October 13, 2021
Brad Paton
Brad Paton

Making the cut in landscape maintenance

BRAD PATON is president of Shades of Summer Landscaping, based in Waterdown, Ont. He founded the company in 2009 with a focus on residential maintenance. Today, Shades of Summer has won more than 30 industry awards, and has expanded into landscape design, construction and renovation. Paton also serves as chair of Landscape Ontario’s Grounds Management Sector Group.

You found success quickly after opening Shades of Summer in 2009. What type of preparation do you believe helped you hit the ground running?

I worked for someone for 17 years before I went out on my own because I wasn’t naive to the fact that it’s not easy. It’s not easy getting clients, it’s not easy making money and it’s not easy pricing things. You need a place to get rid of brush and a place to park your trucks. That’s all very difficult and you need to have that sorted out before you start your own business.

A lot of people fail within the first few years. You really have to know your stuff. You have to know your numbers, know who your clientele is going to be and know who is going to work for you. And you have to be able to manage yourself.

You also have to learn how to talk to clients. You have to be able to get a sense of who they are and what their needs are. I definitely find that talking to an 80-year-old woman is different from talking to one of our clients that is a neurologist. Some of them are owners of law firms. Those are the sort of guys you don’t want to mess around with. You can’t be a rookie kid coming in there. Our clients want a lot of confidence that they’re getting the best.

You’ve also said you often work with your clients on maintaining a property?

I like to work with them. A lot of our clients are very passionate gardeners themselves. They care about their properties. I think that’s also key to who our clients are. They’re really engaged in their properties.

Is that always an advantage?

It is and it isn’t. Sometimes they’re also the crazy ones that come out and ask you to do ridiculous things. At the same time, we always do it. It’s not to say the client is always right, but we try to make them happy. That’s sort of the way it goes.

When it comes to grounds maintenance, what creates an award-winning property?

It’s the attention to detail and the time we put into the work we do. A lot of the guys I talk to in grounds maintenance have set contracts, but we charge on an hourly basis. So, we just go there and do what needs to be done and make it look perfect.

We probably have at least 10 clients where money isn’t an issue, so we can go and make it look beautiful. And we all enjoy it. Everybody here that is full-time staff, this is what they love to do. It isn’t a stop-gap job for them. They all like the work and we all take pride in the work we do.

What makes a good grounds maintenance employee?

I think it’s just a positive attitude. One of our employees, when she started with me, I don’t think she had a ton of experience in maintenance. Now, she’s a Red Seal horticulturist. She’s come a long way. She is very creative, very good at what she does and takes a lot of pride in her work.

I know it’s really tough right now, guys are hiring pretty much everybody. The industry is so desperate to find employees and I’ve been there. You get the dream ones sometimes, but they only come by every few years.

What advice would you offer to someone in the landscape profession looking to start their own maintenance company?

I would suggest making sure you get a role with a really good company and learn whatever you can. It’s not easy.