Oct. 15 2014 09:26 AM
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When Lowell Kaufhold started his first year of college, he got a job installing sprinklers so that he could support himself. Though he could not have imagined it then, this was where he would spend his entire career—in the landscape industry. Kaufhold, now 57, says, “It’s the only industry I’ve ever been in.”

Though he was born in Boise City, Oklahoma, Kaufhold was just four when his family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. That’s where he was raised, went to school and attended college. In his third year of college, and trying to make ends meet, Kaufhold said, “I thought I would drop out of school, make some decent money for a while, and then finish up and get my degree.”

In 1978, while still in school, he got a job with Gilman Construction. He was with them off and on for four seasons. “I was traveling for Gilman, which made it difficult to continue with my education, so I went to work for a company called Landscape Enterprises in Colorado Springs. That got me off the road. One thing led to another…I never did get my degree. I started my own business instead.”

“I started a landscape and irrigation contracting business in 1981, with my brother. It’s funny, but after you start making a little bit of money, all of a sudden, it’s very hard to get along,” said Kaufhold. Needless to say, that business didn’t work out.

He took a job with a high-end residential landscape contractor and stayed with them for about seven years. “I did all the general managing on the job and a little bit of sales,” he said. “I gave it my all, and there was always talk that I would own part of the business.” That never developed.

Becoming a little disenchanted, in 1992 he answered an ad for a territory salesperson for CPS, a distributor of irrigation, lighting and landscape supplies. During the interview process, Kaufhold was told that he was the kind of person CPS was looking for; he had experience from a contractor’s point of view. He was offered a sales position and although he thought that sales was not his forté, he would give it a try. “Now, 23 years later, I’m still with the same company,” he laughs.

At CPS, he started as a territory salesman, then was promoted to sales manager in the mid-’90s. He was later made director of sales and marketing, which evolved into director of marketing, and still later promoted to general manager. He ran the company for about four years.

In 2012, Kaufhold, along with three others—Mike Wischmeyer, now CFO, Andrea Hopp, controller, and Dave Nelson, director of sales and marketing—were able to exercise their options and acquire CPS from the owners.

Denver-based CPS is a very interesting company, dating back to the 1890s. The company was founded as E. Perry & Sons. The name was changed to Colorado Pump & Supply in 1938, and in the early ’70s, it became known as CPS Distributors.

Throughout its history, the company has been handed down to its employees. “The guys that we acquired the business from had actually been employees of the company and acquired the business from the previous owners in 1981,” said Kaufhold. “We’d been exercising stock options since the late ’90s, so for more than ten years, we’d been allowed to buy into the business.”

“There’s a life-cycle to everyone in the business world. The previous owners were ready to step aside,” said Kaufhold. “They stopped coming into work as often as they had previously. They kind of let us run the company. As an owner, once you start down that road, you can only go so many years before you start to become detached from your business. You can’t afford to lose the people that you’ve turned it over to, and the people you’ve turned it over to are going to think, ‘Why am I going to do all this for these guys when they don’t even contribute on a daily basis?’” “Then, I think people start getting antsy; there was about four years of that. I think the timing was perfect. The owners definitely made an exit strategy for them selves. It worked out well for them, and it worked out well for me and my team.” Although not quite through their second year of ownership, and still early in the game, Kaufhold says that they intend to follow the path of the previous owners, and the ones before them. “It is our intention to allow the next generation to buy in. We would love to do that.”

During the years Kaufhold has been with CPS, he’s seen the growth. They now have 14 locations. “Back in the ’90s, we sold a lot of irrigation only. Landscape contractors, here in the West, started installing sprinklers before building the landscapes,” said Kaufhold. “Today, we’ve expanded our lines from irrigation, to landscape lighting, pavers, barbeque grills, drainage, fertilizer, etc., and we’re still selling pumping systems. You just need to continue to expand. One of our philosophies is, “Look in the back of your customer’s truck. Is there anything back there we can be selling?” In his personal life, Kaufhold has been married to his wife Elizabeth for 31 years. They have one daughter, Kaeli. “We enjoy the Colorado Rockies,” he said. “We love the outdoors and spend as much time as we can going camping and fishing.” As a family, they like to bike, ski and backpack.

Says Kaufhold, “I feel very fortunate. Anyone would like to be in the position I’m in. It’s been a long road and an awful lot of hard work, but I’m very happy to be where I am today. It’s very rewarding.”