Harris & Company Landscaping Reports Thriving Business
Five years ago, we reported the success story of Bellingham native Josh Harris, who, at the age of 13, borrowed his father’s lawnmower and launched what became, by the time he’d graduated with an associate degree from UMASS Amherst’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture, a successful landscaping business. Since then, Harris’s business has quadrupled, something he attributes to a combination of his satisfied customers spreading the word; articles in theBellingham Bulletin; his website, HarrisLandscapes.com, which a friend from college designed for him and he says he religiously updates with photos of his work; and prompt responses to telephone inquiries. “I call everyone back within 24 hours,” he noted.
In that original article, Harris remarked that he was looking for a multi-bay garage building to buy; I don’t think he ever anticipated it would take this long to reach that goal. Although he’s always been keeping an eye out, Josh began looking in earnest two years ago, working with local Realtor Ro Kilduff. A property at 38 William Way caught his interest, and Josh was within a month of the closing when a red flag went up regarding the tenant in the building. “I wasn’t going to sign anything until I had proof that the tenant was staying and paying [his rent],” he explained. Not getting the answer he was looking for [turns out he hadn’t been paying], Harris walked away from the deal, and found another property across from the post office. “I found out later that I was the back-up buyer, in case the original buyer didn’t come through. He did [come through], so I found myself back at square one.”
Next, there was a property on Maple Street that Harris sank a considerable amount of time and money into in the form of engineering studies, permits, and a deposit, only to find that there were too many restrictions and too much red tape, even though the property was industrially zoned. “At that point, it seemed better to just cut my losses than to throw more money at the problem,” he explained.
As sometimes happens in life, Josh ended up back where he had started—at the original property on William Way. Harris, his realtor (Kilduff), and Rick Kaplan (one of the owners of the Plaza at Bellingham Commons and the listing broker for 38 William Way) came up with an agreement whereby Harris would buy the building if they got the tenant out and gave him time to find a new tenant(s) in return for an increase in the agreed-upon price.
The financial arrangements went through quickly; finding the right tenants was another matter, but he advertised on Craig’s List and eventually found a tenant. Harris says it’s a win-win situation:“The tenants pay a good piece of the mortgage, and I finally have space for all of my vehicles, equipment and materials—and it’s industrially zoned.”
And space is just what he needs considering that he now owns four dump trucks, a backhoe/loader, a mini-excavator and a wheeled skid steer as well as two snow pushers. “We’re staying here,” Josh emphasized. “We’ve got 20,000 sq. ft. of storage. We can compost our own soil now and store large quantities of mulch, etc., which will help to keep our costs competitive and help customers save money.”
“We provide year-round service: three seasons of landscaping/landscape construction, and plowing in the winter. If someone calls for a service or product that we don’t provide, I always try to refer them to someone locally who does.” Harris, a member of the Bellingham Business Association, is a strong advocate for small businesses helping each other. “And I hope other people do the same with me,” he added.
In addition to basic landscaping, Harris’s business has expanded significantly into landscape construction, such as building fire pits, patios, and waterfalls, etc., as well as landscape lighting, which is steadily growing in popularity. While he plows within a 10-mile radius, his landscaping jobs have expanded well beyond Bellingham, into Cambridge, Somerville, Chestnut Hill, Charlestown, vacation homes on Cape Cod, and Providence, RI. He noted that he books approximately 20% of his business through a home show held at Patriot Place in Foxboro each year.
Although he was a life-long resident of Bellingham and now owns two properties here, Josh actually lives in Whitinsville with his almost-four-year-old son and his wife, Kim (Johnson) Harris, who is pregnant with their second child, a girl due to arrive in August. (Both Josh’s and Kim’s parents still live here in Bellingham.)
Harris employs roughly a dozen people, and, if business keeps going the way it has been, he may end up with full-time office help. “I’m always looking for skilled, experienced and enthusiastic labor,” he noted. He has managed his business through a slow, careful growth process and hires with caution. (Anyone interested who meets Josh’s criteria should contact him at 508-966-9500.)
He counts among his satisfied local customers Rapid Refill, Goddard School, Van Millwork, Brook Estates, and a couple of businesses in Forge Park. While they do more residential work, Harris says they don’t shy away from commercial contracts either. For more information, visit www.Harrislandscapes.com or call 508-966-9500.