Start talking to Stan Johnson about landscaping and he'll tell you, "It's all I've ever done.”
Well, not exactly. He also owns and runs a winery, designs and builds metal and wood furniture, travels the world, hunts, fishes and cooks up a mean crawfish étouffée.
Career-wise, though, Stan's a landscaping guy, to the bone.
“I’ve done everything you can do in the landscaping business,” he says, from digging trees to heading up finances.
“Every mistake that could be made, I’ve made it,” he says with a laugh.
Now he’s president of Native Land Design.
Sure, it’s a fancy title. But Stan is still out in the field in his trusty truck, advising crews, chatting up customers and surveying the landscape.
He likes it that way.
Playing In The Dirt
Stan planned to be a game warden, and studied wildlife management at McNeese State University in Louisiana.
But he decided horticulture was his true calling, so he switched majors.
“I come from a family of farmers,” he says. “Playing in the dirt is what we do.”
He worked at Los Colinas, an upscale master plan community in the Dallas suburb of Irving that includes luxury hotels, landmark office towers, private country clubs and gated enclaves.
He started as landscape maintenance supervisor and when he left 12 years later he was director of landscape operations for the $22 million company.
It was a great training ground.
“I had a lot of financial training, accounting training, and learned how to treat people,” he says.
But he didn’t want to raise his kids in Dallas. So he moved to Austin, where he worked for a couple different landscaping companies before settling in at Native Land Design, where he started as vice president in 2004.
Finances, Friendships And Being Finicky
“The most important part of what I do is the financial controls,” Stan says. But he also loves monitoring job quality, riding properties with customers each week.
“I know if something isn’t right, and how to fix it,” he says. “Did they put down too much mulch? Did they over fertilize? Are they using the wrong machines?”
Isn’t the president supposed to be behind a desk somewhere?
“My level of involvement isn’t standard,” Stan says. “But it’s what I like doing. I don’t want to be behind a desk. I want to be outdoors.”
“I like developing personal relationships,” Stan says. “I get to know our customers.”
Once, he married one. His wife, Mary Beth, is a former customer he met on the job.
“She’s still my boss,” he says with a laugh.
“Personal relationships with customers is huge,” he says. “We’ll go to their parking lot and give them a fish fry or a barbecue lunch. We don't cater it — we actually do it. They see us all sweaty, cooking in their parking lots. They appreciate it.
“It becomes a friendship, not just a business relationship,” Stan says. “So if anything goes wrong, they don’t say, ‘Get rid of these weeds or you’re fired.’ They say, ‘Hey, Stan, can you do something about these weeds?' And I say, ‘We’ll be right over.’
“Mostly, people want to be listened to and they want to be responded to,” he says. “That’s what we do. Otherwise, we’re just another landscaping company.”
“He’s In The Relationship Business”
Native Land CEO Ben Collinsworth still remembers the day Stan showed up in his office asking for a job.
“I could barely pay myself, much less pay for a guy like Stan,” he recalls. “He was willing to start for half what he had been making, just to prove his worth.”
He’s proved it.
“That was the best decision I ever made, professionally,” Collinsworth says. “He brought a wisdom I didn’t have in my mid-20s. He gave us credibility that comes with a having a guy on board with a couple decades of experience.
“I don’t think I ever felt in over my head, because I always had somebody I could depend on.”
It’s fine with him that Stan isn’t a desk guy.
“Stan's strength and love is being out in the field doing the work, talking to the guys, meeting with customers,” Collinsworth says. “He’s in the relationship business.”
Weekends, Wine And Whistling Ducks
On the weekends, you’ll find Stan at Whistling Duck Vineyards and Winery, which he and Mary Beth own with Mary Beth’s brother and his wife.
It’s named after the black-bellied whistling ducks that used to roost by the hundreds in the dead trees in a pond on his property.
He expects to sell 2,000 cases this year.
Their best seller is Cattle Guard Sweet Red, a fruity wine with sweet cherry and plum notes.
Stan prefers the Viognier, a crisp white with pear overtones made from the Tempranillo grape, a Spanish variety that loves the Texas heat.
He spent a recent weekend with a crew of eight pruning four acres of grape vines.
“I stay busy, which is good,” he says. “I meet tons and tons of people, and some become friends.”
Don’t Ask To Go Fishing
When Stan and Mary Beth were married in 2004, he
brought two daughters to the marriage — Casey, who has three kids, and Stephanie.
Mary Beth brought her son, Dylan, and daughter, Erika.
They’re empty nesters now, living in Weimar. But their lives are full.
Stan loves to hunt and fish, catching redfish and trout from his boat.
“I have a small boat so I don’t have to take too many people fishing,” he quips. “Otherwise, it’s not relaxing.”
They love to travel, from Nebraska for the recent solar eclipse to Argentina to visit wineries.
Stan welds, too, crafting furniture from wood and metal.
And he cooks.
“I’m from Louisiana,” he points out. “Everybody cooks.”
He can rustle up a tasty Cajun crawfish étouffée. He’d pair that with a dry white like his favorite Viognier or a light bodied Blanc du Bois.
Stan brings in several hundred pounds of Louisiana crawfish for his winery’s annual crawfish boil and music festival. Get there early.
“It Makes You Feel Like An Artist”
Ask Stan why this job is a good fit for him, and he ponders for a minute.
“I love a challenge,” he says. “I love solving problems. And working in three cities keeps me from being bored.
“When I talk to young people starting out in the field I tell them you get immediate gratification in this work,” he says. “It’s great to drive by one of your properties and see that it looks really good.”
Back when he worked at Los Colinas, he planted 25 Southern live oak trees, each 22 inches around.
“I still go by there and they all look good,” he says. “I love to drive by and see a good looking, colorful flower bed we planted.
“It makes you feel like an artist.”
Looking For A Career In Landscaping?
At Native Land Design, we believe in starting long-term careers where employees are respected and can grow.
If you want to learn more about our available positions, contact us at 512-918-2270 or fill out our contact form online today.