Shayne Newman likes to joke that his love for the outdoors came to him naturally; after all, he was ‘raised by wolves.’ Of course, he wasn’t, but he did have a rather unconventional upbringing. As a child, the owner of YardApes, a New Milford, Connecticut landscape company, spent plenty of time outdoors, roaming and living off the land.
It started when he was about five years old and living in Upstate New York. His parents divorced, and his mother put him and his brother in the car and headed West. For the next five years, the three of them camped out in teepees in the mountains of Idaho and Colorado.
Although this way of life made Newman feel a little self-conscious as a youngster, he attributes much of his career path to the impact of those formative years.
After high school, he decided to return to the Northeast, to live with his father while attending the University of Connecticut. In those days, he didn’t want to talk about his early nomadic, hippie lifestyle. Now, at 49, he can laugh about it.
Because of the way he was raised, he developed a love for the outdoors, and stumbled upon the perfect profession that allows him to be outside.
In college, he studied business, majoring at first in marketing; then later, switching to finance. As his freshman year was drawing to a close, his dad asked him what he planned to do for money over the summer. He said casually, ‘Maybe I’ll mow some lawns.’ His father took him seriously. A couple of months later, his dad told him, ‘I co-signed for a truck and a mower for you. You have a $240-amonth payment for the next four years, so I guess you’d better start mowing some lawns.’ Throughout college, Newman spent weekends and summer breaks cutting lawns. If there was more work than he could handle, he’d corral some friends to help him. By the time he graduated in 1990, with a degree in finance, he’d acquired 30 to 40 clients.
Diploma in hand, it was now time for ‘the real world,’ or so he thought. He’d put on his old suit and tie and interview for jobs. Then he thought, “What if I turn my lawn-mowing business into a ‘real’ business?” He focused on building his landscape business during the day, taking horticulture classes at night. Twentyeight years later, he’s still just as passionate about being outdoors as ever.
“I’d never say I had a master plan,” said Newman. “I just feel like I got lucky along the way.” He didn’t worry about how much money he was making; he was just doing what he liked to do.
Today, YardApes has a staff of 15 year-round employees and 20 additional seasonal workers.
Newman knows that being successful in the landscape field means not only maintaining properties, but relationships.
Most of YardApes’ work is for high-end residential clients who provide the repeat business necessary to keep his company growing. “It’s all about creating more outdoor experiences for families,” he explained.
Newman is a craftsman who painstakingly creates beautiful landscapes and hardscapes, but that’s not what it’s all about for him. It’s the long-term relationships he’s forged that are the glue that holds everything together. “Life is all about relationships, and you can’t be successful if you don’t value them,” he advises.
Not surprisingly, he works as hard at fostering goodwill with his employees as he does with his clients.
Monthly company outings range from cookouts to amusement park visits. “That kind of stuff is really important,” he says, “having everyone in the company feeling like we’re a family. It’s a big part of my business philosophy.”
Giving back to the community is another of Newman’s core values, and he strives to instill that in his workers, too, encouraging them to volunteer their time. “I’m a huge proponent of community service and volunteering—to me it’s just like a win-win,” he told me.
His approach to philanthropy involves throwing out a challenge to his employees. “We’ll look at our marketing budget, and I’ll ask, ‘How much can we peel away from this budget and put toward a community-service project?’” Talking about these endeavors, Newman sounds like the hippie he once was, saying that the results have been “almost Karmic. I do believe in Karma, and I’ve gotten so much back.”
Now, Karma has kicked in yet again. Recently, YardApes was recognized with a community stewardship award from the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP). “That was really cool. It was one of those things we didn’t really expect,” he says.
Newman’s no stranger to NALP, having become involved years ago as public relations chair, and he now serves on its board of directors. “My role with NALP allows me to engage with issues that are much bigger than my company. From day one, I wanted to change how people think about landscapers. The board and the Association, overall, are doing a lot of things to make the industry better.”
“Sometimes,” Newman told me, “I have to pinch myself. I feel that, through my involvement in NALP, I’m helping to make a difference. I never had a master plan for that either, but here I am, working with these other amazing board members, and together, we’re doing a lot of great things for our industry.”
When he was still NALP’s PR chair, he spearheaded making Earth Day a day of service for landscape professionals. “Landscape companies all around the country were volunteering. It was a really powerful thing. Our company has carried that forward, and we still participate in it every year.”
Most of the philanthropic work YardApes does is landscape work for nonprofit parks and nature preserves. In addition, the company hosts a charity golf tournament every year. This year, it raised $10,000 for the Pratt Nature Center, a local preserve with an educational center for children.
Thinking back on his career, Newman says, “What’s important to me now is asking, ‘What do people think about our company?’ We want to be the best-respected landscape company out there. Our mission is being better people, and better professionals, and to continue to solidify our relationships with our clients, our vendors and our community.” There’s no doubt that he and his company will continue doing just that.