Troy Springer’s love of native plants has fueled his landscape company’s growth. Smart use of Hitachi rentals helped him do more.
Landscaping and a love of native plants came to Troy Springer naturally. “I’ve always been interested in wildlife and nature,” says the Tampa, Florida-area native.
Early on, Springer worked for a traditional landscaping company, but like many successful people, he quickly realized he needed to carve his own path to be satisfied.
“I almost got out of landscaping because I felt like what I was doing for other companies was harmful,” Springer says. In particular, he disliked the practice of many traditional landscapers who use plants that may be appealing visually but aren’t native to the area where they are planted. Non-native plants can do one of two things, he says: they can become invasive, or they can fail.
“Then I discovered the native plant societies and got involved,” Springer says. “I studied relentlessly, and I started practicing it, and I got better and better at it. Now I have a pretty good reputation.”
That reputation includes serving as a former chapter president of the Florida Native Plant Society and producing a conference for them. Springer is also the secretary and on the board of the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, the nation’s largest professional native plant network.
Today, Springer Environmental has eight employees, working as three different crews. The company’s work is primarily design-build for high-end residential landscaping customers, but they also do some commercial work, such as the landscaping for a new City of Tampa park.
“They needed a native plant specialist, and I was the only game in town,” Springer says. “I have done work with some developers, but I’m more of a custom-build guy because I design my own landscapes. I typically target homeowners directly.”
Springer’s shop sits on a few acres that he is developing into a nursery, where he can demonstrate to customers the beauty and variety of native plants. “Retail is a good fit for bringing in potential customers,” he says. “They can come in and see the plants and some of the work we do.”
Big machine for small company
Springer owns a handful of small tractors used to carry plants in containers and move soil and other materials. But as the size and scope of the landscapes he created increased, Springer knew he would need a bigger machine.
Smaller machines didn’t have the horse power or the weight and balance to carry sable palms and pines ranging anywhere from 15 to 30 feet tall. Some weigh more than a ton. Backhoes and skid steers were too hard on turf, and even compact track loaders didn’t have the weight to counterbalance these big trees.
And planting these trees involves more than just dropping them in a hole. With their long trunks, these trees must be positioned with the trunk perfectly vertical from all angles. The tree is often initially placed and then picked up and repositioned multiple times as Springer and his crewmembers evaluate the line of the trunk. If necessary, the hole may be dug a little deeper or more to one side to get a perfectly plumb tree.
But the company didn’t have the cash flow to support the purchase of a bigger machine. The solution was to rent Hitachi ZW50 and ZW80 wheel load-ers when the job requires it, which is typically several times a year. Springer outfits his rental units with a tree boom, and with the articulating front end of the wheel loader, he can carry and fine tune the placement of the tree with minimal movement of the machine and minimal disturbance of the turf.
Steve Tuton, salesman for Great Southern Equipment, first met Springer thanks to a shared hobby: racing Mazda Miata sports cars.
“I quickly determined his business overlapped with mine and that he could be an occasional user of some of our equipment,” Tuton says.
“Kawasaki didn’t have the small loaders back then, but when the Hitachi loaders became available, I made sure he knew about them.”
The relationship turned out to be mutually beneficial. “Troy introduced me to many other members of our native plant societies, including owners of tree nurseries and landscape tree installers,” Tuton says. As a result, Great Southern Equipment started exhibiting in the local shows for these landscapers and tree growers, he says.
Great Southern Equipment doesn’t do a lot of short-term rentals, but when the machines are available and the customer is known to take care of the equipment, Tuton says they are happy to help. Business owners like Springer will often arrange their schedules so they can do multiple jobs in consecutive days and rent the machine for a whole week to get the most out of it, he says.
“None of the small operators are unimportant to us,” Tuton says. “They all matter. Many companies that were smaller when I started 20 years ago are good-sized companies now. If you spend the time to understand their needs and take care of them, they will keep doing business with you as they grow.”
The old Florida look
Springer’s passion for landscaping and native plants is infectious. “I struggled with this business for years because I had this dream of doing something really good for this state, but we’re just now starting to make an impact,” he says. “Ten or 15 years ago, people thought I was crazy to be planting pine trees and palmettos and putting wildflowers in your yard. But they don’t think it’s crazy anymore. It’s amazing how it has exploded in popularity. Our sales have grown significantly.” A recent photo posted on the company’s Facebook page got nearly 1,750 likes, he says.
Springer’s goal is more than just nice-looking yards and landscapes. As Florida’s population continues to boom, residents have become conscious of its unique heritage and culture. Newcomers and old timers alike have rediscovered what Springer calls the “old Florida,” one of lush gardens and crystal-clear springs. But with more people, environmental pressures increase. Native plants not only help achieve the old Florida look, but maintain it by being the right environmental choice, too.
In a climate with a year-round growing season, invasive and non-native plants can run rampant, choking out native plants, clogging waterways and wreaking havoc on what should be a well-balanced and sustainable ecosystem. Native plants are not only better adapted to the climate, but they provide forage and sustenance for everything from birds and butterflies to the Florida black bear as well.
“In Florida there are so many people coming here, we try to be mindful of quality construction and quality landscaping,” Springer says. “If you can make money improving the quality of the environment, that is a major step in having a higher quality society. It’s just good business.”