Kevin Ramer began as a Landisville teenager who mowed yards in his neighborhood.
Then, after graduating from Delaware Valley University with a degree in ornamental horticulture, he launched Immaculate Landscape Specialists in May 2011.
But before buckling down and putting in the hard work he knew would be needed to grow his business, Ramer decided to take a road trip.
Ramer was planning that twomonth- long trip around the country when he attended a 2011 Father’s Day concert at Lime Spring Farms near Rohrerstown.
That concert proved to be a turning point.
“Through that, I made a few connections and two phone calls later, I had shop and office space,” Ramer said.
That unexpected opportunity gave Ramer a chance to showcase his expertise as he cared for the grounds of what was then a wedding venue. Plus, he met people who became customers and helped his business grow.
Unfortunately, getting a shop and a major client sooner than he expected meant he couldn’t go on his planned trip around the country.
“I don’t regret it one bit,” Ramer said. “If I didn’t make that choice after two long phone calls to set up shop and office here, I wouldn’t be where I’m at.”
Today, the 28-year-old East Petersburg resident oversees five full-time employees and two seasonal helpers in the business. Ramer declined to disclose its annual revenue.
Immaculate Landscape Specialists still has its shop at Lime Spring Farm, which now is being developed into a mix of housing and commercial uses.
“You need to be relentless in what your vision is for it. You can’t just go out hoping, you need to have a plan,” said Ramer, who was recently honored by SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon as one of its 2017 Small Business Award winners.
How important was it to get the space at Lime Spring Farm?
It helped develop connections within the Lancaster area that opened up doors to start new conversations with people.
It was nice because I had the client base from when I was just starting out, but this was a great step in the longterm vision of what I wanted to do.
What about the timing?
You need to embrace it. You need to be passionate about it and go full force with the business when you’re going to do it. People can sense it. If somebody is passionate about something, people pick it up and they play off of it. They want to help people that want to help themselves.
How did you first get in to the business?
I started when I was 15. My parents said, “Start looking for a job.” And that’s exactly what I did.
They were supportive of me along the way. I started out just as a neighborhood lawn mower. In high school I mowed about 15 yards and trimmed some hedges, very basic things.
I still have some of the same clientele I started out with.
What do you specialize in?
I mainly take care of residential, but I do plenty of commercial as well.
My passion is in creating and maintaining outdoor spaces. So, when we can take a space and bring the inside of somebody’s home and lifestyle outdoors where they can enjoy and relax, I find a lot of joy in that.
But then we follow that up with caring for it on a routine basis. We’ll do our patios, our plantings, our trees, but then we’ll edge and we’ll mulch and we’ll prune.
Is it hard to get customers?
No. They talk. I don’t have a website. At this point it’s intentional. There’s value to (a website) but I found that when you build that strong relationship with each person, and that takes time, and they become comfortable with you, they’re willing to spread the word.
What are some things SCORE helped you with?
They’ve encouraged me on the financial end to reflect the true value of what I do.
As in, raise prices?
Correct. Understanding where the market is and the value you bring to the table with the educational skill sets.
Is that hard to do?
It takes time. For example, if you take care of someone in high school, you don’t have the overhead that you have today. And with that overhead comes more cost. So communicating that regularly with the clientele or on an annual basis, just to keep everyone in the loop. It’s all about managing expectations.
You can’t be throwing your business away. You can’t be doing things for free, so you need to know your numbers. That’s invaluable and SCORE’s helped reinforce that.
Is there a risk of losing customers when you raise prices?
How do you handle that?
Some of it depends on how close you are (with the customer).
I’ve built some great relationshps with some senior citizens that I’ve known and some of it you just do based on the relationship and the rapport that you have and understand that you’re doing good for people.
How is the business doing?
There’s been steady growth over the last five years. And I’m building a presence in the marketplace. I’m always cautious as to how fast you grow
so you don’t get too in over your head. The last thing you want to do is make promises to someone and not be able to deliver.
Professionally and personally I’m reaching the small goals each year to where I want to be, and over time that adds up.
What would growth look like for you?
Anytime you’re taking risks it needs to be calculated. Right now I have foremen that are in charge of a crew while we’re out and about. Some jobs take one person to do; some take all five at the same job.
Eventually I’d like to develop it into having a manager for each sector of the business so they can oversee and manage those parts. I’m still the point of contact for everything