Forging a New Path

Jesus “Chuy” Medrano grew up tending cornfields and apple orchards. As the son of farmers, each day was spent outside and it wasn’t until he was trying to find his footing in the world, first working in a factory and then working construction, that he realized his true calling was rooted in the thing he knew best—the great outdoors. Despite having no experience in the industry, Medrano decided to apply for a landscaping job. His reasoning: It was close enough to farming, so why not give it a shot? It’s a good thing he did because that first landscaping job sent Medrano on a path that would eventually lead him to forming CoCal Landscape, his family-run landscaping company that generated $11 million in 2011.

“There is no other profession that allows you to beautify the world while helping the environment at the same time,” says CEO Jesus "Chuy" Medrano. PHOTO: TOMAS SERRANO

“I struggled with my decision to leave the company I was working for. I knew I’d be leaving behind a steady salary to enter the unknown, but I wanted to move up in the company and I couldn’t do that without a college degree. Without that piece of paper, I’d always hit a wall. I decided to start my own company knowing that if CoCal didn’t succeed, I was young enough to find another job and take a different route. Thankfully, with hard work, the company was able to sustain itself.

I was confident I could run my own business because I’d been successfully running someone else’s. I ran a large staff with a large portfolio of accounts and I loved being in charge and being held accountable, so if I’m going to do it for someone else, why not do it for me? Now, one of my greatest joys is training and preparing others for success. At one point CoCal had nearly 500 employees and to me, that meant we were giving 500 people the opportunity to provide for their families. We promote from within and being able to advance a crew member to different levels and assist them in being successful is very fulfilling.

CoCal has always been somewhat of a trendsetter. When my partner and I started the company in 1993 we knew we wanted to change the regular business model, which had service contracts lasting from April to October. Our contracts featured five additional months of service for one base rate and at the time that was unheard of, but now almost half of our accounts are 12-month contracts and all of the other landscaping companies in the area have followed suit. We’ve done many things over the past 19 years that have differentiated us in the eyes of our customers and our competitors always pick up on it. That’s to be expected and it just pushes us to offer better services. This is a tough industry; anyone can mow a lawn, so you really have to provide the best customer service and learn to think outside of the box.

There’s no denying that Hispanics dominate this industry. Despite our presence, I’d go to national industry meetings only to find that no training sessions were being offered in Spanish. When I was approached to join the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance, it didn’t require any consideration and when I was nominated as president, I agreed to take on the role because I believe in what the organization’s mission. We’ve met with a lot of government agencies and shared our insights. There’s half a million Latinos in this industry and we carry a lot of votes, so I know they’re listening to us. My goal is to get every Latino in the landscaping industry to join the Alliance because I believe there is power in numbers and we can make a difference.

With landscaping, when you do a job well you can actually see it. The tree you planted 25 years ago is not only still standing, but it’s grown and taken on a life of its own. There is no other profession that allows you to beautify the world while helping the environment at the same time and even after all of these years, I still love what I do.”