Today we’d like to introduce you to Jason Craven.
Jason, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in East Dallas and began cutting lawns at the age of 12. That continued through high school, and my Junior and Senior year I convinced my guidance counselor and teacher to allow me to be the first ever ‘self-employed’ person in the work program. It was awesome! School ended for me at 1pm and, I was my own employer and allowed to grade myself. Needless to say, I was a straight “A” student in this class. During my work program, my friends who generally helped cut lawns couldn’t do so because they didn’t get out of school until 4pm – but I needed help. So, through a neighborhood friend who also had a small lawn business, I met Francisco Camacho and Juan Castillo, both of whom still work at Southern Botanical 24 years later. At some point, I realized that these gentlemen were counting on me to put food on the table and I wasn’t about to let them down.
Upon graduating high school, I decided to take a couple of years off before college. I continued cutting lawns and determined that I wanted to make the operation more official. So, I went to the county offices and filed for a Tax ID and a Sales Tax Certificate. Looking back, it’s comical because I had no clue what I was doing but, somehow, it was done correctly.
The company started as JC Services in 1995 and provided lawn services and landscape in the East Dallas and White Rock Lake area. We never said “no” to work and would do all sorts of odd jobs, from power washing to hauling firewood, when we didn’t have enough work to keep busy. That eagerness to take on anything led us to a poison ivy-infested lot-clearing job in Plano that no one else would tackle. I already knew that I wasn’t allergic to poison ivy because I tried to rub it on myself in junior high to get out of going to school. Unfortunately, Juan wasn’t so lucky and had it everywhere.
The lot-clearing job happened to be for a home builder that was building custom homes in West Plano. He was so happy with our work that he asked if we did landscaping. All I knew about landscaping was the green side went up, so naturally I said “yes, of course we do landscaping.” The work we did on our first home caught the eye of several other custom home builders in the area. Subsequently we landscaped and maintained entire blocks of West Plano during the late 90’s boom which led to 300% growth the first year and continued for several more.
During that time, the industry was experiencing a lot of consolidation; larger landscape companies were buying up smaller operations left and right and forming them into multi-million and billion dollar companies. I started thinking about my own image and decided we needed a new logo. I approached a young graphic artist who lived close and who’s claim-to-fame at the time was creating the Mattress Giant. We mowed his lawn for 3 months to barter for our logo – the same logo we use today – which, in hindsight, was a tremendous bargain.
When my accountant advised me that incorporating would be smart, I decided we needed a more appealing company name to go with the new logo – a name that sounded bigger than a small 6-man operation (which is what we were at the time!). I picked about five combinations of company names and sent them to the Secretary of State to see what was available. Two came back, and the one I liked best was Southern Botanical Inc. So, in 1997, we incorporated as Southern Botanical.
Those early years were a whirlwind of successes and losses. In 1997, I purchased my first home with my high school sweetheart. That year and around the same time, I lost my brother who had been battling cancer for 2 years. My mother, who had taken leave from work to be by his side, was now devastated and needed something else to focus on to help her through. We brought her in as the bookkeeper to keep her engaged and so we could support each other through that difficult time. It worked out well for both of us.
Over the years the business continued to grow rapidly and today is one of the largest nationwide.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I think a comedy could be written about my years in business. Having started so young with no professional training, I really had to anticipate how things should be and do my best to make them reality. Honestly, that’s also part of our success because I didn’t have any pre-conceived notions.
Our largest obstacle to growth has always been finding associates to fill our frontline positions. The services we provide are labor-intensive and the work is hard – you really have to have passion for what you’re doing to stay with it. And, there’s also a seasonal component to what we do, so a contingency of our staff only works from Spring until late Fall. We made a commitment early on to do things right, which included hiring only individuals with the proper documentation to work in the US. There is substantially more cost involved in choosing this path, costs that many of our competitors don’t have which results in their being able to offer lower prices.
To help fill that fractional portion of our workforce that are seasonal workers, we rely on the H2B visa program which was designed for this. The H2B helps resorts, shrimping operations and other seasonal companies such as ours fill jobs that otherwise no one wants. The critics of this program would say we aren’t trying hard enough to hire locally and that simply isn’t true. I can confidently make the statement that no one wants these jobs because as part of getting H2B workers, we must prove how few workers we are able to hire through local advertising. With the Department of Labor and Homeland Security constantly making changes to the H2B program, the process is difficult, very costly and unreliable. In 2015, the Labor Department delayed the program causing us to have to give notice to many of our clients that we could no longer service our contracts. That year we suffered significant financial loss as did the H2B workers. Companies hiring undocumented workers are able to exploit them and pay a lower wage, while companies like Southern Botanical going the extra mile to conduct business legally are currently the ones most harmed.
We believe that if we do the right thing, look for solutions and never give up, we will find success and we will continue to take that approach with any challenge we face.
Please tell us about Southern Botanical Inc..
We have around 270 team members and provide Commercial and Residential Garden Maintenance, Landscape Installation, Tree Care and Interior Plant installation and maintenance. We’ve been recognized several times as one of the SMU Top 100 fastest growing companies as well as one of the Top 100 largest in our industry nationwide.
Some of our noteworthy projects locally are SMU, The George W. Bush Library, Klyde Warren Park, and Dallas Museum of Art to name a few. But we also maintain many beautiful homes around the DFW area which was where our business started. Our mission is to be the Benchmark in the green industry by enriching the lives of our team, our clients and our community.
We work very hard to make sure we stay true to our Mission, Core Values and great Team Culture, we feel strongly that these are the cornerstone of our success in the past and the future.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
We’ve learned many lessons over the years. I remember my Mom telling me I needed to develop systems and training early on. Of course I said, “What do systems and training have to do with mowing lawns and planting bushes!?” Boy, was I wrong! One of the funniest stories I recall is a young man that didn’t know how to start a mower. I was perplexed thinking that everyone knew how to do that. But, I showed him how to start the mower, instructed him to mow the front yard and then I went on to do something in the back yard. When I came back a few minutes later, he was gone. I was panic stricken until I saw him about 20 houses away mowing a strip all the way down to the corner then turning and coming back. He had cut a strip through 19 other lawns that didn’t happen to be our customers.
Mom was right! We now have Standard Operating Procedures for everything we do and are constantly improving them as we grow and our business becomes more sophisticated. Good systems and training are critical in doing things consistently.
- Address: 1525 Hinton St. Dallas, TX 75235
- Website: www.southernbotanical.com
- Phone: 214-366-2103