Both were managing landscape companies for semi-absentee owners. Verhulst and VanderVelde happened to meet one day in 1998 at a lumberyard. They commiserated over the amount of work they had to do while the owners of their companies were enjoying themselves out west.
A few days later, Verhulst and VanderVelde got together for a cup of coffee and a discussion about starting a business. Seven years later, their company — Summit Landscape Management Inc. — is one of the most successful landscape firms in
Verhulst, 38, and VanderVelde, 35, have earned the Business of the Year Award in the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2005 Minority Business Awards.
Verhulst, whose Dutch last name comes from his adoptive parents, is of mixed black and white parentage. Technically, he owns 51 percent of the company, though he and VanderVelde — who is white — said that they consider it an even partnership. The company’s minority ownership has been advantageous in bidding on jobs for firms that have supplier diversity programs, such as Spectrum Health and city, county and state governmental agencies.
Before any of those contracts came along, the company got its first “big” contract with Lacks Industries. VanderVelde said
“Our goal, which I think we’ve finally gotten to, was to be able to offer start-to-finish service,” said Verhulst. That means
“It’s one phone call,” Verhulst said. “Our clients love it. They absolutely love it.”
After just seven years, the company has between 25 to 35 employees (depending on the season) who are split into 15 crews. There are 20 vehicles and countless pieces of mowing and maintenance equipment. At the end of the company’s first full year in business — 1999 — Verhulst and VanderVelde had earned $240,000 in sales. This year will be over $2 million.
The partners are confident that their all-in-one service plan is paying off. VanderVelde said the company is actually receiving work from its competitors, who hire
“That’s something we didn’t really picture,” he said. “But we’re pretty happy about it.”