Many professionals who end up in the snow and ice maintenance industry started their careers at a young age pushing a shovel or a lawnmower at a relative’s operation.
But Bruce Moore Sr., founder and CEO of Eastern Land Management in Stamford, Conn., came to landscape maintenance through an early appreciation of the art of business.
His earliest contact with business came from lessons learned through his grandfather, who was a “gentleman farmer” after retiring from his work as a dairy farmer, Moore Sr. says.
“He and I teamed up when I was probably about 14 or 15 and started raising strawberries and vegetables on his property,” says Moore Sr.
Once the produce was ready to harvest, his grandfather would set up a roadside stand, along one of the main routes in his hometown of New Milford, Conn., he says. At the end of the season, Moore Sr.’s grandfather would invite him into the small office in the back of his house to go over the books.
“He was a very smart business guy, and really gave me my first very strong business lesson,” Moore Sr. says. “He would save all the receipts from the seeds or plants we had bought, kept track of our time, and of course the revenue we generated from the roadside stand. He’d say, ‘Here’s what we took in, and here’s what we spent. Here’s for your time, and here’s for my time. And we’re going to split the profits.’ I remember that like it was yesterday.”
Growing up close to his grandfather, Moore Sr. took the lessons to heart, and he went on to get his degree in business administration from Bryant University in Rhode Island, he says. During summers in college, he would work for an arborist company in Connecticut. Once he finished school, he had a job offer waiting for work with a rental equipment company in Rhode Island, but he decided that he’d rather head back home to Connecticut, continuing his work with the arborist and developing his interest in the green industry.
“I was making decent money, probably in the best shape I ever was,” he says.
He was enjoying his time with the arborist, but the job wasn’t really what he was interested in, he says. Then a brother from his fraternity reached out after an interview with Bartlett Tree Experts in Stamford, Conn., to tell him that the job was perfect for him, instead. He arranged for an interview through the recruiter, and decided it was a “perfect scenario.”
“They were pleased with what I had done with my experience, and it was an opportunity to do what I liked to do, and start getting into a management track,” Moore Sr. says. “I really enjoyed being outside and working outdoors, but I had this four-year degree that I wanted to do something with. It was a great opportunity and a really good match.”
Moore Sr. took the job and progressed with a one-year training program, and headed out to Columbus, Ohio, to work as an assistant branch manager for public utility work. He put his degree to work, as a client representative for one of the company’s biggest clients, Ohio Power. Part of that training involved a large right-of-way project toward West Virginia that he had to manage.
Moving back home
In the meantime, Moore Sr. had gotten married, and the young couple decided to move back to Connecticut. There was a job opportunity to follow in starting a landscape business through one of his wife’s relatives who owned a pool construction business. Moore Sr. got set up with financing and the start of a client list, and “I started chasing a lawnmower in 1976,” he says.
Moore Sr. pursued more corporate clients than residential, and the marketplace was ready, as the area saw a surge in commercial activity with businesses moving out of Manhattan to escape the high New York City rent.
Moore Sr. was ready to put his business experience in college to work, and he wasn’t about to cut back on professional expectations just because he was spending most of his day behind a lawnmower, he says.
“At the time, facility managers wore suits and ties and everything, which most everybody in business did,” he says. “During the winter months, I put on a suit and tie and went around and called on some of these guys. They were pretty impressed to see a so-called landscaper come in without muddy boots and dressed like they were.”
Putting in the professional effort made a big difference in how the company was perceived, he says. Eastern Land Management was almost the only game in town for about 10 years, without much competition that could keep up.
With his professional foundation in place, he started expanding services, including snow and ice management, initially via a partnership with a local snow contractor business in the area.
“He helped me out and I helped him out,” he says. “We definitely became one of the larger snow contractors in the area, and one of the first to start using liquids and doing away with sand and all that stuff. We set the pace for the market in our area.”
The business has continued to grow since then, doubling in size over the past eight years. Moore Sr. started with a crew of about 20 to 40, and now manages about 150 seasonally. Recently, Moore Sr.’s son, Bruce Moore Jr., has taken over as the president of the company, which has been a process for both, Moore Sr. says.
“That’s a big milestone for us. It’s extremely rewarding to see him grow into this,” he says. “It’s been more difficult than I expected for some reasons, too. The biggest thing is just relinquishing some of the control, just letting go of the reins.”
With a larger company and more clients than Moore Sr. started with, his son will have different challenges ahead. Moore Sr. says he’s up to the task, though.
“Bruce Jr. has done a wonderful job, he’s very well-liked,” he says. “I tell everybody he’s got a bigger monkey on his back than I had. It’s a different type of organization, definitely requires a different skillset.”
There’s always something you can improve on. If you think you’re doing it well, you can probably do it better.”
A professional edge
For his part, Moore Jr. says he learned his drive in the industry from watching his father while growing up.
“I’ve been admiring him as being hardworking, energetic, innovative, just having a passion to have a well-run business,” he says. “The thing that continues to impress me is that he always has a vision to better the company. Whether that’s utilizing new technology, state-of-the-art equipment, looking at different ways of utilizing labor and materials, he’s always been a pioneer.”
Moore Jr. learned to never be complacent in business from his father’s hard work, he says.
“There’s always something you can improve on,” he says. “If you think you’re doing it well, you can probably do it better.”
Beyond a drive to continue growth, Moore Jr. was inspired by his father’s ability to connect with others and build networks across the community, he says.
“He’s got strong ties to our community, to the leaders, movers and shakers,” he says. “He’s well-respected and admired in the community, and people look to him. He likes to give back, he’s a strong believer that whatever you give, you get back in one way or another.”
One of those connections was with Brett Lemcke, vice president at R.M. Landscape Inc. in Hilton, N.Y., made through the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Soon after they met, Lemcke and Moore Sr. worked together on a project for the group, and they got to know each other better, he says.
“He’s just a sharp guy, very engaged,” Lemcke says. “I knew his passion and interest in seeing that we were trying to elevate the professionalism of maintenance, and he was just a really strong advocate of that. I think he saw the bigger picture of our industry then.”
Moore Sr. has always seen the maintenance industry as a business first, and was able to make connections with business managers better than with residential clients, he says.
“We want high-quality, good client relationships,” he says. “We’ve always enjoyed a very high client-retention rate. I think we’ve got three or four clients who have been with me from almost Day 1.”
Viewing the maintenance industry primarily as a business gives Moore Sr. the ability to get to the root of issues and find the common denominators among professionals, Lemcke says.
“He just understands how to work with business owners,” he says. “He has this fresh perspective on the market, and how we could apply things to business. Always very open, very willing to share.”
Even within the NALP meetings, he would share details about his business and techniques to help others, Lemcke says.
“He understood that everybody is going to be a part of this,” he says.
Working with Moore Sr. at NALP, Lemcke became good friends with Moore Jr., and now the two are part of a peer group together with other professionals, Lemcke says.
“We’ve been learning about each other there,” he says. “In that group, you go way into the deep, dark secrets of your company, and you share it all. We’re sharing each other’s growth, helping each other’s business grow, and doing a really good job over there.”
Moore Sr. has helped foster that environment of sharing to improve the industry overall through the peer group, Lemcke says.
“You talk about the mistakes you’ve made in business. You learn, you listen to what works. There’s some hindsight perspective that we all talk about,” Lemcke says. “Bruce is very open and willing to share that information, so that’s been wonderful.”
He has this fresh perspective on the market, and how we could apply things to business. Always very open, very willing to share.”
Building the industry up
Building a level of professionalism and improving the overall industry have been two guiding principles for Moore Sr., and that angle has paid off dividends for the company, says Moore Jr.
“I think that approach has just put us at another level of respect for our reputation with our clients, other competitors and contractors in the marketplace,” he says. “We constantly strive to be better, and we want to be the subject matter expert for whatever service we provide.”
To that end, the Moores are spending more on training in the next year, planning to roll out a program with regular half-day training sessions each week. The company is also putting a focus on working with local high schools to recruit talented potential employees, Moore Sr. says. Though other companies in the area use the H-2B visa program to bring in more employees, Moore Sr. relies on the local marketplace for recruits.
Eastern also puts a heavy focus on philanthropic efforts in its community, says Moore Jr.
“He’s proven that staying active in your community, staying associated with community partners and leaders is key to being successful, giving back to the community and the non-profit associations and educational programs in the community,” he says.
Moore Sr. was honored in March by the Stamford Boys and Girls Club with a lifetime achievement award, as one of the charities that Eastern has volunteered support and labor to over the years. Moore Sr. has also been involved in another local charity that assists young children who have physical and medical needs. Eastern also supplied the landscape and grounds maintenance for a new hospice residence in Stamford.
Even shifting into his new position, Moore Sr. will be putting his professional skills to work, both as an advisor and an ambassador for the company, Moore Jr. says.
“One thing I look forward to, is that although he won’t be active in the day-to-day here, he’ll remain active in the business, knowing and understanding what’s going on,” Moore Jr. says. “He’ll still remain active in the community and with our clients.”
Moore Sr. plans to keep advocating for the maintenance industry, he says.
“I’m not retiring,” he says. “It’s been a pleasure to see the changes that are being made by the professionals, raising the standards of the industry. It’s unfortunate, whether you’re in maintenance or snow, we don’t always get the respect I feel we should. But I also feel that it’s in part our responsibility to increase that reputation in the public eye. It’s been a good ride, and hopefully I’ll be around to see some more big changes.”