Building a Legacy

Olympic Landscape celebrates 40 years

Five years after Olympic Landscape and Irrigation opened for business, it nearly folded and filed for bankruptcy.

Owner and founder Neil Hedman sent his employees home and sat in his office alone. It was 1982, when the economy was so dismal people would say, “The last one to leave Seattle, turn off the lights,” Hedman recalled. His business was shouldering $165,000 in debt. They’d taken too many unprofitable jobs, run up a line of credit, and struggled to pay their taxes.

There, in his office, he picked up a copy of Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back: Persevering Through Pressure, by Charles Swindoll, and landed on chapter five — “Impossibilities: Uncrossable Rivers of Life.”

Owner of Olympic Landscape and Irrigation Neil Hedman in his Puyallup office. Photo by Joanna Kresge

In that moment, Hedman had an epiphany: It was time to change how he ran business affairs.

“I make a joke with other business owners that when you have a business card, you think you’re a businessman,” he said. “And when you have your business phone number, and your Little Yellow Pages ad, you think you’re a businessman. You have to approach things more realistically.”

And they did. They became more realistic about needed profit margins and ran tight bookkeeping that tracked cash out and in for every job. And things started turning around.

They were awarded some big contracts — including half of the landscaping for the Tacoma Dome in 1983 — and Hedman paid the last of his vendor debts. He still has the old green-and-white accounting sheet with all their payments ledgered out in pencil.

Fast-forward to March 2017. Hedman walks through the hallway of his Puyallup office and points out black-framed pictures of Olympic Landscape’s stunning work, with testimonials from clients printed on the side. It’s like walking through a mini-gallery of dream homes, meticulously manicured with refreshing greenery and awe-inspiring water treatments.

From left to right: Employee Jon Espeseth, owner Neil Hedman and employee Duane Reed operated Olympic Landscape and Irrigation when it was founded in 1977. Photo courtesy Olympic Landscape and Irrigarion.

He struggles to come up with just one project he is really proud of — there are so many. Not to mention he’s made lifelong friends with many of his clients and continues to work for them as their lives grow into new homes.

Olympic Landscape is celebrating 40 years of earned success — a milestone few businesses persevere to. They’ve evolved from three 20-something-year-old guys with Motorola radios to roughly 25 employees and a business name well-known in the South Sound.

“Jokingly, I say it feels really old,” he said. “It’s like life, with good times and bad times. It feels like we’ve built something really solid, and the culture here is really nice.”

He likens coming to work each day to the movie The Rookie starring Dennis Quaid, based on the true story of a middle-aged father who gets a brief opportunity to play Major League Baseball.

“There’s this scene where Quaid walks into the locker room and says, ‘You know what we get to do? We get to play baseball.’ It feels like that. We get to do landscaping.”

is an assistant editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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