February 15, 2015
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

This month I would like to give over my space to Jason Bouwman, founder of Compass Creative in Stoney Creek. Jason writes an online blog, entitled Two Cents Worth. I found his most recent blog, about Congress 2015 and our industry, bang-on and reflected my thoughts on our annual great event.

Landscape Ontario and a number of our members have worked with Compass Creative on a number of projects. Jason describes his company, “We help our clients understand who they are (truthfully), what they do (exactly), who they do it for (specifically) and why it matters (really). In short, we help our clients’ transition from ‘bland to brand.’ ”

I thank Jason for his permission to print his thoughts this month.  

Think a career in landscaping is an oxymoron? Think again!

By Jason Bouwman

Anyone who works with the landscape industry knows how much landscape professionals love their jobs — they love to be outdoors. So you’d better put on one really good show if you want to lure 13,000-plus landscapers indoors and have them stay inside for three to four days. This is what Landscape Ontario manages to do each year in Toronto at its annual Congress. This year was no exception.

One of the most memorable moments for me this year happened when I first walked into the trade show hall. I hadn’t taken more than a couple steps, when one particular booth jumped out at me. Hortico!

Hortico, a nursery from Waterdown, gave me my introduction into this industry with my very first job at the age of 12. Early on Saturday mornings, my mom would get me up and drive me to the Vanderkruk’s Farm on Robson Road, where for most of the day I would sit on a metal stool in a dingy barn with a group of co-workers stripping cuttings and dipping them in rooting powder. On more fortunate occasions, I was permitted to plant. That now all seems like a lifetime ago.

About a year ago, Phil Vanderkruk called me and asked for our help rebranding the business his father founded. I was honoured. So when I walked in the trade show at Congress this year and sat down in the booth our team had designed for my first employer, it was like coming full circle.

And that stool I was sitting on in the booth? The SAME STOOL I sat on 30 years ago! Phil had them sandblasted and re-coated just for the show. I’ll admit that I enjoyed the nostalgic perch much more at Congress, than I did when I was a kid learning how to work. But looking back, I’m grateful for that first opportunity I was given to contribute and earn my keep.

Landscape professionals know how to work. What became clear though, in numerous conversations, is the need for this industry to improve its storytelling. The industry still struggles to enjoy the respect of the general public and to attract young talent to its workforce. Perhaps this is perpetuated by well-meaning parents who would rather see their kids become doctors and lawyers. Many of the speakers at the conference spoke to the need for better stories.

Mike Pennington from Lakeridge Contracting in Whitby, a first-time speaker at Congress, pointed his audience to storytelling on social media. I was also pleased to hear Mark Bradley, owner of TBG Landscape Professionals in Brooklin and LMN, speak again. Mark emphasized the importance of developing a solid brand and compelling website, particularly for companies wishing to attract a higher paying clientele.

But I was most inspired by the youth who spoke on the panel at the Cultivate and Connect event, as well as the high school and college students who presented their designs in the Come Alive Outside Design Challenge. They were passionate, knowledgeable and hardworking. Jeremy from Nicola Landscapes, a recent graduate from Fanshawe College (one of my old schools), was emphatic about working hard. “Realize that life is work and work is hard. Once you get that you can move forward, get busy and make things happen.”

If anyone still looks down on the landscape industry, I’d encourage them (as I did) to have a conversation with Alan White of Turf Systems in Burlington. He is a guy whose deep knowledge of plants is only surpassed by his big, hairy, audacious ideas for change and his intense passion to be on the leading edge of that change.

I am positive that there are more good things on the horizon for the landscape industry. These people are smart, resolved and poised to lead. Coming out of Congress and heading into the rest of 2015 (Compass Creative’s 10th year), I was inspired by the following thoughts:

Impacting the world is not done primarily through the work you produce but by impacting the people around you in the process. We must remain humble enough to serve others, disciplined enough to push through the challenges and gracious enough to accept that people and circumstances will not always be as we wish.

Jason Bouwman’s blog may be found at compasscreative.ca/blog.
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tony@landscapeontario.com.