An Interview With Landscaper John Gulius: Cultivating Career Moves 


The journey from Los Angeles account manager to Greenville, South Carolina landscaper is a wide professional arc, one that required bold career decisions.

It’s a journey John Gulius is glad he began, after working six years for William O’Neil, Inc. There, he refined his sales management skills while coordinating deliveries and providing technical support to clients. He was a successful professional, making more than enough to keep up with the costly Southern California lifestyle, but his love of the outdoors drew him out of the office and into an entirely new field, literally.

Gulius was hired by the Greenville Parks Department and entrusted with maintaining park landscapes and preparing fields for sporting events. After acquiring a solid foundation of experience, he set out on his own, and now works as an independent landscaping professional.

Below, John Gulius shares with us some of the techniques, habits, and perspectives that allowed him to make this transition seamlessly. Chief among them is patience, which is not so surprising in a craft that requires every landscaper to wait for Mother Nature to make her move. Whether it’s watching a newly planted lawn take root or steadily building his business through referrals and reputation, patience has served John Gulius well.

Q: What is your advice for our readers who may be considering a dramatic career change?

John Gulius: I would say it’s never too late to make the change; and, as paradoxical as it may sound, it’s also never too early. The timing is up to you. You have to feel the moment is right, and that requires key aspects of your personal and professional life to line up in the optimal way. It’s easier to make a cross-country, cross-career move when you’re young and single, without many of the responsibilities that will come later in life.

Once the way is clear for you to leap, I also advise four rules of the road that will serve you well on your journey. The first, for me, is that I follow a daily routine that rarely varies, and I chart my progress throughout the day and week with checklists. Second, don’t rush things; take the time to mull things over and make deliberate decisions. Third, keep up with trends in your industry.

And fourth, in sales and life, treat people the way you want to be treated. For landscapers, I would add a fifth perspective, and that is: With patience and the proper technique, almost any landscape can be saved. It’s something you learn very early on in landscaping, and it’s probably a great metaphor for success in many other careers, as well.

Q: As you’ve shared, you take a deliberative approach to your business. What does that mean in practice?

John Gulius: In general, I try not to rush things. This is no doubt one reason I’m suited to working outdoors, working with nature. Whether you’re a high-anxiety landscaper or a laid-back professional, the grass isn’t going to grow any faster for you. In fact, rushing things can often have negative effects.

For example, I’ve seen gardeners too impatient to wait for fall to plant daffodil bulbs, and try to fast-track the process by planting in early spring and “chilling” the bulbs in a freezer to give them the illusion of a cold snap, which is what they need to develop properly. If those bulbs do germinate and grow — and that’s a big if — those are some of the sorriest blossoms you’ll ever see in spring.

I’m very deliberate in the way I deal with people, too, not just plants. If a client asks me a question and I don’t readily know the answer, I’ll be honest with them and tell them I’ll need some time to look into it, time to do my research and gather my facts. I don’t give false assurances.

I generally like to mull things over for at least a day. I start out by listening, by gathering some photographs of what the existing landscape looks like and then maybe some sketches as I’m talking to my clients, and then spending at least a day or two thinking about every possible scenario. For impatient types, this isn’t always their cup of tea, but if they give me enough room to find the best answer and best approach for their needs, they will be happy in the end.

I take my time when it comes to my business, as well. Growth is good, but I’ve seen people wanting to grow too fast. They want to get too big too quickly. In the process, many aspects of the business can suffer, from quality to customer service. I advise: Be realistic about what you are able to do.

Q: What are some lessons you learned in your sales management career that you apply to your landscaping business?

John Gulius: One key lesson that I learned was that hardball sales tactics are not productive in the long run. Not productive, and not satisfying to any party in a transaction. This was true in Los Angeles, and it’s definitely the way things are here in South Carolina.

Rather than a close-the-deal-at-all-costs, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer mentality, you need to treat people the way you want to be treated. Instead of being pushy and aggressive, listen. When you listen, you’ll understand the ways you can address the customer’s needs. You become a problem-solver. And when you gain a reputation as a problem-solver, you’ve arrived at the pinnacle of your profession.

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Jeremy Kaplan

A 50-something year old lifestyle, career, and education blogger based in Atlanta, Georgia. Years of experience in the office setting working with others and still loving it year-after-year.

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