EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Gregg DeGrazia's career in the landscaping industry may have started as an 11-year-old when he towed a lawnmower with his bicycle to cut neighbors' lawns.
But DeGrazia's business savvy developed more than a decade later, when he owned his own landscaping company but noticed his crew was waiting for several hours - on the clock - for deliveries of mulch and topsoil to arrive at job sites.
"I said, I've got to get my own dump truck and pick up my own materials. And maybe other guys are going through the same thing," he said.
DeGrazia, 52, of Egg Harbor Township, owns Distinctive Lawns Inc. on Zion Road. The business originated with landscaping and then incorporated supply and deliveries of bulk materials for contractors and homeowners.
In February, DeGrazia incorporated a new element to his business model: a retail garden store.
This approach, which DeGrazi said he had long wanted to do, also was tied to trends he saw with the economy.
Before the recession, DeGrazia said, his landscaping business would get the jobs for about 70 percent of its estimates. Around 2008, that dropped to around 30 percent.
DeGrazia said he followed up to try to explain the drop, and he discovered many homeowners doing the landscaping work themselves.
"I said maybe that's the route we have to go - supplying the homeowner, giving them some advice and helping them do it themselves," he said at his business on a recent weekday. "Our goal would be selling the products, whether it be shrubs, trees, mulch."
The business also sells flowers, hanging baskets, Hammonton-made Massarelli stone garden accents, lawn ornaments and other products. He also sells and delivers firewood.
Nationally, the landscaping services industry has faced "slumping demand" over the past five years tied to the economic downturn, research firm IBISWorld says. That is expected to change when per-capita disposable income grows and the economy recovers enough to boost commercial expansion, the firm says.
As a younger man, DeGrazia, who was born in Atlantic City and raised in Atlantic County, served for several years in the early 1980s with the U.S. Forest Service in northern Idaho.
He moved back to the area to start his landscaping business in 1983 with a pickup truck and a trailer, doing several dozen lawns himself a week.
He eventually grew to incorporate employees and then other aspects of business.
DeGrazia said his advice in business is to start small and gradually grow your business, rather than begin too big with too many expenses.
"I see that happen with a lot of people who go into business," he said. "I think they don't research it enough and find out what the overhead is. They may even do a decent amount of volume, but it's not enough to cover their overhead."
Contact Brian Ianieri:
Distinctive Lawns Inc.
Location: 643 Zion Road, Egg Harbor Township
Owner: Gregg DeGrazia, 52, of Egg Harbor Township
Employees: 3 to 6 seasonally