Jim Rivet, NHCLP
In the summer of 1961 at the very impressionable age of 14, and then throughout high school, I helped care for the grounds and buildings of my local church in Salem, NH, five and a half days each week through the summer and weekends during school when I wasn’t playing sports. I think (rather, I know) I was a better worker than athlete. Although I learned something about shrubs, annuals, and turf, I also became aware of the satisfaction and self-confidence I gained from the discipline it takes to stay with a task well done.
By the time I went off to college, however, I was told what I had been doing was okay, but it held no future, and I needed to earn a college degree and become a real “professional.” What an unfortunate bunch of BS! (No, that does not stand for Bachelor of Science.) So, being the product of the 1960s and wanting to improve the lot of fellow man, I majored in psychology and after a couple of advanced degrees and certifications, I became a clinical psychologist. In truth, it was interesting enough, but throughout college and graduate school, I continued to seek out jobs in either landscaping or the building trades to pay for that tuition and all those heavy textbooks. It took me about ten years to realize that there was something else I wanted to do, and by that time, about 1979, I was married, with a house and family, and yes, a psychologist. I’m a slow learner.
I won’t bore you with the gory details of what that transition was like, on my wife, my identity, and our roles as parents, only to note they were indeed ‘lean years.’ Suffice it to say that, despite Liz’s (my wife’s) trepidations and all the changes to her life and rethinking of expectations of what our life was “supposed” to be, we miraculously made it work. Without Liz’s unwavering help and trust, the transition would have been much more difficult, and nowhere as enjoyable as it was and still is.
I was ill-prepared for starting and running a landscape business on several levels. No formal training or education, not even an informal business plan, no working capital, no customer base, and no equipment other than a pickup truck, some hand tools, and a wheelbarrow. Basically I started my own landscaping company for all the wrong reasons. I simply liked that type of work. No matter how professional I had been, working with plants and dirt fit the identity I had of myself in my mind’s eye. Success or failure was not measured in dollars but rather in accomplishments and the challenge of getting it right. In other words, it was all on-the-job training and learning from my mistakes.
I met two men who became both teachers and mentors and continue today to be close, valued friends. Gary Johnson is a gifted teacher in the classroom and on the job site. And even better, he has a sense of humor that just won’t quit. Steve Lenzi is an experienced excavation contractor who to this day is hard nosed, opinionated, and can read me like a book. Steve’s criticisms are always blunt, constructive, and so thoughtful that it is obvious he always wanted me to succeed almost as much as I did. Each of these people have not only shared their experience and knowledge but also taught me the importance to share what I know and learn with others. They stand as the two most influential business leaders across the many years of my landscaping career.
Looking back on what has become a 35+ year journey, what I value from Gary and Steve, as well as what my studies in clinical psychology emphasized, is the critical significance of relationship building – with customers, other contractors, and business people, as well as with my community. Listening, being present and giving honest feedback is what helps build trust, and trust is at the core of every lasting relationship. Honesty and generosity pays forward. The reputation you gain from how you handle relationships determines the future success of your work, your industry, and your income.
My intention from the beginning was to have a small landscaping company with only one or two employees. I paid a price for that business decision. Good, ambitious employees would learn a lot and then move on because they were not acquiring or using skills that would sufficiently challenge and reward them. As I began to think about my own retirement, I realized my business was worth a lot more to me than anyone else because of its narrow focus. Thus, in recent years, with the right combination of youth, energy, discipline, commitment, and skill, I felt I had the crew, the customer base, and the equipment (sort of) to start branching out. The change in direction has proven to be a good one. However, in order to move forward, one often has to first let go of what is currently safe and comfortable. That is, the proverbial ‘leap of faith’ that someone takes when they bet on themselves. For me, the transition to a new business model has very much felt like a parent letting go of his child, who wants independence and autonomy, and trusting that youngster has the skills and maturity to make it on his/her own without meddling from me.
Now that last statement has at times played havoc with my sense of myself. But here is where that whole issue of relationship building comes in to save the day. Everyone involved – from my wife to the soon-to-be new owner, to a fantastic and dedicated youthful crew, and finally my customers – has worked on and supported this transition over the past two, going on three, years. I think that makes me one lucky SOB, believing that Rivet Landscaping will outlast the tired muscles in my back.
For as many years as I’ve been involved in landscaping, including those early high school years, I have been amazed and humbled by how much there is still to be learned. I only half-jokingly say I’m still at it because I’m still trying to get it right! The basics are always important, but it is staying current with the use of best practices for both materials and techniques that sets each of us apart from others in the field. Every action and choice we make is for a purpose. Believing what we do is important and done to the very best of our ability is what helps keep us centered as individuals, as parents, as business owners, and as members of our communities. Like a tree in a forest or a plant in a landscape we are a part of a whole, and we have a purpose.
So for me, Rivet Landscaping, I am proud to say this is not the end of the journey but rather the end of the chapter. The gift of living is that the longer we are at it, the more opportunities we have to give back and to continue to grow in that giving back. Time to turn the page.
The individuals featured in this column (also on the website) are NH Certified Landscape Professionals. If you are interested in becoming an NHCLP, please find out more information here.
If you are already an NHCLP and would like to be featured, please send an article and 300 dpi jpeg of yourself to Patty Laughlin, Lorax Landscaping, 603-303-0179, firstname.lastname@example.org.