April 14 2011 12:00 AM

TOM SUPER IS HIS NAME AND HE has made a super start in becoming a successful entrepreneur in the landscape business.

Born and raised in Ft. Myers, Florida, where he started his business and still resides, Super, age 35, could make the headline of “Local Boy Makes Good” in the Ft. Myers newspaper.

But it’s the years in between that helped him develop and led to his success. Super was an average kid growing up—he attended school and held some odd jobs during the summer months. But he was fortunate to find a teacher who took a liking to him and took him under his wing to mentor him.

The teacher was teaching a course in agriculture, including farming and plant material, etc. “That experience stuck with me all these years,” he said.

Super graduated high school and enrolled in college, but he also needed a job. Because he was so motivated by his junior high school teacher, Super took a job in the citrus industry. The industry was facing many challenges, but he liked it. He felt he wanted to stay in that market, but thought he might like to be a salesperson for a chemical company, or perhaps sell agricultural supplies.

In 1995, an opportunity presented itself and he went to work for Florida Irrigation Supply as an outside salesman. He began calling on farmers and irrigation and landscape contractors in the southwestern part of Florida. He liked the job and did well, so well in fact that he was promoted to regional sales manager.

After a four-year stint, he moved over to Century Rain Aid (now John Deere Landscapes) and spent the next two years polishing his skills. He was learning quite a bit. “I listened to the challenges these landscape contractors faced and enjoyed sharing their successes,” said Super.

He was tapped for a sales position with Hunter Industries in the South Florida market and jumped at the opportunity. During this time, he called on many landscape contractors. Over the years, he got to know many of them and gleaned little bits and pieces here and there about their successes and failures.

He realized that many of these contractors had excellent skills in building landscapes and maintaining them, but some lacked business skills.

After a number of years travelling through southern Florida, Super wanted to spend more time at home, to help raise his family. “And who doesn’t want to live the American Dream?” quipped Super. He had been giving a lot of thought to owning his own business, and discussed this frequently with his wife. He felt he could become a fullservice landscape contractor. “She not only encouraged me, but was my staunchest supporter,” said Super.

He persevered and learned the hard way. Although he never graduated from college, he certainly got his degree from the School of Hard Knocks. He started his business in 2005, and called it Nature’s Blueprint. In the short time since he began his business, he has built a reputation for quality and service. Equally as important, he is profitable. You would have to say he graduated magna cum laude from the School of Hard Knocks.

In the short, barely six-year period of time since he opened, his business has grown to $2 million annually, in one of the worst economic times in our history, and in a supposedly weak Florida market.

I asked the question, “How did you do this in a down market?” Super’s response was, “I learned so much when I was calling on landscape contractors—the most important lesson I learned was the importance of understanding a profit and loss statement. I’ve tried to avoid the mistakes others have made.”

Apparently, Super learned well.

His attention to detail, especially the P&L statement, has stood him in good stead. In addition to his nursery and tree growing operation, he just recently purchased his own piece of commercial property with 6,000 square feet of building.

Still, in the economic times we’ve gone through these past two years, to grow a new business took more than luck. Super built a better mousetrap. He knew how to figure his costs, and he was determined to create and build outstanding landscapes in both the commercial and residential markets.

Part of the culture of his company is a steadfast commitment to quality and customer satisfaction. Super says, “We stand behind all of our work, from hardscapes to shrubs and trees, with a firm guarantee. Our team is made up of the best nurserymen, lighting experts, and irrigation technicians to provide a fully integrated approach to the landscape installation. My partner Steve Hall and our employees are the foundation for our continued growth and success.”

With a commitment to satisfying the customer and top quality, Nature’s Blueprint grew. They have potential clients that call us and say, “We know you’re not the cheapest, but we’ve heard that you’re the best.” And that’s what Super is looking to be, the best.

“Now more than ever, you have to be in control of your business,” said Super. “You need good quality employees and you must maintain the highest level of efficiency. Profitability comes through maximum efficiency, sound vendor relationships, and empowered employees.”

There’s a new way of doing business these days, and Nature’s Blueprint is a good blueprint for small landscape companies to be successful.

Married to Alison, they have two daughters, Ashlynn, 13, and Addison, 4. His older daughter plays soc cer and Super coaches T-Ball for Addison’s team. For relaxation, the family owns a large motor home and they love to travel. “We try to take a trip at least two weekends a month,” he said.

Quite active in various trade associations in the state, Super says, “It’s a little payback time.” He serves on the executive board of the Florida Irrigation Society and is vice president of the local chapter. He is also helping to promote a state licensing program for irrigation contractors, and is involved in trying to resurrect the local chapter of the Landscape Maintenance Association.

He hopes through these various organizations that landscape contractors achieve a level of professionalism and respect with their clients as well as the public at large.