Since 1998, Girard Environmental Services (GES) has become one of the largest privately-held commercial landscaping companies in the United States.
The company is owned by Rick and Randy Girard and is headquartered in Sanford, Florida. GES has 9 branch locations, 180 vehicles and provides full-time employment for approximately 450 individuals.
Our company provides a wide variety of landscape installation, landscape maintenance and facility maintenance services to commercial customers across multiple market segments throughout the state of Florida.
Facts & Figures
- Girard Environmental Services, LLC
701 Codisco Way, Sanford, FL 32771
Post office Box 1119 Sanford, FL 32772
- Rick Girard, Chief Executive Officer
- Randy Girard, President
Annual Sales & Growth
- FY2017 $42.0 Million 7% Projected
- FY2016 $39.2 Million 10% Growth
- FY2015 $35.7 Million 11% Growth
- FY2014 $32.2 Million 33% Growth
- FY2013 $24.3 Million 16% Growth
- 2017 – Landscape Management, Top 150 Landscaping Companies #40/150
- 2017 – Lawn & Landscape, Top 100 Landscaping Companies #39/100
- 2016 – Landscape Management, Top 150 Landscaping Companies #46/150
- 2016 – Lawn & Landscape, Top 100 Landscaping Companies #39/100
- 2016 – Orlando Business Journal, Fast 50: Central Florida’s Fastest Growing Firms #46/50
- 2016 – Orlando Business Journal, Golden 100: Central Florida’s Top Privately-Held Companies #58/100
The Girard Story
The Early Years
Like many young entrepreneurs, Rick Girard started out cutting lawns for family, friends and neighbors to earn a little extra money. He spent countless hours as a young teenager learning the skills and developing a work ethic that would eventually define his future.
During his senior year of high school and before committing himself fully to the landscaping industry, Rick also explored a career in landscape architecture and at one point considered joining the United States Coast Guard. But after graduation, he decided to go to work for South Shore Lawn and Garden, a company that he had worked for during the previous summer break.
This opportunity gave him his first real glace into the world of commercial landscape maintenance and it wasn’t long before he was promoted to foreman and eventually given the responsibility for overseeing all of the company’s daily operations.
As Rick entered the workforce, Randy Girard was starting his sophomore year in high school. Whenever possible, he’d work along with his brother, which allowed the two of them to work side-by-side on weekends, school holidays and over the summer breaks. This helped create a working partnership early on that helped set the foundation for what was to come later in life.
A Business is Born
In May 1989, at nineteen years of age, Rick decided to start his own landscaping business. With the help of his father, Girard’s Landscaping & General Maintenance was established. With one truck and trailer, the company picked up several prestigious homes along the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale. Soon after, the company was also awarded the landscape maintenance for Ryland Homes, one of South Florida’s largest residential homebuilders.
“Rick has always been self-motivated, very determined and has always set a high expectation of himself and everybody else for that matter. He’s never been afraid to figure something out on his own, no matter how difficult,” says Leo Girard, his father.
After only about a year and a half in business, the company was enjoying a modest amount of success generating nearly $25,000 in monthly revenue. But a major transition was coming… Just as Randy was about to begin his senior year of high school, their father received a promotion, requiring that the family relocate to Orlando, Florida. Rick decided to stay behind and continue running the business while the rest of the family moved to Central Florida in the fall of 1990.
Randy enrolled at Lake Howell High School to finish up his senior year. Rick visited frequently, but after several months the long drive and his desire to be closer to the family began to take its toll. He decided to sell off his accounts and start over again from scratch in Central Florida during the spring of 1991. “Rick struggled for a while,” Leo recalls. “He took whatever jobs he could get, no job was too small when he was starting out.”
It wasn’t long after that Randy was able to rejoin his brother in the business. Being that Randy was a senior, he was allowed to enroll in a work-study program that allowed him to earn high school credit while also working with his brother. “I’d go to school every morning, attend home room class and then get checked out,” Randy recalls. “Rick would be outside waiting for me, then we’d go cut lawns all day.”
During the early 1990’s, Central Florida was in the midst of a development boom. Both homebuilders and commercial developers flourished, creating a big demand for landscaping services. Girard’s Landscaping quickly grew into a thriving business.
Thriving Success Turns into Failure
With several commercial contracts under their belt, the brothers saw great success as the business continued to grow. Their father, Leo Girard, left the corporate world and also joined the company by this time.
It was 1994, the company’s workforce had grown to about 20 full-time employees with annual sales reaching nearly $750,000. But the bottom was about to fall out… After a series of poor business decisions, the company was unable to meet its financial obligations. By October of 1995, the company had little choice but to close its doors and file for bankruptcy.
This was a bad time for the entire Girard Family. With both Rick and Randy now having young families of their own to support, they decided to go their separate ways.
Starting Over: Same Town, Same Industry
Randy decided to continue doing what he knew best and started his own small landscaping company, called Sunscape. He and one employee set out to make ends meet with a handful of residential customers. Rick, having no desire to start another company at that time, took an enhancement manager position with Environmental Care Industries, known today as Valleycrest.
While Randy was getting by, Rick felt stifled after just a few months. The reality set in of knowing that his earning potential was not going to allow him to pay back roughly $110,000 in remaining debt that was not discharged during the bankruptcy. So, he asked his employer for more responsibility and a pay raise. Rick’s request was denied and after giving a thirty-day written notice, he was unceremoniously dismissed the next day, driven home and dropped off in front of his driveway only four months after he started.
Without many other options, Rick decided to start a new business. In February 1996, he started Outdoor Concepts with some borrowed equipment and a $1,000 loan from his father-in-law.
“After what I had just gone through, this is the last thing that I wanted to do. I was 26 years old, newly married with a one year old son,” Rick, remembers. “Regardless of how scared I was at the time, I knew that it was the only way for me to settle my debts and eventually be able to provide financial stability for my family.”
Partnership Struggles Lead to Progress
Anxious to hit the ground running, Rick searched for a working partner who could help support the business financially. After being let down a couple different times, Rick eventually came across a business partner in 1997 who helped fund the business with some operating capital.
Once Outdoor Concepts started gaining momentum, Rick reached out to his brother Randy to come on board and help him grow the company. It wasn’t long before the company had five employees and a backlog of work.
The business did quite well up until October 1998. On the day that Rick’s second son was born, Randy took a few hours off of work to visit the hospital and welcome his new nephew into the world. The business partner didn’t think that was such a good idea and decided to make a big deal about it the next day with Rick. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This guy had become such a control freak and this was the final straw,” says Rick. “He was actually mad that my brother had taken the morning off to come visit us at the hospital!”
Within a matter of days, Rick informed his partner that things weren’t going to work out. The two of them met up for breakfast on October 16, 1998, to figure things out. “He asked me, who are people going to believe, you the bankrupt landscaper or me the guy who drives a BMW and lives in Heathrow?” Rick recalls. “This guys was freaking deranged… and then he went home after breakfast and notified all the customers that I had decided to leave the company and he wished me well. That’s not what happened!”
“I was beyond furious, but extremely determined to not only set the record straight, but to crush any hopes of him ever benefiting at the expense of my family. I was done with failure and being the helpless victim. But, in a sick sort of way I guess that I appreciate him for pushing me over the edge.”
Over a two-day weekend, the brothers agreed to build a business as equal 50/50 partners. Rick would serve as chief executive officer and Randy as president. Their goal was to build a business that could not only support their families, but also rebuild their family’s name and reputation. On October 19, 1998, Girard Environmental Services was launched without any outside capital or start-up funding.
Building a Brand and Reputation
Over the first several years, they lived modestly and reinvested nearly all of the profits back into the business. By doing so, they were able to finish repaying the remaining debt owed by Rick, plus they made the conscious decision to pay back another $200,000 to local suppliers who took a hit during the bankruptcy, 4-5 years earlier. Although this supplier debt was formally discharged, it was the right thing to do and they knew it would help them rebuild their family name and become an important step in creating a solid foundation for their new company to build upon.
“It became a matter of personal pride for Rick and Randy to make sure that they went back and repaid everyone owed money from the bankruptcy,” Leo says. “They take a lot of pride in always doing the right thing. Their mother and I are very proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
“The first 7-8 years were a blur,” says Rick. “We didn’t come up for air, we didn’t take any time to realize what we had built. Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard as a young entrepreneur was to always be running scared and we did just that. Actually, we still remind each other of that today – failure has never been an option.”
All of their determination and stubbornness was finally starting to pay off. Over the first several years in business, Girard Environmental Services saw monumental growth, reaching $1.7 million in 1999; $3.6 million in 2000; $5.9 million in 2001 and by 2005 the company’s sales had reached $16 million.
Early Sucess and Growth Strategy
In 2007, Rick and Randy developed a long-term strategy to expand their landscape maintenance division throughout Florida. Their plan called for a steady opening of branches across the state to grow this segment of their business and become less dependent on the cyclical nature of installation. In hindsight, this would prove to be one of the smartest business decisions the two of them ever made.
The company opened its second branch during the fall of 2007 located in Winter Haven, Florida. A few months later, they opened their third branch in Tampa. “Times were good, we were having a lot of fun and felt like we were on top of the world,” says Randy.
It was 2008, the company was enjoying their most profitable year ever with more than $21 million in annual revenues. “At the time, about 60% of our revenue came from installation and the other 40% came from maintenance,” recalls Randy. But all of this growth and success was taking place just as the Great Recession was silently building steam. A staggering blow was about to be delivered to the business. Rick and Randy had been through hard times, but nothing like what they were about to experience.
The Great Recession
Then came September 15, 2008, a day that Rick and Randy remember quite well. “We were knee-deep in discussions with a private equity partner who was going to provide the company with the growth capital it needed,” Rick says. “We had just sat down to iron out the details of the partnership when we were told that Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy that same morning and they had lost their financing. What was intended to be a three-day meeting lasted a total of about fifteen minutes!”
Within months, $3 million worth of installation contracts cancelled. “They were just flat out cancelled,” Randy remembers. “We went from doing nearly $1 million a month of installation projects to about $1 million a year.”
While the company’s installation division was being obliterated, GES had to quickly shift gears and accelerate the expansion of their landscape maintenance division – at a time when other companies were hunkering down for the worst! There was no equity partner on board and the banks were calling their loans due instead of lending more, but ironically, the only way for the company to stay in business was to grow!
“We had customers. We had equipment. We had cash flow,” Randy remembers. “We just weren’t making any money. Our margins were being crushed because of pricing pressures, compounded by the rapid growth of our company’s infrastructure.”
“It was a very scary time to be in business,” Rick recalls. “We were in a continual state of chaos and unpredictability… constantly scrambling to make it all come together. Regardless of how beaten up we were, all we could do was keep fighting.”
Amazingly, the company did manage to make it all come together. They continued to expand their footprint throughout Florida, while fighting on the front lines of one of our country’s worst economic periods.
Determination, Focus, and Perseverance
The stress of it all hit Rick especially hard. “Every week there was a new worst case scenario for us to deal with, but having my brother there to watch my back was an undeniable benefit,” Rick remarks.
The two continued to work tirelessly throughout 2009 and 2010 to control their operating costs, reduce their overhead and run the company as leanly as possible. Many tough decisions had to be made in order for the company to survive. “We did whatever we had to do to survive and honestly there’s not a whole lot that we’d have done any different.” says Rick.
When things couldn’t have gotten any worse, in 2010 the company’s long-time senior lender called all of their bank loans due. They did this because the company had two back-to-back years of losses, not because they were late on any payments. “Everybody was scared,” explained Rick. “We had the same banker for years, but with so many companies failing, they obviously did what they thought was right at the time. I’m still very upset that they put us in that situation, but I knew what didn’t kill us would make us stronger.”
Despite all the adversity the company was facing, there were some good things happening too. The expansion of the company’s maintenance division was starting to pay off. Over the three year period from 2009 to 2011, the company had successfully replaced all of their lost installation revenue with recurring maintenance contracts. While their business mix completely changed, their revenues stayed flat at $18 million over that same three year period.
“Looking back, it’s pretty remarkable to see what we accomplished,” says Randy. “So many companies were either trying to get into the maintenance business or hold onto what they had. Our own customers were demanding 20-30% price reductions. If we didn’t agree, they would have to bid out the property and we’d risk losing the relationship.” For the most part, the company agreed to the price reductions and figured out ways to limit their losses.
Then as part of a national crackdown on illegal immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security conducted a yearlong audit of the company’s past and current employees. This resulted in them having to terminate sixty of their most seasoned employees. Shaking his head, Rick asks “When was it going to stop? You can only image what we were going through.”
Recovery and Stabilization
By 2011, the economy began to stabilize. Girard Environmental Services found itself beaten, battered and bruised, but still standing when so many other companies had fallen. Better times where on the horizon.
It wasn’t long before the large, deep-pocketed national companies offered to purchase the company for about half of what it was worth just three years earlier. Rick and Randy briefly entertained their offers, but instead decided to buckle down, refocus and move forward on their own. With all they had been through it wasn’t time for them to throw in the towel!
Instead, the company entered into a long-term financing deal that would provide the business with the working capital it needed to continue executing its growth plan. “We didn’t want to sell our company! We wanted to live to fight another day and this gave us exactly what we were looking for,” Rick recalls.
Rick and Randy were able to take a deep breath and formulate a new growth strategy, learning from everything they had experienced and putting it to good use.
In 2012, Rick was invited to Washington, DC to meet with Senator Mary Landrieu to be part of a roundtable discussion about how banks were failing to meet the needs of small businesses. He was one of only two business owners invited to participate in the discussion along with many other well-known politicians and senior banking executives. “It was a surreal moment in my career, after having been through so much adversity over the past few years and to now be sitting there talking about my experiences with policy makers.”
As the economy continued to improve, GES started to see growth again after four years of either stagnant or declining sales. The company posted revenues of $24.3 million in 2013; $32.2 million in 2014 and expects its revenues to exceed $36 million in 2015.
Looking to the Future
With the worst of it behind them, Rick and Randy once again look forward to coming to work every day and are excited about the future of the company. “The last several years taught us a lot. We’re much smarter and more determined than ever to forge ahead and make our mark on the industry,” says Rick.
The company’s current infrastructure is capable of reaching $50-60 million, however they are constantly reevaluating their position in the marketplace and the many opportunities they are presented with. “It’s really exciting to think about what GES could become,” adds Randy. The landscape installation division has experienced a very nice rebound, which should continue for the next couple of years. The landscape maintenance division has gained market share and has strong momentum. Their facility maintenance division is still in its infancy and has unlimited potential for growth.
Published: April 2015
- The company fully integrates it’s sales and customer service departments to embrace a “sell and nurture” philosophy to create a culture of “customer advocacy”. This initiative also allows the company to provide a single-point-of-contact for it’s landscaping and facility maintenance customers.
- The company re-names Strategic Accounts to Strategic Partnerships and expands their responsibility to include large, direct-report jobsites.
- After a two-year pilot program, GES establishes a strategic partnership with TruGreen making them their largest single customer in Florida.
- GES relocates their Accounting and Human Resources operations into a new 3,000 square foot location in Sanford, Florida.
- The company establishes Human Resources as a stand-alone department to better focus on employees and improving the company’s culture.
- Marquette Capital Partners provides growth capital financing in support of the company’s continued growth initiatives and the refinancing of existing debt.
- The company opens it’s ninth branch location in DeLand, Florida to help support growth opportunities into North Florida.
- The company introduces new customer service platform to lead a new level of expectation for the commercial landscaping industry.
- GES establishes an employee-funded and company-matched Community Outreach Program to assist those less fortunate.
- Established a Strategic Accounts Division to manage client relationships with large, multiple-site portfolios.
- The company opens it’s eighth branch location in St. Augustine, Florida allowing for further expansion into North Florida.
- The company expands its landscape maintenance operations to include the entire state of Florida by creating a network of vendor partners. This hybrid approach allows the company to self-perform work in the markets where they have a presence and outsource work in remote areas, allowing for a broader range of coverage.
- GES acquires the South Florida operations of Proscape, an Orlando-based landscaping company. This move allows for the opening of the company’s seventh branch location in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
- GES acquires the Tampa/Sarasota landscaping maintenance operations of Greenbriar Landcaping, an Orlando-based landscaping company.
- The company expands it’s footprint in South Florida with the opening of their sixth location in West Palm Beach, Florida.
- Rick Girard is invited to attend a roundtable discussion in Washington, DC with the United States Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to discuss the failure of the banking system and the important role played by Small Business Investment Companies (SBIC).
- The company creates new department called Strategic Accounts to better manage large portfolio customers with multiple properties over a broad geographical area.
- GES establishes their Facility Maintenance Division to provide a scalable platform to better develop long-term customer partnerships.
- Northcreek Mezzanine provides the company with growth-capital financing, allowing for the company to continue its planned growth during the recession.
- The company forges ahead with its growth plans, opening a third location in Fort Myers, Florida and a fourth location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
- Rick and Randy enters into discussions with Gridiron Capital, which where abruptly halted after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, who was providing debt financing for the deal. Gridiron Capital eventually partnered with Austin Outdoors to create what became Yellowstone Landscape. These circumstances give Rick and Randy the opportunity to execute their growth plans while remaining a wholly-owned and privatly-held company.
- GES opens its second location in Winter Haven, Florida – which was later relocated to become the company’s Orlando Branch.
- Rick and Randy introduce plans to expand the company’s landscaping maintenance division by expanding its footprint throughout Florida.
- GES moves into a new 6,000 square foot corporate headquarters located in Sanford, Florida.
- After growing the residential division to include 300 customers, that business unit was sold to TruGreen. This allows the company to focus its efforts on growing their commercial landscaping business.
- The company officially files for trademark protection on “When It Matters!”
- GES starts residential division offering lawn care service and irrigation repair, which was spear-headed by Keith Lucier.
- The company’s logo is modified to include “When It Matters!” to help set the bar for what customers should expect when doing business with GES.
- During an interview with the Sanford Herald after being asked why would somebody choose GES over another company, Rick tells the reporter, “When it matters, call Girard Environmental Services. When it doesn’t, call somebody else.”
- GES opens its first bank account (October 27th) with payment from its first customer, Dante Bichette Sr., a former major league baseball player.
- Rick and Randy establishes Girard Environmental Services as 50/50 partners (October 19th) with one customer, three employees and a small clean-up job. One of those first three employees includes Gerardo Suarez, who is the company’s most tenured employee.
- Rick and his business partner have a falling out (October 13th) and decide to part ways.
- Randy Girard closes down SunScape and rejoins his brother at Outdoor Concepts.
- Rick takes on a business partner to help provide capital and financing to grow Outdoor Concepts.
- Rick Girard starts a new company called Outdoor Concepts with borrowed equipment and a $1,000 loan from his father-in-law.
- After being denied the opportunity to take on moire responsibility, Rick resigns his position from Valleycrest.
- Randy moves on to start his own landscaping company called Sunscape.
- Rick goes to work for Valleycrest and sells off his remaining accounts to Larry O’Dell, who started a company called Proscape.
- Girard’s Landscaping & General Maintenance files for bankruptcy protection after failing to meet it’s financial obligations.
- Randy Girard graduates from Lake Howell High School and begins working alongside his brother along with a couple classmates, Brian Weatherby and Bill Ennis.
- Rick Girard sells his South Florida customer accounts and relocates the business to Central Florida.
- At the age of nineteen, Rick Girard starts Girard’s Landscaping & General Maintenance in Sunrise, Florida.
- Rick Girard graduates from Plantation High School and goes to work for South Shore Lawn & Garden as a landscape maintenance foreman.