Larry DeWitt built a $30 million a year landscape fabric manufacturing company from the ground up. One could say he was lucky, or perhaps he was in the right place at the right time, but I?ve known him for more than 20 years, and I can tell you it wasn?t luck; it was his passion. DeWitt grew up on a small farm in Southeastern Missouri. His parents were barely eeking out enough to pay some of the bills. Typical of those days, all the kids helped out on the farm; DeWitt was no exception. He was poor and didn?t even know it.
For as long as he can remember, DeWitt worked on the family farm, where they grew grain crops and corn. Not knowing what he wanted to do with his life, upon graduation from high school, DeWitt enrolled in South East Missouri University.
He thought he would take agricultural courses so that when he went back to the farm he would be able to apply what he learned at college to make the farm more efficient. During his time at college, he commuted from the farm.
He decided to take a course in landscaping, although he didn?t fully understand what the course was really about. Like he tells it, ?I thought it was about shaping the land. Flood irrigation was gaining in popularity, and I thought that as a kid from a farm family, I should know how to shape the land to get it ready for flood irrigation.?
Something clicked with DeWitt, because while attending these classes, he fell head over heels in love with landscaping. By his senior year, he was designing and building landscapes for some of the people in town.
Upon graduation, DeWitt decided to open a nursery/garden center. He built his nursery on a main thoroughfare, and that helped build traffic. He continued to do his landscaping, and began to acquire inventory. Business was good.
DeWitt began to develop a wholesale operation as well. He would call on other landscape contractors and offer them plant material at wholesale prices. That way, he could purchase more plant material from the growers and get better discounts.
That was 30 years ago, and DeWitt is still in love with this business. It was more than just a job, and he loved everything about it.
During this time, the standard weed barrier was 6 mil plastic sheeting. Although it worked well to keep the weeds down, it suffocated the soil by not allowing it to breathe. As the plants grew under the plastic sheeting, the roots were forced to the top, seeking oxygen and water. Eventually, it soured the soil and ruined the plant material.
DeWitt began to think about sheeting. On one hand, it was controlling the weeds, but on the other hand, the plants were not getting the oxygen and water they needed to survive. One day, he found himself talking to an old customer, and DeWitt explained the problem he was having. The customer said that he had solved the problem by putting down used carpet in his garden.
This got DeWitt?s thought processes going?he could get used carpet from homes and stores that were renovating, and use the carpet as a weed barrier. It could breathe, and allow water to seep into the ground. However, the carpet was heavy and cumbersome, so he began to look for a company that would help him create a product.
He found Amoco, and they developed the first permeable landscape fabric ever to go on the market. Although woven ground cover was already on the market, it couldn?t get enough air and water movement below.
At last he felt he had something, so DeWitt called on other garden centers and showed them the product, but found they had no interest in stocking yet another product. However, DeWitt believed that a permeable fabric was an answer to controlling weeds and having healthy plants. He was determined to build a better mousetrap.
DeWitt was on a mission. He would load up his truck, call on landscape contractors and would sell to them directly, and that?s the way his business began. He would go to trade shows, load up on rolls of landscape fabric and hope to sell enough to pay for the space and then some.
When asked how he got into the landscape fabric business, DeWitt?s response was: by accident. Today, the DeWitt Company in Sikeston, Missouri, manufactures and sells a broad range of textiles to the landscape and nursery/garden center markets. ?There is no end in sight for these products,? says DeWitt. ?Permeable fabric weed barriers are the safest solution to weed control, with no side effects.?
New and exciting products are continually being developed, such as fabrics for solar protection. ?We have fabrics that will protect the plants from sun, cold and heat,? stated DeWitt. ?We have fabrics that only screen out the harmful ultraviolet rays, while keeping the good UV rays from the sun. The results are unbelievable.?
So what does DeWitt do for fun? Although he likes snow skiing and boating, his number one hobby is gardening. ?I just love it.?
DeWitt has a philosophy, ?I love what I do and do what I love. A job pays the bills; a career is something you have a passion for. Finding your career is like finding your soulmate.?
It is apparent to anyone who meets DeWitt that he has certainly met his soulmate, and is as much in love with the industry today as he was when he took his first landscaping class.2/06