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80-year-old entrepreneur still going strong, now with new laser cleaning firm

After some five decades in business, Russell Ireland says the cliche rings true. "We have always looked at crises or problems as opportunities," he says.


Russell Ireland (center) has big hopes for Advanced Laser Restoration, which he's running with his son, Russell Ireland III, and Moises Dias.
Russell Ireland (center) has big hopes for Advanced Laser Restoration, which he's running with his son, Russell Ireland III, and Moises Dias.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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After a long career in the garden and landscaping business, Russell Ireland is giving laser restoration a go

When a friend and business associate first told Russell Ireland about a franchising opportunity in the laser restoration industry, he wasn’t convinced it was the right move. But after some research and first-hand experience witnessing the cleaning capabilities of laser technology, Ireland saw the potential.

“I thought this was cutting-edge,” he said. “So we went ahead and pulled the trigger.”

Along with that friend, Moises Dias, and his son, Russell Ireland III, Ireland now operates the second franchise location of Advanced Laser Restoration, and the company’s only franchise in Florida. The technology can remove rust, mold, grease and even paint without the use of caustic chemicals or techniques like sandblasting. 

“One of the biggest advantages to laser cleaning is the environmental side,” he says. “And we’re cost effective; we’re pretty competitive with all the other possibilities.”

Off U.S. 301 near the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, the Sarasota location of Advanced Laser Restoration formally opened in June but has already landed some full-time contracts and done a demonstration for SpaceX. The company’s future looks as bright as one of its cleaning jobs — and, outside the technology, Ireland’s long resume is a major reason for that.

“I basically, you know, was winding down; I’m 80,” he says. “But I have a lot of energy still, and when I saw this opportunity and then actually saw the demonstrations, that got me excited.”

Over the years, Ireland has proven he knows a good business opportunity when he sees one. While still in college at Stetson University, he took over operations of his parents’ garden center on Long Island, eventually buying it from them and transitioning into the landscaping business. He then purchased Martin Viette Nurseries on the North Shore of Long Island. While continuing to operate the retail nursery, he also started Ireland Gannon Associates, which offered landscaping design for almost 40 years, winning numerous awards along the way.

Working on multi-acre home properties on Long Island’s Gold Coast, he saw another business opportunity and developed a residential putting green company. Once his sons joined the nursery business and had enough experience, Ireland started a company to design and build British conservatories, landing projects like the executive faculty dining lounge at Harvard University.

The recession and housing crash of 2008-09 upended the residential landscaping and nursery business, and Ireland decided to semi-retire and build custom waterfront homes on Shelter Island, on Long Island’s east end. He also started a green wall business with customers renting one of his farms, Anthony and Melissa Caggiano. 

Another shift came when the farm started growing hops for local breweries and then became one itself, utilizing an old potato barn retrofitted for beer production. Now run mainly by the Caggianos, Jamesport Farm Brewery has been open since 2017 and has earned accolades and loyal fans.

“It’s probably been said a million times, but we have always looked at crises or problems as opportunities,” says Ireland. “And the success of my businesses is not Russ Ireland; it’s the staff that I’ve had around. So when we had issues, we’d get together and have a brainstorming session and say, ‘Alright, what do we do now?’ And not run for the hills. That’s why we’ve been able to change as things have moved on.”

Early in his career, Ireland hadn’t fully grasped how vital a strong staff is to the success of a business. “One of the many mistakes that I made early on was not doing a good job at recruiting the right people,” he says. “And what that ended up doing was delaying the positive growth of the business.”

A consultant he worked with for years helped him change that. “A lot of times we had some great people coming in and interviewing with incredible backgrounds and knowledge, but they weren’t a fit for our company, so we didn’t bring them on,” he says. “We found that if we found the right attitude that we could teach them the skill set.”

Once he had reliable staff and good vendors and suppliers on board, he nurtured those relationships. “Treat other people the way you’d like to be treated, and you can’t go wrong,” he says.

Ireland and his wife were living in the Sarasota area for part of the year when the Advanced Laser Restoration opportunity came along. His past successes put him in a position to self-fund the franchise, an advantage other businesses don’t typically have right out of the gate.

“Having been in business a long time and having started multiple businesses, I know that the reason why most businesses don’t make it is they don’t have enough capital to get them through the first 12 or 18 months,” he says. “And we’ll be solvent probably within nine months, which is, I would say, pretty unique.”

Education is key when meeting with potential clients. “We’re not only a new business, but we’re a new industry,” says Ireland. “I think it’s a lot more challenging when we’re dealing with an industry people don’t know…We take a small laptop with us or an iPad that has videos, and we show them for 15 seconds and they get it.”

Ireland plans to give his son and Dias the back-office coaching and support they need to fully take over the Advanced Laser Restoration franchise in 18 to 24 months. “I’m trying to teach them everything so that they’ll be able to run the business,” he says. “And then maybe I’ll go out and fish a little bit.”

 

author

Beth Luberecki

Nokomis-based freelance writer Beth Luberecki, a Business Observer contributor, writes about business, travel and lifestyle topics for a variety of Florida and national publications. Her work has appeared in publications and on websites including Washington Post’s Express, USA Today, Florida Trend, FamilyVacationist.com and SmarterTravel.com. Learn more about her at BethLuberecki.com.

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