HOW A BRANCHBURG BASED LANDSCAPING BUSINESS CONTINUES TO THRIVE IN AN INCREASINGLY COMPETITIVE FIELD
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
When Paul Cernuto graduated from high school, he started mowing lawns. Using a secondhand mower and his father’s old pickup truck, the 18 year old hustled, working sunrise to sunset, seven days a week, doing whatever it took to build a lasting and loyal clientele.
“I grew up in Martinsville, in Bridgewater, which was very rural at the time,” Cernuto said. “I started cutting my neighbors’ lawns, gradually building a business, client by client. Soon investors came in and started developing all of that raw land, building single family homes. They used a large landscaper, but I would do miscellaneous work for them, cutting lawns for the models, basically picking up the crumbs that the big guys didn’t have the time for. The developers took notice and offered me a great opportunity.”
Young and still unproven, Cernuto was tasked with providing full service for a large area. “The developers only wanted to deal with one person, someone who could provide a full service for them,” he said. “So I had to go out and find people with a background in planting and find contractors who were licensed to irrigate.” He hired people to run those divisions of his growing company, though he still mowed all the lawns himself.
“I spent five hours in the shop negotiating a deal on my first commercial mower,” Cernuto recalled with a laugh. “But I was faced with this great opportunity, and was completely driven. All of my friends were in college, partying and having fun, but building this business was what I lived and breathed.”
Today, more than 30 years later, Cernuto has 350 employees and 185 trucks on the road.
“We do landscape design and building, as well as lawn maintenance for both residential and commercial properties,” he said of High Tech Landscapes, his Branchburg based company. “We also take care of irrigation maintenance and installation as well as tree care and snow removal.”
High Tech, which was built entirely on referrals, has earned a solid reputation across the state, and has clients in more than half of its counties. The company was also recently named one of the top 100 landscaping operations in the country by Lawn and Landscape magazine.
In 1999, Cernuto hired a management company, reorganizing High Tech under its guidance and streamlining his services.
“We were good at what we did, but had no structure,” he explained. “So I worked with a consultant, who helped me organize my budget and host weekly staff meetings. I went from shooting from the hip to running the company by a strict set of numbers. It honestly empowered my employees and helped us to succeed together.”
And while the industry and the economy have changed over the years, Cernuto said it’s that knowledge that has helped him thrive.
“The business has evolved a lot,” he said. “It’s obviously a very easy industry to get into you don’t need a college degree to cut lawns and after 2001, the market became flooded with competition, corporate people who, after being let go, started their own landscaping businesses. And that has been an obstacle, but my company remains a success because we have that operational acumen.”
In addition, the business is almost 100% paperless, and Cernuto and his workers pay strict attention to other practices associated with environmental sustainability.
“The progress in technology is mind blowing,” he said. “Everything we do now is computer based, from accounting to scheduling to tracking my trucks. We use tablets for everything, very little paper, and even our mowers, weed whackers, and leaf blowers are more efficient, with less emissions, so we can be more sensitive to the environment. We’ve also been using more modern products for snow removal brine in place of rock salt, for example, as well as safer chemicals to melt ice on walkways.” the owner also recently integrated his children into High Tech’s daily operations.
“My daughter is a senior in high school, and spends her summers and vacations here in the o office. My son is a sophomore, and he’ll do the same,” Cernuto said. “I want them to go to college and follow their dreams, but I think it’s good for them to learn about small business firsthand,” adding that he also places great importance on giving back to the community in which he lives and works.
“We provide cleanup and maintenance on many of our local public trails,” he said. “And we sponsor several football, baseball, and lacrosse teams. I truly believe in giving back to the community, because if it was not for them, I would not be where I am today.”
High Tech Landscapes
10 Culnen Drive, Branchburg
732.564.7132 / hightechlandscapes.com