Whether you call it talent, passion, being driven, or just a strong desire, Bob Smith knew at a very young age that he wanted to succeed.
Smith was born and raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where his father worked for a local building contractor. When his dad was 28, with a wife and five children, he found out that he had a tumor on his spine and had to have surgery. During the surgery, his spinal cord was severed, and he was paralyzed from the waist down. No longer able to work in the building industry and needing to find a way to support his family, he bought a small school bus company.
Sadly, when Smith was 16, his father passed away; Smith needed to get a summer job to help the family. Luckily, prior to his surgery, his father had taught him how to operate construction machinery, a skill that would stand him in good stead for many years to come.
When he got a job tending blocks, he soon realized that he could make more money in one day running a backhoe than he could make tending blocks all week. So, for the next few years, while still in high school, on Saturdays, Sundays and evenings, Smith could be found working with his backhoe.
Upon his graduation from high school, Smith was accepted at the Art Institute, in Harrisburg, but he chose to seek a paying job instead. His uncle, who was a builder, told him that he had lots of yards to put in and that he wasn’t happy with the contractor he was using. “If you can get the equipment, I’ll keep you busy putting in yards,” said the uncle. So Smith went out and bought an old Ford tractor, a yard rake and a box level and began working for his uncle, clearing the backyards and putting down seed.
True to his word, his uncle kept him busy and some of the clients for whom he did work wanted more than just a lawn; they wanted shrubs and trees. Smith knew nothing about landscaping; he had not worked for nor met another landscape contractor at that time, He did, however, know how to run machinery.
At the age of 21, he enrolled in college; he spent the next three years studying religion. In 1977, Smith founded Hemlock Landscaping. He hired a landscape designer who had lots of hands-on experience and taught landscaping at a local school; he was 15 years Smith’s senior. When the designer joined Hemlock Landscaping, the company began to bid on commercial work. They focused their efforts on banks and service stations, and they picked up some residential work as well.
Over the years, Hemlock Landscaping has targeted their efforts on design/build. That same focus holds true today; they are strictly a design/build company. They have the same landscape designer and have added a landscape architect on staff, and a crew of 15 to 18 people in the field.
“It’s a great business,” says Smith. “When you’re done with the job, you always have something you can be proud of.”
Smith tries to stay narrowly focused, so Hemlock Landscaping does not offer lawn maintenance or snow removal. He has managed to stay busy, even through a downturn in the economy. “So much of my work is repeat business,” says Smith. “I’m constantly visiting with my customers. That’s been my bread and butter.”
“Most contractors get the one big job, do the work and never go back to check on the client to see if they