Horizon Landscape Services started in 2007 as three guys cutting grass four days a week. Today, the Charleston, South Carolina-based company includes four divisions, 50 employees and a load of compact equipment.
For owner Gary Thorpe, the company is a dream come true. Gary always wanted to be his own boss. He spent 27 years working five jobs – seven days a week – on four to five hours of sleep a night before finally deciding to take a leap of faith in starting his own business. That risk turned into a successful company that’s grown by leaps and bounds.
Soon after starting the landscaping company with his son Joey and friend Dennis Snyder, Gary added a construction division that performs rough and finish grading for large land-development companies in the area. From there, the company added an irrigation crew, and in 2016, expanded into a cement division that includes brickwork, stucco, concrete driveways and foundations.
Finding Partners You Can Count On
Without much experience with compact equipment, Gary purchased a compact track loader based on the recommendation of a crew member who used another brand with a past employer. Gary continued adding loaders as the company’s workload demanded. By the time Horizon Landscape Services had purchased a handful of machines, the nearest dealership was a two-hour drive away.
“I’m one of those people that bases my business decisions on how you treat me after the sale,” Gary says. “If you treat me fairly, I’ll continue to do business with you. But it got to the point where I’d drive two hours to get something fixed and then wouldn’t have a machine for the jobs.”
In Gary’s words, he can throw a rock and almost hit the Bobcat of Charleston dealership from his business, so he decided to shop local.
“They brought two machines out to us. We demoed them. We liked them. That’s pretty much the history right there,” Gary says of the simple transaction.
He bought two Bobcat compact track loaders and then another. Gary has purchased or leased five Bobcat compact track loaders in all.
“We’ve got four install crews with the compact track loaders that are working six days a week right now,” he says.
He recently purchased an M2-Series T550 with an enclosed cab and automatic ride control. When completing rough grades and cutting swells, there’s less dirt or material spillage and more comfort for reduced operator fatigue – an important feature when completing multiple installs each day.
In addition to performance and comfort features, Gary has been impressed with the smaller items that add up over time, like track quality.
“With my old machines, I had to replace the tracks twice a year. Now I only replace them once a year,” he says of the significant cost savings.
Adding a Variety of Machine Sizes to an Equipment Fleet
When Gary added the cement division to Horizon Landscape Services in 2016, he didn’t have to go far to find the right construction equipment for the application. After purchasing a Bobcat E35 compact excavator, the division grew so quickly that he bought another Bobcat excavator in 2017.
“We were constantly moving the excavator to dig foundations,” he says. “The money I was spending transporting it to different sites plus the man-hours, I said I might as well buy another one, so we added the E42.”
The jump up in excavator size was a strategic move for cutting outside costs.
“The E42 digs up tree stumps that we were paying someone to do stump grinding before,” Gary says.
The bigger machine also has farther reach for digging the footings of specialized raised foundations for waterfront homes in Charleston’s affluent Daniel Island community.
“It’s always better to have a machine that can do more than the other one,” Gary says, explaining the various models of compact track loaders and excavators he owns.
Taking Care of Business Means Taking Care of Equipment
Due to the tremendous growth and success of the business in the last 11 years, Gary is now able to cut back on his day-to-day involvement in the operation and enjoy some hard-earned time off.
His wife, Diane, and daughter Lindsey Thorpe Wallace handle day-to-day billing while younger brother Dan leads the cement division of the business. He relies on a trusted group of employees to manage the other divisions of the company.
Gary is confident in the continued operation without his daily presence, but he still finds time to monitor morning routines of the crew on occasion – including equipment maintenance.
“I’m big on daily maintenance, so before any machine can get started or head out to a job, they have to lift the hoods and check the oil,” he says.
For equipment service beyond daily upkeep, Gary relies on Bobcat of Charleston.
“They’re so close to our shop, we can take a machine to them,” he says. “If not, they’ll send a road technician out to work on the machine wherever it is.”
Turning a Profit from Turnkey Projects
Although the business started as three guys mowing, Gary says the company doesn’t do much residential work anymore.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to send a four-man crew to cut a yard that we get paid $40 for,” he says.
Instead, Horizon Landscape Services will continue to focus on commercial maintenance, grading, irrigation installation and cement work. Turnkey projects like a 225-home installation project make the investment in quality landscaping and construction equipment worth every penny for Horizon Landscape Services.
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