Houston Hinson ’02, owner of Cary-based Carolina Turf Organic Lawn Care, will tell you three key influences shaped his company and career: his son Houston III, a book and his College of Business education.
Together, those led Houston to redesign his lawn care business into an organic model that now has more than 1,000 customers and plans to add Charlotte to his Research Triangle, Triad and Cape Fear markets.
Like his son, Hinson loved being outdoors. He grew to love it more after his family moved from New Jersey to North Carolina. Gone were the days of being snowbound and inside due to the weather. “I loved being outside during Thanksgiving and playing basketball in shorts,” says Hinson. As a kid, he also loved to mow lawns and play baseball, which he eventually played at Methodist University before enrolling at ECU to continue his education.
From 1998 to 2002, he learned about the basics of accounting, entrepreneurship, finance, planning and other key areas that would prove helpful when he was let go from his sales job in 2008.
To help pay off his student loans, he took a job working at a restaurant at night and then leaned on a book he was reading at the time, 48 Days to the Work You Love, by Dan Miller.
“In the book, he talked about doing things that you love for extra money,” says Hinson. “So, I thought to myself, ‘Hey. I always loved to cut grass.’”
With a borrowed lawnmower, string-trimmer and leaf blower, Hinson proceeded to build a lawn care business to 66 customers in just a few months. “I’ve always had the entrepreneurial itch,” he says.
Student loans started disappearing, but as he began to get, as he calls it, “wore down,” things got messy.
“I was having problems with accounts receivable, and I wouldn’t say no to jobs,” says Hinson. “It was just all over the place.”
Fast forward to 2014 when, one day, Hinson was watching his son run and crawl around the family yard.
“There were different yard products I applied to our yard weeks prior, and I knew there were safety questions about some of those products,” says Hinson. “I wanted to look at different alternatives.”
He also decided to reset his business into one specializing in organic lawn care.
“I eliminated all of my customers except for five,” says Hinson. It was at this point he leaned on his COB days.
“I learned in the College of Business that if you’re running a company, it’s better to grow slower than it is quick,” he says.
While his crews stay busy, he continues to test new organic products and have the confidence of knowing his customers can feel safe having their children and pets play in their yards.