Five years after going into the landscaping business together in 2007, Wade and Dustin Vugteveen reached a crossroad. The brothers were working 80-hour weeks, planting trees out of wheelbarrows, and doing other backbreaking manual work. “Times were pretty tough,” says Wade. “We weren’t bringing home much money, and we had young families that we hardly ever saw. We asked ourselves how long we could keep doing this.”
It was at this juncture that the brothers agreed on two things. First, if they didn’t hit their revenue goal the following year, they were going to hang it up. Second, they desperately needed to buy a skid steer, or the grueling workload would take a toll on their bodies.
At the time it was just the two of them, along with an employee they had hired to cover the phone at their office in Grandville, Michigan. They knew if they couldn’t make it work, their dream of growing a company that would impact their community would be dead. With the help of a John Deere compact track loader (CTL) and a few great people, DeHamer Landscaping made its revenue goal that year and hasn’t stopped growing since.
PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST
Flash forward to today. DeHamer Landscaping now employs over 30 people, including multiple irrigation and lawn-maintenance crews. The bulk of the company consists of eight landscape installation crews that focus on residential landscaping in the West Michigan area.
“The best part of each day is watching the guys drive out with the equipment every morning,” says Wade. “It’s a daily reminder that we couldn’t do what we’re doing without our great employees.”
The housing market in West Michigan near Grand Rapids has been growing steadily in recent years. “All signs point to continued growth, with many new businesses moving in,” says Wade. “We found our niche installing new landscapes for some larger residential home builders.”
Wade oversees operations while Dustin focuses on sales. “We have an excellent team,” says Wade. “It’s an honor to manage the great people who show up every day. As our company grows, we have the privilege of helping more and more families thrive. That’s why we’re in business.” Customer satisfaction is also a top priority. “I love doing a walk-through at the end of a job,” adds Dustin. “The grass is growing, the trees are beautiful, the flowers are blooming, and the customer is happy. That’s something I’m very passionate about.”
FIELDS AND DREAMS
Dustin and Wade grew up in Grandville not far from their office. “Childhood was great,” recalls Dustin. “Baseball was our family sport. On a typical Saturday afternoon during the summer, we’d be at the local field taking batting practice and fielding balls.”
As teenagers, Dustin and Wade daydreamed about going into business together. “Our dad was a business owner, which certainly inspired us,” says Wade. “Growing up we were able to see every day that with a lot of hard work, and a commitment to doing right by your customers and employees, you can grow a great business.” It took the brothers a while to figure out what would be the right fit. “We had a lot of different ideas: opening a restaurant, a dry cleaner, or a community basketball court. We actually ran a baseball school for five years and started a wakeboard-training school, but none of those panned out.”
After Wade graduated college with a history degree in 2007, he didn’t want to go into teaching. He and his wife were recently engaged when he learned his future father-in-law wanted to sell his landscaping business. “Dustin just finished his professional baseball career and was eager to take on a new challenge,” says Wade. “We had no experience in landscaping, but we both loved being outside. We literally drew up a business plan on a cocktail napkin and jumped in headfirst.”
The timing was less than perfect. In 2008, the financial crisis triggered the Great Recession. “It was pretty tough in the beginning,” says Dustin. “We didn’t have a lot of leads. We were new to this and didn’t know the economic environment was as bad as it could get.” Initially, their main business was delivering and spreading bark. “Our dad was helping us out at the time,” remembers Dustin. “Wade and I were arguing over the amount of bark to deliver or some trivial thing, and Dad said, ‘If you two can’t get along just doing this, you’re never going to make it.’ That was a big moment for me. No matter how hard times are, we need to get along. The little things can’t be a big deal.”
After their first five years in business, the brothers bought a used skid steer, which as fate would have it, would get stuck on a muddy jobsite two months later. Another contractor tried to pull it out with two skid steers, and they both got stuck. The salesman at the local John Deere dealership, Greg Adams of GreenMark™ Equipment, brought out a Deere CTL and pulled out all three machines. He then let the brothers demo the machine for a week, and they were completely sold. “It was just an awesome machine,” says Wade. “We’ve purchased one or two Deere CTLs a year ever since.”
Today the company owns four John Deere 317G CTLs in addition to several older model Deere skid steers and CTLs. “We love the 317G,” says Wade. “It’s very nimble in tight spaces and light enough to be friendly on existing lawns. But it still lifts pallets of block and large stones.” “The 317G is the perfect machine for us,” adds Dustin. “Its lift height allows us to load trucks with landscaping materials and place pallets on trailers. The versatility is amazing. We run trencher, auger, and mulching head attachments in addition to the usual buckets and forks. There’s really nothing we can’t do.”
GreenMark Equipment helps keep the machines operating day after day. “They’ve been a great partner for us,” says Wade. “Downtime is our enemy, and they understand we’ve got to be up and running to continue to grow.”
DeHamer Landscaping is sold on the John Deere image, too. “Deere is such an iconic brand,” says Wade. “And branding is important to us. We want our company to be recognized as a great company doing great things. When we show up at a jobsite with John Deere equipment, it brings credibility. These machines fit right in with the brand we’re building.”
“I remember our father saying that we should buy the best equipment we can afford because it always pays you back,” says Dustin. “Deere machines have been doing that for us for 13 years. They have been well worth the investment.”