Green Vision Materials: A Model for Success in the Mulch & Soil Business

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By Keith Barker

Beau Gibney, CEO/COO at Green Vision Materials (GVM) based out of Newbury, Ohio, near Cleveland, began in the mulch and soil products business after starting his own landscaping company right out of high school, in the early nineties. Through that decade, he aggressively grew his business and found he was generating a huge amount of green waste.
“I was looking for avenues to manage our wood waste, leaves and other green waste and I ran into somebody that rented a horizontal grinder, at a time when they were only just becoming popular in the industry,” Gibney explains. “We processed our own material, and we learned quick that because of the cost of renting the machine and the limited volume we had, it was not profitable.”
Gibney started networking with other landscapers, who began bringing them their green waste. Once they got material volumes up, they purchased a well-used tub grinder. “That's kind of what put us on the map,” he says. “When we started Green Vision Materials in 2000, we had one facility and we were pushing maybe 15,000 yards of product annually. We were the only ones in our area grinding material and what we found was that the landscapers that were dumping debris with us were also now interested in purchasing mulch products. It became a great revolving door.”
Today, GVM’s main location is a Class-4 facility [green waste only] which sits on five-acres and includes a 7,200 square foot building. They have two other locations. One is a Class-3 bulk facility in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where GVM creates soils, blends, and compost, including animal manure compost. Their third facility is their packaging operation, another Class-4 facility, located in Wickliffe, Ohio, where colored mulches are produced, packaged and distributed.
Main sources of incoming materials include municipal organics, via contracts with nearby cities and townships, and from local landscapers and homeowners. By far, their largest volume of incoming material is wood waste. “We get a lot of tree waste, from tree removals and pruning work,” Gibney explains. “Second to that would be leaf collection. Most of the municipalities near us offer curbside leaf collection in the fall and we get upwards of 75,000 cubic yards of leaves annually.”
GVM’s primary customer base has always been local, with customers in the Cleveland and Northeast Ohio area, mostly within about one hundred miles, with bulk products generally being sold to customers within about a 25-mile radius. He says overall, their retail big box store business is their largest market, with local landscapers being the second, and then residential retail.
Between the year 2000 to the year 2010, Green Vision Materials built their bulk mulch business significantly, selling just two products to local landscapers, garden centers and homeowners – a double-ground and a triple-ground mulch. Between 2008 and 2010, GVM also started to get into soil products.
“The big jump for us was in about 2010 when we had an opportunity to buy a packaging plant, and we got into the mulch and soil products packaging business,” Gibney says. “Our packaging plant in Wickliffe, Ohio is a fully automated line, which has now been operating for over a decade, and on average, outputs about 1.8 million bags of product yearly.”
Since 2010, their mulch products business, all inclusive, went from about 15,000 yards to about 200,000 yards per year and is continuing to grow. He says a key factor in this growth has been their strategy of working with companies that bid on and ultimately secure contracts with big box stores. “We positioned ourselves as a co-packager where we produce the product, which then goes into bags branded for companies and sold big box stores.”
Today, they also produce a wide range of products including planting mix, bio-retention and basin mixes, as well as various composts, including animal manure and pure leaf humus mixes. “We'll do blends of any of those products. We have customers that will, for one reason or another need a specific blend of materials, so we will custom blend those for them.”
Gibney continues, “We're seeing very good growth in the compost, and our biggest growth potential is going to be in our soil products organic topsoil, humus and organic fertilizer replacements. I love the compost and the soils together because a lot of what we do are blended products. In the Cleveland area, we have very clay-heavy soil structures, which is not great for growing. If we want to do any significant planting, we really need to amend our soil with something more organic. That's really been a big plus for us. For our soil products and compost business, we are currently at about 50,000 yards of sales and distribution yearly, and that is growing.”
Gibney adds that in their area, they have a lot of competition, so one way they set themselves apart is through offering exceptional customer service. “You can buy a product like ours in a number of different places, but really who's going to take care of the customer the best?” he asks. “What we found is, especially with our retail sales, homeowners, they really want that service, ease of ordering, and a friendly person on the other end of the phone or on our site. We have grown our business greatly through customer service.”
Within the past year, GVM has also begun offering online ordering, which has been a significant factor in recent growth. “This has been huge for us,” Gibney says. “At first we were reluctant, just because it was costly to set it up. I was apprehensive but I went ahead with it and I'll tell you I have been completely shocked at how fast it took off. This is our first year to have it, and it's already paid dividends.”
It is no secret that businesses around the world currently, in almost every industry, are experiencing human resources challenges. For GVM, Gibney says however, they have not really had any significant issues finding and keeping quality employees. “I am probably the only guy you're going to talk to that says we're actually doing really well on the employee front. We've got a great staff and we have plenty of people, and I spend a lot of time networking and recruiting. Because of this, manpower really has not been an issue up to this point.” The key to this, he says, is in part, simply treating employees like family.
“I make myself very accessible. I am always willing to talk with the guys, and we make them feel like family. We only have fifty people, so we are not a huge employer. We know everybody's name, and we pay what we feel is a little bit above market average for the work they are doing. That goes a long way. At the end of the day, people are here for a paycheck and so we try to take good care of the benefits plan and everything else. So even though we're adequately staffed, if I meet somebody tonight who's an excellent truck driver, we’ll bring them on board. We will find them a home. I don't wait until we need somebody to find our next quality employee.”
He says through the next year their plan involves maintaining a ‘bit of a tight belt.’ “With all the uncertainty going on, while we are still seeing growth in spite of everything going on in the world, I'm a little cautious. Where I normally would venture out and add a new product or another machine, we are using this year to wait and see, and reassess next year. That is probably a common strategy currently.
“I'd like to grow within the confines of what we have in terms of facilities,” he concludes. “I still think there's room for growth within our current market and there's even room to grow in our current facility. I'm not looking to add any new facilities or double the size of the company or anything like that. A controlled, consistent growth is what we’re aiming for.”

Keith Barker, based out of British Columbia, Canada, is the former Editor of Recycling Product News magazine, and has been covering the organics recycling and composting sectors for over two decades.

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