Dec. 16 2008 12:00 AM

Joshua S. Gamez seems to be on top of his game. He has achieved more at the age of 30 than most can hope to achieve by the time they're middle-aged. It was not the easiest road to travel, but then, Gamez didn't know any better.

My father emigrated from Mexico seven years before I was born,” he said.

Gamez was one of five children in a struggling working-class family, growing up “on what you could say was in the lower income bracket, where the possibility of receiving a good education was shaky.”

It’s these humble beginnings that have helped motivate Gamez in his constant drive to succeed. His first taste of success came at the age of 13, when he began a window cleaning business in the New Jersey river towns of Milford and Frenchtown. By the time he was 15, he was cleaning 50 commercial storefront windows and making nice money without any overhead.

“It was a great business for a young guy,” says Gamez. “I made decent money.” Eager to do more, he decided to branch out. He took the money he had saved cleaning store windows and bought a truck, a trailer and an Exmark walk-behind mower.

With his newly purchased equipment ready for use, Gamez started his first landscape maintenance business in 1996 at the age of 18. Within a few years, that business had grown to $200,000 annually.

“As a small independent, I realized that I couldn’t open the doors to large company facilities. I realized if I wanted to grow, I would need to align myself with a larger company.” In January 2001, Gamez decided to buy a U.S. Lawns franchise. When asked why he decided to buy a franchise, he commented, “U.S. Lawns is uniquely positioned because it is the only national corporately-structured landscape company, but more importantly, it has local ownership. As president of the company, I am personally involved.”

Today, Gamez owns seven franchise licenses. He currently operates from three facilities located in Pittsburgh, and Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Expansion plans are underway to add one additional facility in Eastern Pennsylvania and another in the New Brunswick area of New Jersey. Eventually, Gamez plans to have a location centered in each of his seven franchise territories.

For as long as he can remember, Gamez has always strived for more, even if it involved taking a few risks here and there. Dropping out of school at age 15 is among the biggest risks Gamez has taken, but one thing that he understood even as a teenager is that risks won’t pay off if they aren’t handled responsibly.

After dropping out of school, he began pouring all of his energy into his business. He might not have had a formal education, but there was still work to be done. There was no room for dawdling. “I left school because I have a hard time sitting still,” he said. “It was probably a little Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.) but I was always a very fast learner and I’m very good with numbers.” Some years later he did finish his schooling and attain a diploma through a home study program.

What makes Gamez’ story even more interesting is the fact that when he bought U.S. Lawns in 2001, he did so with very limited resources. “U.S. Lawns took a chance on me,” he said. He poured much of his concentration into building good pricing structures and a solid company infrastructure, offering his clients something that other larger, national companies couldn’t: local ownership. “With our company, our customers see that as president, I’m hands-on and involved in the total day-to-day operations.”

When Gamez bought his franchise in the fall of the year, he knew he’d have no income until the spring. His cash box was featherlight and winter was coming. He needed to generate some cash to live on through the winter. Relying on his resourcefulness to get by, Gamez saw an opportunity. Cracker Barrel restaurants in the northern markets are known to burn firewood in winter to provide a warm and cozy atmosphere for their customers, and it was here, during that first winter with U.S. Lawns, that he’d spend hours at his brother-in-law’s house chopping and splitting firewood and then selling it to nearby Cracker Barrel restaurants. “I held on to the first invoice I ever printed at this company,” says Gamez. “It was for two cords of firewood for a Cracker Barrel in Clinton, New Jersey, and I’ve kept it ever since.”

Eight years have passed since he bought his U.S. Lawns franchise, and business continues to grow. “What U.S. Lawns did was take the attributes and the God-given talents that I had, and honed those skills and refined them. They gave me a road map to follow.” Assuming Gamez keeps up the pace, there’s likely to be more success coming his way. And if his words are anything to go by, his pace doesn’t seem to be slowing any time soon. “I hope to be a $6 million enterprise within 12 to 18 months,” he admits.

Though his passion for the industry is endless, the business isn’t his only love. Together with Veronica, his wife of nine years, they’re raising two boys: Josiah Steven, 5, and James Steven, 4. They’ll often spend time in the summer taking their boat up and down the New Jersey coastline. In the winter, you’re likely to find Gamez either at a Pittsburgh Steelers football game or in front of the television every time they play. “As far as recreational things go, the Steelers are one of the things I’m most passionate about, which is funny because I grew up in New Jersey.” In the meantime, Gamez’ drive and undying passion are sure to propel him further and further towards his business goals. He hopes to increase the size of his company by $1 to $2 million every fiscal year. “I’m naturally driven,” he admits. “People who are like me —and there are too many of us out there—can’t shut the switch off.

“I don’t think my story is unique,” says Gamez. “I just want to see how far I can take it. More importantly, I have a lot of great, loyal people to promote. How am I going to promote them if I can’t grow the company?” Joshua Gamez is passionate about his business and is reaping the rewards.