In 1983 Eddie DeLoach came across a magazine highlighting a landscaping and lawn service company that had a reached $1 million in revenue. He read the article and thought to himself, “I can do that.” At the time Eddie was working as the District Manager for Kaiser Chemical in North Carolina. He was rising up the corporate ladder with a promising future. However, he could not shake the feeling of one day owning his own business. In the midst of all this, Eddie survived an episode of spinal meningitis. When the doctors told him that “It was close, but you are going to make it,” he knew that it was time to turn that dream into a reality. So, after a few short months, he packed up his wife and his two children and headed home to Garden City, Georgia, to start TideWater Landscape Management in 1984. Eddie says, “My wife thought I was crazy. The only person who thought I was crazier than she did was my father.” His dad told him, “You have a great job. Why would you leave this security to cut grass?” Nevertheless, Eddie used the $7300 he had in retirement and a note co-signed with his dad and embarked on his dream.
Over the course of three decades, Eddie has grown his business from a landscaping company consisting of one white covered-cab Toyota truck pulling a Ditch Witch trailer carrying a Gravely riding lawn mower to a $10 million Grounds Management and lawn services company nationwide. Eddie has built his business the old fashioned way. He has relied on word-of-mouth for business development and a firm hand shake to finalize his contracts. This method of business remains at the heart of TideWater. Eddie believes in this “grass-roots” approach. However, Eddie noticed that the landscaping and lawn services industries has changed during the last 5 years. He also knew that was he going to have to change with it.
Fast forward to 2011, Tara Rocker sat across from her father, Eddie, and listened to him talk about the future of TideWater. He saw that his new sales were not keeping up with his cancellations and he was unsure of the reason. He asked, “Why doesn’t everyone, especially the people that I know here in my home town of Savannah, use TideWater? We have a great product, we have great people – what are we missing?” As they discussed further, Tara, also the Director of Marketing for TideWater, asked her dad, “Where is TideWater going? What is your dream?” He replied, “Tara, I want this company to be a national company that competes on a national level while maintaining our local roots. I want to deliver personal service nationwide.” She suggested that it was time to make sure that TideWater was delivering this message to its constituents. She knew that if people heard this story and became familiar with the personality behind the quality service that it would mean more than just hiring “someone to cut the grass.” She suggested that they start by updating the website as the old website, full of flat photos and stock photography, was sufficient but choppy. On it, the five companies that make up TideWater were displayed just like that, as five different companies. The website showed one company that specialized in Grounds Management, one that specialized in military installation Grounds Management, a Landscape Design and Installation company, one company (GroMasters) for Lawn Services Treatments and Fertilization, and finally a Parking Lot Maintenance company. There was no continuity. She thought, “How would people know who to call if we did not tell them?”
The next week, Tara and Eddie sat down with two website designers and described to them what they were looking for in a website redesign. They needed the website to let their customers know that TideWater has been here 30 years. They wanted the website to say, “We know what we are doing.” Two weeks later, the final product was delivered.
The design was a complete miss.
What they saw were colors of red and blues, the number 30 floating around like a bird looking for a place to land, and a riding lawn mower cutting some grass across a field in the middle of the screen. Where was TideWater? Or at least the TideWater that they thought they described. As a matter of fact, the only image that stood out was the smiling faces of the owners and that was a problem. Tara knew that both her dad, Eddie, and her uncle, Jimmy DeLoach, the Vice President of TideWater, wanted TideWater to surpass their identities. As she looked at the result of the first website design, she knew that TideWater needed to do something bigger. TideWater needed to make an investment; it needed to take risks. So, she mentioned to her dad, “You are national company and you need to look like one. What do you think of rebranding TideWater? ” Eddie, seeing the need for change said, “Do it.”
For six months, TideWater worked with Tytan Advertising, a national advertising company located in the same town, to discover and answer the question, “Who is TideWater? What does TideWater believe? Where is TideWater going? How will it get there? ” Eddie and Jimmy dove into this process with the kind of enthusiasm as when Eddie started the company in 1984. They decided that TideWater should now embrace all of its divisions as part of the whole. No longer do they single out landscape maintenance, installation, or even parking lot maintenance. Today, TideWater identifies itself as a full Grounds Management company, offering all environment enhancing services to customers ranging from the neighbor down the street to military installations across the United States. TideWater also realizes that the importance of protecting the environment has become critical for the company and for its clients. As water becomes an even scarcer resource, conservation is vital. Consequently, TideWater has started a water conservation campaign for all its markets. With educated Irrigation Auditors and advice from LEED certified agents, TideWater shares its knowledge among its clients.
Philosophically, Eddie and Jimmy want to “stay close to their roots.” In the words of their parents, “Remember who you are and where you came from,” echoing in their ears, it is no wonder that this thought is at the heart of the company. TideWater sees itself as a family organization. As TideWater continues to expand, it does so without forsaking its history. Eddie and Jimmy have spent more than 30 years growing TideWater from a location in their childhood hometown of Garden City, to a national brand. Eddie started in this business as a 9 year old little boy because in his words, “I liked the look of a well-kept home. I loved seeing the straight lines running up and down a freshly mowed lawn, smelling the sweet grass, and feeling the texture of it in my fingertips.”
TideWater differentiates itself from other national landscaping companies by retaining its current employees or hiring locally when opening a new location. Additionally, the company supports local philanthropies and communities to benefit the people who work at TideWater as they live and raise families in these communities. Though three generations currently work at TideWater, all members of the company are part of the larger TideWater family. With matching 401K plans and health insurance benefits available to all employees, it is evident that Eddie and Jimmy believe in taking care of those who, in their words, “take care of them.” “TideWater is a company based on a foundation of personal conviction and walk of faith,” explains Jimmy, “we care about our people. We make our decisions each and every day as if we were making them for our family.”
Eddie and Jimmy believe that this growth begins with the people inside the company. Jimmy, a former football player at The University of Georgia and football coach for Georgia Southern University, starts each week with an email in an effort to educate the members of his “team.” These emails include anecdotes from his personal experiences and questions regarding management. However, no matter the topic, he affectionately signs each email, “Jimmy D, TideWater University.” As a result, TideWater holds a philosophy of promoting from within the company first, before reaching out. When asked why, Eddie explains, “We try to first provide the opportunities to the people who have carried us. They understand our process, what we expect and who we are.” TideWater believes in hiring people that possess character, intelligence, and integrity. Aside from making for a more reliable person within the organization, “A person with these credentials positively affects your bottom line,” explains Jimmy. “Someone like this will invariably take less time to train, decrease production time, have fewer accidents, and increase the overall perception of your business” – a win for all parties involved.
Surprisingly, the rebranding process made Eddie and Jimmy question more than just their image and philosophy. It required them to take a good hard look at the structure of their company. Consequently, the saw the need for a management shake-down. With locations in 20 cities across the United States and 250 members strong, they both knew that TideWater was growing out of its management “shoes.” They both realized that they could no longer drive the vision of the company to the level for which they aimed without the help of a top-notch management staff.
TideWater continues to hold safety in the workplace as the top priority. With a Safety Program and training in place, TideWater’s Safety Manager takes ownership to ensure that “everyday is a safe day” at TideWater. TideWater’s General Managers are supported by Account Managers at each location to provide safety control, quality control, and customer service to TideWater’s clientele. Jimmy DeLoach, Sr., Eddie and Jimmy’s father who also just celebrated his 80th birthday, leads the customer service program in Savannah methodically inspecting each client’s property to meet each one and share ideas regarding their location. This is just one example of the personalized service that TideWater prides itself on.
The end of the discovery process with Tytan resulted in a new management structure and new brand image that portrayed a refined, yet refreshingly nostalgic, logo and motto to launch TideWater into the next 30 years. The new logo places the word “TideWater” surrounding an updated palm tree. The original TideWater palm was drawn by Eddie’s wife, Cynthia DeLoach, at their kitchen table after he told her what he wanted to name his company. In 1984, he picked “TideWater” because this name embodied his vision at the time – a vision of a company that would grow from the low country of Georgia and South Carolina to the tidewater region of Virginia. Twenty-eight years later, that palm remains at the heart of the TideWater image. The motto “Growth Through Integrity,” was added to further emphasize the plan to grow and expand.