Michael Hatcher & Assoc. Adapts to Shifting Customer Demands

By Sarah Baker

The average person probably wouldn’t associate the word “trendy” with landscaping, but Michael Hatcher certainly does.

Michael Hatcher is founder and president of Michael Hatcher & Associates Inc.

(Photo: Marc Burford)

“When I first came to Memphis in the early ’80s, most all of the work that we did was landscape planting,” said Hatcher, founder and president of Michael Hatcher & Associates Inc. “And then as the industry grew, we grew with the industry.”

In order to keep up with consumer trends, landscaping changes began to include irrigation, container gardening and perennial plantings. And especially over the past few years, Hatcher has seen a return to hardscapes and outdoor living environments like patios, masonry work, waterfalls, arbors, fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and gazebos.

“I run a business in an industry that is perceived mostly as gardeners or landscapers, but we’re really a profession that offers a service just like any other professional service,” Hatcher said.

The company had been subcontracting pool servicing for years, but was noticing challenges in scheduling client meetings. To combat that hurdle, Hatcher decided last year to add a pool service line through the acquisition of A&A Pool Services, which transitioned ownership in February.

“Not only do we serve and offer a full-service package, but we also have that service as a stand-alone,” Hatcher said. “If all you wanted us to do was to clean your pool, we would do that.”

Michael Hatcher & Associates staffs about 100 people, including administrative staff, designers and architects, sales personnel, business developers and maintenance crews. The company serves residential clients as well as commercial clients like Memphis International Airport and Tennessee National Guard.

All of the company’s services are in-house, and are divided into separate departments, one of the many reasons it’s seen continued success over the years.

“One of the differences that I’ve tried to make with our organization is to be a business set up as a business,” Hatcher said. “In turn, that’s attracting young people – the top talent – to the company, because they can see career path opportunities. They see how they can come in at an entry-level position with a degree from a university, a vo-tech school or a junior college and see the steps that they have to make to get to a management position or a supervisory role.”

In 2008, Michael Hatcher & Associates became an employee-owned company. It’s the incentive of “owning a piece of the rock” that allows the business to attract and retain talent to offset the issue of lessening human capital.

“There are not as many young people now that are pursuing this career as there was five or 10 years ago,” Hatcher said. “It’s just still a perception issue; we have such a low investment entry. A lot of the young people that go to two- and four-year colleges don’t really see the impact that they can make with an education when they maybe graduated high school with somebody who went out and started their own business.”

Another challenge facing the landscaping industry is regulations on chemical usage, storage and application, as well as being good stewards of the environment.

“We don’t hear a lot about it in Memphis because we have such good aquifers and such an abundance of water, but you get into Dallas, Atlanta, Florida, and some of the larger urban areas, water is a real issue,” Hatcher said. “Those federal mandates from the East Coast and the West Coast will drive our laws at some point in the future.”

That’s why Michael Hatcher & Associates has certified irrigation contractors on staff to monitor water usage, which is particularly appealing to property owners and property managers.

“Through the innovations and technology of some of our suppliers, we’re actually installing controllers that are connected to a weather station so that we know how much the transpiration rate is of moisture from the soil or the plants,” Hatcher said. “We can apply specific amounts of water so it’s not just watering the grass because you do it three days a week.”

While each season has its fair share of challenges related to weather, Hatcher said this spring in particular has been difficult due to the early arrival of warm temperatures.

“In horticulture, we look at things like soil temperature and bloom cycles, which both came prematurely this season,” Hatcher said. “We may get up to 80 degrees during the day, but if it doesn’t cool down at night, that high/low temperature triggers more plant and weed growth.”

People also move into the spring based on bloom cycles psychologically, Hatcher said. This presents a challenge from the perspective of how the company operates on a horticulture calendar with certain benchmarks that it sets up for activities.

“From a growers’ and landscape contractor’s point of view, a lot of people anticipate and want seasonal color installations as part of the spring planting of vegetables and flowers,” Hatcher said. “Well, the nurseries work on a horticulture calendar, where that doesn’t typically hit the market until mid-March, late March, early April. This year, everybody was looking for those products a couple of weeks earlier due to the warm temperatures we’ve had.”