One of the first things Joe Langton will tell you is that he loves building teams. For him, this goes back to an earlier love: football. As a high school lineman, Joe seemed destined to continue his football career in college but decided instead to get married right out of high school. It wasn’t long before he and his wife welcomed baby Julia, who deserves credit for having an important role in the future Langton Group even as a newborn.
First, Joe Langton began providing for his family by installing car stereos and alarms at Best Buy. He instituted selling contests among his crew with lunch as a reward. Soon he was asked to do this for other locations of Best Buy and, while still a teen, was given his own key to the store. He loved assembling a team, pushing it to run effectively and winning—just like on the football field.
Eventually, Best Buy sent him to college for small circuitry and analysis. Best Buy paid for college, but while there he was recruited to become a union electrician. Being an electrician for 11 years offered a respectable income to someone his age, but even so Joe didn’t take to it because it left him working on his own.
On an electrical job, a client noticed his work ethic and asked him if he might want to work for him plowing snow. Joe didn’t think this sounded like an opportunity, but then one day the truck he was in broke down and the man loaned him one of his trucks with a snowplow on it (on a day that it just happened to snow). Joe couldn’t resist trying out the plow and found he liked it. He took the job and soon was managing this man’s contract plowers.
This didn’t feel like the team building Joe knew he was interested in though. He started his own company, Langton Snow Solutions, at 22. At first, he was a subcontractor to his former employer, but he was gaining his own employees. When his former employer challenged him to do half a million in snow removal in a year, Joe took that challenge and met it with $490,000.
In 2005, he was plowing snow in a Lowe’s parking lot. His business now is still focused on big box and retail work. He walks into companies and asks,
"How can I get your landscaping business?"
This process of asking, “How can I?” is a tenet of how Joe does business. As he says, “They come back with a response that already has you in the door.”
Soon he moved into also doing Lowe’s landscaping. His company was making money from both snow plowing and landscaping, but somehow his profits were slipping, and he didn’t know why.
He’d seen a well-run company with his dad’s construction company The Langton Group. His Langton Group is an homage to his father’s company, but he reached an important conclusion about himself and his own limitations. “I knew how to do a lot of things, but not how to say no to bad work or how to increase profitability,” he explains.
Joe heard about a company called American Management out of Florida. He calls hiring them one of the best decisions he ever made. To get the business side of things running correctly, they stripped his company down to the nuts and bolts. Joe loved building teams, but the teams he had built were just playing without scoring.
So, he went back to the Best Buy model. Mulch, irrigation and trees were where their profits were. Mowing was a profit loss. On a board he tracked performance, and everyone became accountable for their corner of the business.
Suddenly, there was lots of profit; there was more profit than they knew what to do with. One thing Joe knew the profit should do was benefit his employees. The company tried employee profit-sharing, but it didn’t work out. Then, he began offering health insurance, something Joe says he is super proud of.
In 2016, he went to a landscaping show and saw his first robotic mower priced at $3,699. He did the math, attempting to calculate just how much it would cost to mow with. Joe recalls, “I leave the booth, suddenly realizing that we are way behind Europe.” He called Husqvarna, learned about their fleet program and became a distributor. “Now I sell mowing with a robot lawnmower,” he says. “I sell the cost-effectiveness of mowing per acre.”
Joe attributes a lot of his success to his family. His brother John is co-owner of his businesses. And then there is little baby Julia, one of the reasons this whole odyssey began. Now 21 years old, she helped her father develop an app for landscape professionals.
“I got where I am by paying attention to people who were doing it right,” Joe says. “But I also paid attention to people who were doing it wrong.”
"I love the industry. I think it is an undervalued industry."
Contracts, weather, licenses, transportation, equipment: The barrier to get into the landscaping industry is small, but to grow it is much more difficult. Joe’s goal is to make the industry respected.
“I believe that robotic lawnmowers are just the beginning,” he says. “Eventually, there will be automated snow removers and fertilizers, and this will be great for the industry.”
His company has a core ethics committee to guarantee that there is a vision at work. Joe says, “Family first. We also put profits first, but we are honest about it.”
Speaking the truth that profits matter inspires people to make good decisions.
“Every day I look at what me and my team have built as a startup CEO, and I feel so privileged that I am blessed to have people who run a company in my name as if it were theirs,” Joe says. “I appreciate every one of them.”