Virginia Turfgrass Journal – The Turf Zone
Craig Zeigler, President of ALM and VTC Board Member, has a story that begins like many other turfgrass professionals. He always knew he enjoyed working outside, and after a three-year stint as an assistant manager at a country club, where he primarily handled restaurant management duties, he knew it was time to find a way to get out of the clubhouse.
Having worked on a golf course during his senior year at Penn State, Craig had many friends who were turfgrass management majors. “I wished I would’ve majored in that, but I was getting ready to graduate with a degree in Recreation and Parks,” he said. Craig enjoyed his golf course work so much that after three years in the clubhouse, he went to North Carolina State University and got his degree in turfgrass management.
He began working on golf courses in 1995 and worked his way up to assistant golf course superintendent in 1996. That turned out to be a fateful year for Craig, as two major hurricanes made landfall in Topsail Beach, North Carolina, exactly where his course was located. Those two hurricanes caused major devastation in the area, and the golf course was no exception. The storm surge brought saltwater onto some greens, and the course lost over 1000 trees as well.
Clean-up and recovery was seven months of grueling work, only to have the course reopen around Christmas with no one left in the area to play. Topsail Beach remained a depressed area for about a year after the hurricanes. This meant revenue for the course was low, and when Craig was presented 100 dollars as his Christmas bonus, he decided it was time to make a change. He moved to Raleigh and tried his hand in the lawncare segment, working as a route manager for a company there.
In one year, Craig grew his route by 30 percent. He realized he could be doing that exact kind of work for himself, so he made the leap. He moved to Virginia Beach and started his own lawncare business in 1998. It was a slow start with many hours spent doing the literal leg work of promoting a new business. Craig says he walked many miles passing out flyers and working hard to grow the business.
Craig’s business, Agronomic Lawn Management (ALM), began to grow and Craig’s brother, Chris, joined in 2007. The company has grown 25–30 percent every year since 2010. One great draw for customers has been their call-in radio show. Craig, Chris, and ALM’s general manager, Bryan Raehl, alternate radio show duties the first and third Saturdays of each month, fielding lawncare questions from callers.
ALM offers lawn treatments (including fertilization, pre- and post- emergent weed control, disease and insect management, and seeding) and tree and shrub care (using an IPM approach). They have 43 employees and over 8000 customers in the Chesapeake area.
One area that Craig and ALM have excelled in is a company culture that values and retains employees. All areas of turfgrass management have faced labor challenges in recent years, and ALM has been intentional in building relationships and camaraderie among the staff. The ALM team has enjoyed some exciting Employee Appreciation Days — including Go Karting, paintball and even shuffleboard — that have allowed staff that don’t normally work side-by-side to get acquainted and build a team mentality. Craig says ALM does not lay off employees in the winter, so they find community service projects to work on as well. Recently, the entire team worked together to plant over 3000 sea grass plants in Back Bay to help with erosion on the dunes. They also pick up trash along waterways and streets — and if that sounds like a chore, you might be surprised to find out that the crew that got excited about shuffleboard actually found a way to compete at roadside cleanup. They turn it into a contest to see who can find the most unique object.
This culture and camaraderie are vital to keeping great staff, but Craig and the ALM team also place high value on education and certification. ALM sends all new employees to the Virginia Tech Turfgrass Short Course to get them up to speed, and they work with VTC to bring VDACS onsite for certification and recertification for employees. This focus not only means employees feel valued, but also helps keep standards high for the services ALM provides.
Craig says his path to success in the turfgrass industry has been paved with strong relationships within the industry. He emphasized the importance of attending industry events for both education and network and relationship building.
He admits that work/life balance is a fine line to walk, but after those early years of long days on a golf course, he has placed great emphasis on finding that balance. He says his wife, Bonny, has been beside him through the whole process, and she was instrumental in those early years of passing out flyers and growing the business. Craig and Bonny have two children, Desiree (16) and Austin (14).
When asked what he’d tell those who are entering the turfgrass industry now, Craig answered, “Have an open mind. There’s a lot of different avenues the turfgrass profession can take you — sports fields, sod growing, golf, home lawns. I would not pigeonhole myself. There’s an awful lot of opportunity out there in different fields. Also, your education never stops. You’re always learning, always evolving.” Thank you Craig, for your service and support of the VTC and the industry.READ THE ISSUE