You might say that the green industry has been a part of Gary Thornton for most of his life, so changing professions midstream was not exactly what Thornton thought he?d be doing.

Thornton?s father had been in the nursery business since 1946, and as it so often happens, especially in those days, the kids helped in the business. Gary?s father had one of the more established garden centers in the Cincinnati area. After school and on weekends Thornton would work in the business.

Being in the green industry all your life is not that unusual, but what is unusual is that Thornton has been able to transition from the art of landscaping to the art of computer programming, all the while serving the green industry.

Being in the green industry all your life is not that unusual, but what is unusual is that Thornton has been able to transition from the art of landscaping to the art of computer programming, all the while serving the green industry.

When Thornton?s brother, Bill, finished school in 1961, he started his own landscape company. In 1963, when Gary graduated from school, he went into partnership with his brother, and they named the company Thornton Landscaping.

Although it seems that computers have been around forever, it was only about 25 years ago that they became affordable for small businesses. Prior to that time, there were outsourcing services available to the business owner.

?My father?s garden center was processing a lot of paper. The bank did the actual processing, but we had to do the batching, and that took a lot of time,? explained Thornton. ?In addition, it took the bank time to get to the work. We never seemed to get our statements out before the 10th of the following month. It was frustrating.?

By 1978-79, although mainframe computers were the norm, smaller ?desktop? models began to show up. In those days, a desktop computer barely had 4K of RAM. ?I began to think that if we had our own computer, we would be able speed up the time it took to get the information we needed and we could save two staff positions,? said Thornton. ?I discussed this with my father and he seemed to agree, so I decided to investigate.?

?Before you knew it, we had purchased a computer with a base accounting program. It cost $92,000. When my dad asked me how much it was, and I told him, he rolled his eyes and asked, ?How are we going to pay for this?? I assured him we would be able to eliminate some staff positions, which would more than pay for the computer in a few years.?

Just about the time they took delivery of the computer, which was a Micro Data, the company decided to do away with its dealer network. Fortunately, the local dealer decided to service the customers he had sold the computers to, and used Thornton?s office for programming activities.

Through trial and error, a bidding and estimating program was added to the billing program. ?While some of our contemporaries were experimenting with other programs and computers and having all sorts of problems,? related Thornton, ?we were up and running with five companies in a year and a half, with very few problems.?

By 1983, Thornton Landscaping was celebrating its 20th year in business. The brothers had expanded their business and set up separate divisions for landscape construction, landscape maintenance, a wholesale nursery and a retail garden center.

Thornton was a member of ALCA, (now known as the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). When ACLA had a seminar on strategic planning, Thornton sent five people from his company to North Carolina to attend. One of the goals of that seminar was for those attending to come up with a business plan. Each of the people from the Thornton companies was assigned a division of the company to work on.

As an exercise, Thornton decided to develop a business plan to see if he could make his budding idea about a computer company viable. He did not take a very aggressive approach, and made a five-year projection. And so, the computer company idea was born.

Later, ALCA held a computer seminar in Denver, Colorado, and Thornton thought it might be worth a shot to set up a company that sold and serviced computer programs for the green industry. He took a booth, spoke with two companies, and sold them both.

This got his entrepreneurial juices flowing. Thornton saw not only a great opportunity for himself, but he liked the idea of helping other landscape contractors make their back room offices more efficient by offering a bidding and estimating program. The program would produce proposals and, when the contractor received the order, it could keep a job history, print invoices and carry it to the accounts receivable and general ledger. This sounded exciting to him, and so in 1983, Thornton Computer Management Systems officially began business.

Much has changed over the years, including the company?s name change to SLICE Technologies. Computers that once cost many tens of thousands of dollars have come down in price, size and speed. In the past, when many small businesses would not spend $100,000 for a computer and a few programs, today most small businesses can afford to have a computer and some basic programs.

Software has also changed over the years; they have been re-written to handle more functions more efficiently. It is not uncommon today to be able to purchase software for production, point of sales, inventory control, and others, specific to the green industry.

SLICE Technologies offers programs not only for the landscape contractor, but for landscape maintenance, nurseries, and garden centers. Along the way it also set the stage for competition. ?Some of our contemporaries offer only the maintenance portion, others offer programs only for wholesale nurseries,? said Thornton. ?We offer it all.?

SLICE Technologies has become a family affair. Thornton bought out his partners in the early 1990s. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Sharon. They have two daughters, both of whom work for the company.

Leanne, who lives in Colorado, has two children and handles customer support in the western part of the country. Her husband also works for the company in a sales capacity. Merrilaine, the second daughter, recently moved to Phoenix, Arizona. She, too, has two children, and does the marketing as well as managing the company website. Her husband works for the federal government.

They?ve been staunch supporters of ALCA, with Thornton Landscape supplying three national presidents.

While the Thorntons are no longer in landscaping, Thornton Landscaping lives on. The company was sold to one of their employees, Rick Doesburg. And although Bill Thornton is no longer working in the industry, and Gary Thornton is working in the computer end of the landscaping industry, the Thornton brothers have left their mark on the landscape industry.