LARRY SARVER ALWAYS ENVISIONED himself as a businessman. Even as a young boy growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when he was selling Christmas cards door to door, or flowers from a rock garden, or when he was mowing customers' lawns, in his mind he was a businessman. His goal was to own his own business.
Sarver's father owned a small landscape maintenance business. This piqued Larry's interest in horticulture. Following graduation from high school in 1974, he enrolled at Delaware Valley College where he majored in horticulture. A year into the program, Sarver heard that Mississippi State was starting a new co-op landscape architecture/construction program. This appealed to him. It consisted of one semester in school and one semester working in the private sector, then back to school for another semester and back into the field working for someone. It was a five-year program; he graduated in 1979.
ValleyCrest Companies was one of the companies that participated in the Mississippi co-op program, so Sarver worked for Valley-Crest in the semesters he was in the field. "It was quite an experience for a young man," said Sarver. "One semester, I remember working in ValleyCrest's Santa Ana office. I don't remember why I walked into one of the working trailers, but there I was talking with someone when Mr. Sperber walked in to speak with someone in the trailer. I stopped what I was doing and stood still, out of respect for Mr. Sperber. When he finished talking, he walked over to me and whispered in my ear, 'Even if you're not busy, look busy,' and then went back to what he was doing. I never forgot that lesson."
Upon completion of the program, Sarver realized he was not quite prepared to take on large projects on his own. To continue to gain experience, he went to work for Lied's Nursery in Wisconsin. He felt he could learn to do patios and hardscapes. "That first winter it snowed so much, so Tom Lied asked for volunteers to be sub-contractors to haul snow at night and move trees during the day," recalls Sarver. "I asked one of the contractors about the opportunities and he told me if I had a truck and tractor, I could make a lot of money."
So I went home, borrowed a tractor from my father, a trailer from my uncle, some money from my father-in-law for a truck and went back and hauled snow for three weeks. I made enough money to start my own business.? So in 1979, Sarver moved back to Pittsburgh and started a landscape contracting company. He was thrilled to be in his own business -- his work ethic showed.
While at ValleyCrest, he had learned about irrigation. Always on the lookout for opportunities, in 1982 he realized that the closest Rain Bird distributor was in Ohio. He called Rain Bird and in 1983, after negotiating for a while, Sarver got the master turf distributorship for the Pittsburgh area. In order to devote all his efforts to the new distributorship, he sold his landscaping equipment and began calling on golf courses.
In a short period of time, he realized that there was not much of a market selling irrigation components in the Pittsburgh area, so in 1983, Sarver began an irrigation contracting business. His first job was a 27-hole golf course at the Westmoreland Country Club.
"That job almost killed me, but we got through it," said Sarver.
Because there was very little business in Pittsburgh, he moved his contracting business to the Washington, D.C. area. He had two shop locations, one in Virginia and the other in Maryland, all the while running the Rain Bird distributorship out of Pittsburgh. Through some contacts from the Rain Bird side, Sarver was also able to establish a presence in the Caribbean.
He concentrated on golf and large commercial projects; however, in 1989 Rain Bird felt there was more business to be done in his area if he devoted more of his time to the distributorship. He had to choose and he chose to stick with Rain Bird, giving up the contracting business. This time, he had only Rain Bird for the golf market for western Pennsylvania. Not long after, Sarver was assigned the Caribbean golf market from Puerto Rico to Trinidad
Sarver had heard about decoder systems in the international markets and specifically, one in Canada. He was working on selling a system to a golf course when he decided to take his client to see the system. So he chartered a small plane and flew to Canada to check out the system. ?We were the first to finish a two-wire system for Rain Bird in the U.S., said Sarver. "That's how I got started selling two-wire systems."
Envisioning an opportunity for two-wire in the commercial market, Sarver hooked up with Danes, who invented two-wire and in 1995 created his own company called Tucor. Nobody knew more about two-wire than Larry Sarver; however, what he did not anticipate was how far ahead of the curve he was, so he struggled while he waited for the market to catch up.
"The ability to remotely access a single controller for monitoring and management purposes was made easier," says Sarver. "Now at last, there is a two-wire system and affordable price points that are geared to the commercial market."
Tucor will introduce a new conventional controller at the International Irrigation Show this month. "The big thing we've always been about is communications; we've had software and modems since 1995," says Sarver. "Our whole focus right now is to be able to manage controllers that are all Internet-based. We've built our own browser-based web server. We've created an Internet-based system with one communication connection to our server, without recurring costs."
Sarver and his wife Sherry have two children, Maggie, 12, and Alex, 8. They live in Mars, Pennsylvania. What little spare time he has is spent skiing with his family.
His father taught him a strong work ethic at an early age that he has carried throughout his career. Larry Sarver lives, eats, drinks and breathes Tucor. He dreams of how he can make an indelible mark on the industry.