Spin Screed

Articles written by guest contributors

Bill Gardocki at the home office.

Hardscaping, my how you have grown
By Bill Gardocki, Interstate Landscape

Do you remember your grandparent saying, “My how you’ve grown!” This is the start of our 38th year in business. When I look back at my career in this industry it amazes me how our industry has evolved and changed.

I was a high school vocational agriculture teacher when I began our business. We used tractor trailer loads of pressure treated timbers each summer for our retaining wall installations. Clay bricks were the only manufactured pavers available.

The industry grew and it was exciting to have brown and gray 1-sized concrete wall block AND red and gray pavers in both concrete and clay brick! It was kinda’ like the excitement of turning 13 with growth, expansion and possibilities on the horizon. We have so many product choices now that the hardest part of my job is getting my client to make their product selection.

We were all “landscapers” back in the early1980s. 90% of our work was planting trees and shrubs and installing new lawns. The term “hardscape” hadn’t been invented yet. Now 90% of our work is hardscaping. We have more hardscape features to offer our clients such as night lighting, water features, fire pits, outdoor kitchens and electronics. You can specialize in a niche if you want. There is flexibility in figuring out what you do best, and then providing only that service. There is a lot more competition out there, so defining yourself as an expert in one area can be a big benefit.

Along with new products came better and more equipment and tools. I started with a used Bolens tractor, a pickup truck, wheelbarrows, and shovels. We lifted 4’ granite steps weighing 432 lbs. by hand with 2 people. (I did not walk up hill both ways to school; but we did lift everything by hand!) Now we lift granite and large paver slabs with suction tools – thank goodness. I used to grade with a 6’ level and my eye balls. Now we use a sophisticated electronic grading system attached to our excavator.

Estimates and landscape plans were hand written and drawn. Now we can show prospective clients a virtual walk through of their property on our laptop. I like to compare that to getting my first car, a 1971 Ford Maverick. My wife Gail did our books by hand on those green columnar pads. You had to know and understand accounting back then. Now the software basically does it all for you.

Gail used to page me if she needed me. I would then just stop at any readily available public phone to call her back. I bet a lot of you cannot imagine not being able to call your office, your employees or your suppliers without first finding a pay phone. Then came the mobile bag telephone and what a time saver that was. (Google it.)

Back in my early days, there was no ICPI and no real installation guidelines. It was more of a build-it-and-let’s-see-what-happens kind of industry. I had my share of failures back then.

When opportunities finally came along for taking classes and getting certifications our industry started being taken more seriously. This has given birth to improved product quality and variety, safety measures, tools & equipment, income and quality of life for those of us who have dedicated our lives to this industry. The teacher in me says discipline yourself to always continue learning.

All this progress in just 38 years. What is the bottom line? Our industry has grown up and spread its wings. It’s been rewarding to see the growth and evolution. What will it be like 38 years from now? I’ll have to let my son answer that when the time comes.

For me, I am thinking about retirement as I have told Publisher Tom Hatlen that it is time for me to pass on this article space to a younger generation of installers. Over the last 8 years that Tom has allowed me to share my thoughts, I hope that I have helped some of you to make better decisions about different hardscape issues. I have loved every minute of this journey and I hope I have helped make a difference in your business. The next issue of Hardscape Magazine will be my last as a contributor. I plan to close out with some help with what you should be doing to ensure that you will be able to retire when you want.

Bill Gardocki is the owner of Interstate Landscape Co. Inc. in Londonderry, NH, installing hardscapes for over 40 years. Bill has taught over 100 classes as an NCMA and ICPI certified instructor. He also provides hardscape seminars for dealer/contractor education days, and in 2013 became the Landscape Construction instructor at his alma mater, the University of New Hampshire. Contact Bill@InterstateLandscapeNH.com