December 7, 2023

How to Succeed As a Branch Manager in the Landscaping Industry


When I was working in a nursery in 1989 while still in high school, all I was trying to do was fund my first car purchase. Little did I know this step would mark the beginning of a career spanning over three decades in horticulture. 

My path has led me through various roles, from retail nurseries to interior plant sales, residential landscape design, and now, since 2000, commercial landscape maintenance

Autumn Conover at Westfield
Autumn at Westfield

I've always felt a natural connection with plants, intuitively understanding their needs for water and light, a skill that also extended to nurturing people. This innate affinity, which I like to think of as my green thumb, has been a constant throughout my career. As I progressed from sales to operations, I discovered my passion, and this journey has not only honed that green thumb but also equipped me with valuable insights into thriving as a Branch Manager in the landscaping industry.

I'm eager to share these lessons with you, lessons that are as much about growing plants as they are about cultivating success in this dynamic field.

Transitioning to Branch Manager

During the first few years of my 18-year career at ValleyCrest (now BrightView Landscapes), I was able to move from Business Developer to Branch Manager. This was my chance to use my years of accumulated horticultural knowledge to benefit our team and customers.

What was just a transition from sales to operations later proved to be a permanent shift for the rest of my career.

Jacquie O'Connor Leo Exterior FM talks landscaping sales, tech, and workforce diversity in webinar.

Additional Read:

Jacquie O’Connor, CEO of Leo Exteriors, Talks Landscaping Sales & Workforce Diversity

Understanding team dynamics

I was in the role of Branch Manager for 10 years, and those were the most challenging and rewarding years of my career. I went from being my Account Manager’s peer to their manager; as you can imagine, that was a big hurdle to climb.

Once I settled into my role, I found that my biggest challenge was understanding how to mentor my team members effectively. Why? Because they vastly differed in their skills and personalities. 

Riverside crew poses together

Here, some were excellent horticulturists but were socially awkward. Some were great with their clients and peers but couldn’t proactively manage their crews. I learned a lot during my years in this role on how to adjust my communication style to theirs. 

Client-manager alignment as a Branch Manager

Another significant challenge Branch Managers face is aligning their clients' properties with an Account Manager who best fits their expectations.

In my opinion, it really helps to be empathetic to understand the customer’s expectations, especially since they don’t always spell it out for you clearly at the beginning of a new business relationship. Learning to read between the lines can save you and your team from a lot of headaches. 

lawncare customers

Additional Read:

Building Long-Term Customer Relationships in Your Business

Honing your team into a team as a Branch Manager

Build your team by identifying and understanding each member's strengths and weaknesses (including your own). And then it’s critical you have them help each other to develop a team that can handle any issues that arise by working together under your leadership toward a common goal.  

If you are unsure of how to make these assessments, I suggest learning the DISC method as a starting point. This helped me immensely to understand how my team and I were different and how to use our strengths collectively.

To be perfectly candid, Branch Managers have so many balls to juggle. Knowing how to prioritize and re-prioritize tasks daily can be challenging. That’s why when I get overwhelmed, I recall the lesson “Big Rocks, Little Rocks.”  

Big Rocks, Little Rocks

It all boils down to making time for the most impactful tasks first, and the rest will fall into place.

5 Tips For Aspiring Branch Managers

If you want to become a Branch Manager, here are the top 5 tips I recommend you focus on to ensure you reach your goal.

  1. Exceed expectations
  2. Take initiative
  3. Get Certified
  4. Express your aspirations
  5. Embrace feedback

Exceed expectations

Always go above and beyond in your current role to demonstrate your team spirit and loyalty to your organization.

Take initiative

Start handling simple tasks that the Branch Manager typically does. This shows your leadership potential and proactive approach.

Landscaping crew in training
Landscaping crew in training

Get certified

Acquire your Pesticide License or Certified Arborist License based on what is most impactful for your local business and its customers.

Express your aspirations

Request a meeting with upper management to discuss your career goals and ask for feedback on areas for improvement.

Embrace feedback

Be open to constructive criticism and act on it promptly to show your commitment to personal and professional growth.

Summing up

One of the many great attributes of the green industry is that there’s always something new to learn. Stay humble, keep learning, and let your passion for improving local landscapes shine. By doing so, not only will you succeed, but you will also contribute to the evolving world of landscaping.

For more actionable takeaways on how to scale your landscaping business in 2024, learn straight from experts. Join's limited 7-episode ScaleUp Webinar Series today.