How It All Began... The Story Of Mark D. Levy Horticultural Services.
Mark D. Levy Horticultural Services actually “Began its Roots” in southern Florida, back in the mid 1960’s. At about the age of 10, as a part of my allowance, it became my responsibility to mow my parent’s lawn. In time, for some reason, I became obsessed with the lawn being the best in the neighborhood! First it was a perfect lawn, but as time went on, l became interested in the plantings, and eventually convinced my Dad to invest some money into “Curb appeal”. That was my first landscape job. It was clear even at this early stage, at least to the people who loved me, that I had found my calling.
As my interests continued to mature, I graduated High School in 1974 and I was off to Louisiana to a small college where my parents had both attended to hopefully play some baseball, and become a Landscape Architect. After a year of Louisiana, I was miserable, and I transferred back to my homeland, and into the University of Florida. Due to some transfer issues; I was forced to change my major to Ornamental Horticulture and graduated on schedule in 1978 with a Bachelors degree in Horticulture. By today’s standard, it was a common degree, but 30 years ago, it was rare to possess such an education in the Landscape industry.
My first job out of college couldn’t have been a wiser choice, and in many ways it helped shape my business philosophies. My first employers were Pat and Bob Nelson, but everyone called them Ms Pat and Mr. Bobby. They had been married forever, and had 3 sons, and a daughter, but only 2 of the boys were really active in the business. Their middle son “Kirk” and I had become friends at U of F, and he was instrumental in getting me to come to work for the family. Mr. Bobby was getting tired, at least from his boy’s standpoint, and they wanted some fresh, modern ideas to expand their business. I was hired to design and sell landscapes, and as a “greenie” (fresh out of college without field experience), I figured I would get some great experience that could lead to a better more prolific job in the future. In the 2 short years I worked for the Nelson family, I not only got my design/sales experience, but I got a lot more than I ever expected. The manner and respect in which they treated their employees and their clients made a profound effect on me. The extremes that the entire family went through to “make things right” was so consistent of my upbringing that I quickly felt a part of something really special. Mr. Bobby was a classic, and was like a walking horticultural reference. He actually had earned a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture from the University of Florida back in the 1950’s. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, his effect on me was to be everlasting, much like the foundation my parents had laid. For years, I often wondered how Mr. Bobby would handle a situation, and to this day, I still coin some of his phrases for a common explanation of a complicated horticultural condition. The Nelson family had an unexpected impact on me, and extended me a debt I could never repay. They provided me a foundation for a business philosophy of providing the best products, services and working environment possible. A simple belief, that if you prioritize taking care of your family, you’re employees and your clients, the rest of the details will fall into place.
As the 1980’s arrived, I found myself off to Houston, Texas to work for The Spencer Company, one of the 10 largest and glamorous horticultural companies at the time in the country. Although still family owned, it was huge, and boasted hundreds of employees. The company’s main forte was Commercial grounds maintenance and interior-scaping. They had a struggling landscape division, and wanted a young hungry hotshot to get things moving in the right direction. In a different fashion Greg Spencer had a vital influence on me. He challenged me to be more professional, which meant dressing for success, and before I knew it I was wearing khaki pants and button down oxford shirts. Here I quickly learned the ins and outs of working with the commercial industry, and for the first time in the company’s existence, I quickly developed relationships with numerous landscape architectural firms. I also expanded my plant knowledge even further with the local varieties, and gained invaluable experience working with affluent clientele with challenging properties. Sales soared, and quickly I was promoted to the sales manager in charge of 10 design-sales personnel. My oldest son, Mark arrived in the spring of 1981, and it appeared as if we had found our future. Unfortunately, the oil crisis hit like a tornado in 1983 and businesses everywhere just disappeared. It was a shock, but again a valuable life lesson. My wife Angela was expecting out 2nd child, and we made a life changing decision to re-locate to New York to be near her parents that were ill.
John Mini Indoor Landscapes was my next venue, and I had the pleasure of selling interior landscape services in Manhattan for 2 years. My approach was aggressive; having 2 children to support, and my unique, southern style was a hit. I concentrated on acquiring existing service accounts and in my 1st year I produced record sales. Eventually, the glamour of the city wore off and I was able to acquire the Westchester County territory. It wasn’t long before I developed some great business relationships, and several clients began asking me to recommend them to landscape contractors because they trusted me. John Mini wasn’t interested in exterior landscaping, but I was, and I missed it dearly. To expand my knowledge of the Northeastern plant materials, I took a job with a local garden center on the weekends. Being from Florida, I never realized the magnitude of perennials in the Northeast, and I also had to re-learn annual flower planting periods. Eventually, I bought my first truck, a 1985 Isuzu “Pup” and my evenings and weekends were always busy. It was never my intention to be self-employed, and I have often said that had John Mini better utilized the talent of his staff, I may have never left.
Then in the fall of 1985, my once in a lifetime opportunity arrived. The Related Properties, a local prominent commercial management firm, offered me a short-term, high paying job with extended long-term health benefits to help them renovate their office park. One of their top executives, Connie Amatin, said she saw something special in me, and felt obligated for some reason to get me on the right path. At 28 years old, and having a growing family, Connie gave me my one chance to start something of my own, without placing my family at risk. The renovation went smoothly, and in the spring of 1987 my work was complete, and Mark D. Levy Horticultural Services was officially born. Connie passed away suddenly a few years later, and I frequently have wondered if she was placed in my path for a reason. I will always be grateful for her kindness and generosity.
The business celebrated 27 years in 2014, and it is humbling even know, to look back at how it all began. My wife and I have always been especially proud of the fact that we did this on our own, with our own hard work and sacrifices. It wasn’t easy, for nobody gave us start up funds, no wealthy relative left us an inheritance, and we have resisted the temptation of financial partners along the way.
Through the years, Mark D. Levy Horticulture Services has developed into one of the most well respected landscape companies in our marketplace. So much of that success and appreciation is stemmed from the relationships we have invested in and the business values that are important to us. I am a strong believer in that if one wants’ to know what direction one will move forward, one must look back at where one has gone before.