Gelderman Landscaping

There are not many landscaping companies that can say they have maintained a successful business for more than half a century, but the family owned and managed Gelderman Landscaping can. Based in Waterdown, Ontario, the firm provides landscape construction, maintenance, and snow and ice removal services.

Founder Jan Gelderman started the company in 1955 as Jan Gelderman Landscaping with a few tools and a Jeep Willy, President Nathan Helder says. At the time, lawn maintenance accounted for the majority of the company’s spring work, while it primarily completed stonework in the summer and fall.

In 1964, Gelderman developed severe asthma and was hospitalized. That same year, his son, Hank Gelderman, began working at the company. “At the age of 12, Hank was cutting, digging and planting,” Helder says.

In 1973, Hank Gelderman joined the company full time and became a partner. “In 1980, Jan Gelderman Landscaping celebrated its 25th anniversary and started offering profit sharing and a 2,000-hour banking system to its emp­loyees,” Helder says.

Today, as Gelderman Landscaping, the company serves the residential, commercial and industrial markets throughout Ontario. It employs a staff of 60 employees who are enthusiastic about the business, Helder asserts.

“All of our people share one common goal: to be passionate about what we do,” he says. “The result is quality workmanship [as we are] taking care of our staff, respecting the environment, giving back to the community and treating each one of our customers with respect. [We have a] long-tenured staff who are empowered to excel.”

Enabling Growth

Helder, who is the son-in-law of Hank Gelderman, joined the firm in 2006. Currently, “We’re going through a succession agreement right now with my father-in-law,” Helder says.

Under Helder’s leadership, Gelderman Landscaping already has streamlined the roles of many associates in the firm, as it has sought to keep them focused on specific tasks. Emp­loyees have excelled in their roles since implementing this initiative. “A salesperson struggles when he has to do sales and manage operations at the same time,” Helder says.

For instance, Operations Manager Roy Hummel, who has been with Gelderman Landscaping for 33 years, used to manage finances, oversees office duties, human resources and construction, maintenance and snow operations. After limiting his duties to construction and maintenance operations, Hummel has been able to be more productive in his work, Helder says.

He adds that the extensive expertise in Gelderman Landscaping’s staff has helped him adjust to work at the firm during his four years with the company. “It is imperative I have these guys on staff to help me grow,” he says.

Along with Hummel, Helder praises Human Resources Advisor Linda Hand, who has 13 years with Gelderman Landscaping and assisted in the streamlining process. In addition, Landscape Design & Sales Harry Gelderman has 17 years’ experience, while Landscape Sales and Snow Dispatcher John Buikema has 30 years with the company. 

Nurturing Loyalty

Helder says Gelderman Landscaping retains its work force by empowering its employees. For instance, managers at the company have the ability to create their own budgets and are accountable for the profitability of their departments.

“They have direct input,” Helder says. “Our supervisors don’t have to ask permission to make judgment calls in staffing.“

Additionally, Helder says the company’s structure also leaves it well prepared in the case of a senior manager’s departure. “If the owner’s gone, the business still survives, and that works well,” he says. 

“With increased systems and accountability, we have ensured that if [a] staff member suddenly cannot perform their position, someone else can fill in,” Helder says. “In addition, if I get hit by a bus, Gelderman Landscaping will continue to function and provide a future for its staff members.

“Gelderman Landscaping does not hinge on the president, but on everyone (finance manager, operation manager, HR advisor, sales, etc.) My predecessor, Hank Gelderman, built Gelder­man Landscaping on the principle: ‘What is best for Gelderman Landscaping?’ With this in mind, I have continued to structure the com­pany for the future – the next level.”

Environmentally Sound

As a firm whose work is based outdoors, Gelderman Landscaping strives to be respectful of the environment. “We have to make sure we operate in an environmentally [beneficial] way,” Helder says.

For instance, Gelderman Landscaping uses natural products in its work. In addition, when designing landscapes, it will strongly consider the amount of green space used, as well as whether or not to add native plants and trees. “By planting trees, we will reduce CO2 levels and increase the levels of oxygen,” the company says.

Helder adds that the company also places a strong focus on recycling the waste within its work. This ranges from the grass clippings and brush from the outdoors to the ink cartridges and paper from its offices, he says.

The company’s focus on green also extends to its maintenance equipment lines, which are well maintained and replaced every five years. Additionally, its lawn mowing equipment is fuel injected and equipped with catalytic converters. This eliminates more than 95 percent of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, the company says.

“We’ve opened up new markets because of [the green trend],” Helder says.

Gelderman Landscaping also has adapted well to the 2009 pesticides ban in Ontario, but it wasn’t easy. “We had to change our business philosophy,” he says.

Without the ability to use pesticides, Gelderman Landscaping sought out new ways to maintain a healthy turf that will eliminate some of the weeds, he says. In fact, the company has acquired so much expertise on the topic and other environmental challenges; it has written articles and held seminars for clients. “It’s actually been a positive [development for] our company.”

“We provide educational seminars for property managers, helping them with their clients at no charge,” Helder says. “I am a contributing writer for the CM Magazine for the Association of Condominium Managers of Ontario – [providing] quarterly articles [ranging] from ‘Our Changing Environment’ to ‘It’s Snowing, Expectations Affect the Environment.’”

Baby Boom

Due to the economic downturn, Gelderman Landscaping has had to lay off some members of its staff. In addition, the company has shifted its focus more to the maintenance and snow removal side, which provides better cash flow for the business, employs staff 12 months of the year and fits in well with the growth in the condominium market in Ontario.

“Baby boomers are retiring and wanting to live in a condo,” Helder says. 

Many of those baby boomers do not want to take the time to tend to their lawns or shovel snow. “That’s where we come in, and we can take care of that,” he says, noting that this will promote the firm’s future growth. “We are moving to the next level.”

“Recently, we hired Joseph Arcari to focus on sales and development in our Maintenance and Snow Divisions,” Helder says. “This is a brand new position for Gelderman Landscaping.”  

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