work while not at work, there are times where they have to set boundaries. In a what-not-to-do moment, they once went on a family vacation to Mexico and spent the whole time talking about palm trees.

Lori Sax. David and Elizabeth Taylor plan to transition the business MRT Lawn and Garden Center, to their kids Justin, Josh and Jessica someday.

The Taylors are fortunate in having friends and colleagues with family businesses in insurance and finance, people they lean on for advice. But their family working style is in a niche all its own — 90% of their schedules are unpredictable, and both stores are open seven days a week. “We’re the only family that we know of that has the workplace family dynamic that we do,” Josh says.

Justin, ever the organizer, once tried to make the entire family a shared calendar to schedule events. In recalling the memory, all of Taylors laugh. Their routines changed so much day to day that it was never going to work.  

What will the company look like in five years: In July 2019, David had an unexpected health emergency. 

The Taylors were in the middle of building the Port Charlotte garden center, and David was digging a ditch. One day later, he discovered he would have to have open heart surgery. 

The health scare has weighed on the Taylors. “I’m definitely ready to slow down,” David says. 

So although nothing is imminent, as their father contemplates taking a step back, each sibling is starting to find their place in the company. They certainly have a breadth of experience — Justin and Josh got their start loading bags of mulch in elementary school while Jessica created fairy gardens of succulents and monogrammed items for customers. The trio is likely to learn a lot more in the next five to 10 years about navigating a family business. “The three of us all respect the silos that each of us work in, and we try not to step on each other’s toes,” Justin says.

 

Click the links below to hear best practices from other families working through business succession and experts who have helped others.

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