This week we're sitting down with Larry and Carita Koen, a husband and wife team and owners of Green Magic Landscape LLC. Listen to this week's episode to hear their story and why you should be focusing on your professional network.
Produced by Blue Fish in Mobile, Alabama.
Larry Koen: Good afternoon. This is Larry Koen, CEO and founder of Green Magic Landscape, LLC.
Larry Koen: Carita Koen, COO and co-founder of Green Magic Landscape, LLC.
Marcus Neto: Yay. Well, welcome to the podcast guys. It's really good to have you on here. I know we've been having a couple of conversations lately. We won't go into all that mess, but I'm glad to get you on to finally tell your story. Thank you for coming today.
Larry Koen: Thank you for having us. We appreciate it.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Well, to get started, one of the things that we like to do here is kind of tell the story of the owners of the business. Give us, individually, where are you from, where'd you go to high school? Did you go to college? Obviously, you're married. Give us some of the backstory to how you ended up here.
Larry Koen: Okay. I was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, graduated from Murphy High School. I do have an associate's degree in computer electronics. But I started working at Kimberly-Clark and then during that time I started doing grass on the side. And eventually, the paper mill kind of interfered with my health and well-being; and so during that time, Green Magic started to grow and it grew to the point to where I didn't needed to even go back there anymore.
Marcus Neto: Cool. And how about you?
Larry Koen: Well, I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but I've been here long enough to say-
Marcus Neto: This is home.
Larry Koen: ... I'm from here, so this is very much so home. I am a graduate of Murphy High School and a graduate of University of Mobile. And we decided to start Green Magical Landscape, LLC because, I mean, Larry was just so passionate about it. During the time that he was having problems with his health, he was still very, very diligent about the business and it really, really grew over that summer. And during that time, we had a child that was in the NICU at the time, and Kimberly-Clark kind of worked swing shift, and he just seemed happier when he was out doing his own thing. And he kind of wanted to control his own time, and so I'm his number one support system. And so I kind of encouraged him to go for it and it was a success. We're very, very thankful-
Marcus Neto: Yeah, that's cool.
Larry Koen: ... to be in this position.
Marcus Neto: What did you study at University of Mobile?
Larry Koen: Business administration.
Marcus Neto: Okay.
Larry Koen: I finished in 2017.
Marcus Neto: Okay, very good. The thing that we have learned over the years of doing this podcast is that there is no rhyme or reason as far as education goes to success, right? But would you consider yourselves good students?
Larry Koen: I would. I'm just very, very forceful about studying, just making the best out of every opportunity. And it's funny because I was pursuing my bachelor's degree when parents were starting to get sick, and I started with two children and we ended up having two more, so life kind of emerged and I just wanted to finish. I wanted to finish. And Larry was about that too. Everything that he does in the field, us being connected with the Chamber and stuff like that, we have to go to classes and participate in all of these things. And he's just as efficient in the field as he is-
Marcus Neto: In the classroom.
Larry Koen: ... in the classroom. And so I can't speak for him, but I think he enjoys it.
Marcus Neto: What do you think?
Larry Koen: What do you think?
Larry Koen: Yeah, as long as it's something that has my interests.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. I find that myself, I wasn't terribly enthused about school, right? But if it's something now that I know applies to my business, well, I will absorb that information way more than I would have if I was sitting through a history lesson or something along those lines.
Larry Koen: Sure.
Marcus Neto: Now, tell me what your first jobs were and were there any lessons that you still remember from it? And this is like you just turned 15 or 16, you're bagging groceries, you're flipping burgers, you're doing something along those lines. What were some lessons that you still remember that apply to your life today? Go ahead, Larry.
Larry Koen: Actually, I started flipping burgers at 15 at Sonic at Government... and what's that, Azalea?
Marcus Neto: Yeah.
Larry Koen: And it just gave me the discipline I needed to know about timing and being late. I didn't really learn anything professionally back then as far as being an entrepreneur, but it gave me the discipline that I needed to know that I got to be here on time if I want to do the work to get paid pretty much.
Marcus Neto: Right. No, that's cool. And how about you?
Larry Koen: My first job was working at Cracker Barrel as a cashier and kind of working the retail store. What I think helps me is that I'm very, very much so extroverted and so I'll literally talk to anybody with a pulse if I feel like it'll help me get what I need to progress. And during that time, it just kind of taught me about customer service.
Larry Koen: I may say one thing currently to this day of somebody that's having just the worst day and it takes one little small gesture of being nice that can turn their whole day around. Or, inadvertently, I mean, you could say one thing and it'll just crash somebody's whole day.
Larry Koen: And so I think my first job taught me not only responsibility but humility. Because some people they come in and that's their only meal that day or whatever their situation is, it just let me know... I grew up kind of shelter because I was raised by grandparents and so far a while I just kind of thought that everybody kind of lived the way we lived. But it's not until you really go out into the community and you have exposure to all these different kinds of people and their situations that you realize that everybody is different. And so you basically have to be kind. Well, you should be kind. You don't have to be kind, but you should be kind because you may just change somebody's view of their day.
Marcus Neto: Right. No, that's good. Now, so you mentioned a little bit about starting the business, being at Kimberly-Clark, having some health issues. I guess you started just kind of as a summer thing that you were going to do? Kind of give us a little bit more backstory about how the business got started.
Larry Koen: I've been in the lawns industry ever since I was maybe eight. I'd say my grandfather was the one that really instill entrepreneurship into me because he started taking me with him when I was maybe eight up until he couldn't physically do it anymore. And if I don't remember anything else from it, I remember that if I went out and worked hard, I came back with money. And some of the older people on my grandparents' street, they would see me out working in a yard or something, they will come over and give me money until we keep up the good work. And every time they see me working, they would give me money. That's what they told me, so that made me want to work.
Marcus Neto: Positive reinforcement works with Larry apparently.
Larry Koen: If I don't remember anything else from that, I remember that and that's one of the biggest things he could have ever did for me.
Marcus Neto: No, that's really cool.
Larry Koen: And so, I started just on off days. And sometimes when I got off if I worked nights, if I got off that morning, I'd go do a couple of yards and then try to get some sleep and go back to work that night. Or if I'm off the next day, I spent a whole day working because we didn't really start off just cutting regular grass. We were going through third party companies from the banks. We were doing foreclosures. It started kind of slow and I kept applying with different companies and eventually it really picked up. And at the same time, Green Magic on its own started picking up and it got to the point to where I was like, "Hey, what do I need to go back to that for? I'm making more on my own." And it's just been uphill ever since.
Marcus Neto: No, it's really cool. Now, do you remember that first time as Green Magic that you closed a deal or got a contract or something like that? I mean, you talk about it kind of got started with the whole foreclosure, but what was that like? I mean, what was that experience like that made you think that, "Hey, there's really something to this. If we put a little bit more into it, then we can really build something."
Larry Koen: Well, joining a chamber... When was that.
Larry Koen: Yeah.
Larry Koen: Two years ago, we had plumbing issues and Jermaine Gaines of Gaines Plumbing, he actually came by on Thanksgiving and fixed the plumbing for us. And we both were in BNI, and I had just got BNI and he was already in BNI Saraland. I started asking him questions inquiring about BNI and he was telling me it was profitable. And I was telling him, I just joined. He got a lot of on residential from being a... Well, he got a lot of big commercials from the Chamber. I heard everything he was saying, but what stuck in my head was commercial chambers. We ended up going and joining the chambers, but I didn't know how it worked at first. So I went and joined, never went down there. I thought you'd just go sign up, pay your money, and you start getting phone.
Marcus Neto: There's so many people that think that same thing. It's sad, but, no, you got to you got to put something into it for sure.
Larry Koen: I finally, after maybe six months of being a member, went to a membership one-on-one meeting and they told me how to process goes, and I've been going down there ever since.
Marcus Neto: No, that's cool.
Larry Koen: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: Very cool. Well, if you were talking... And I'm going to get both of you to answer this because your answers are probably going to be different. But if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Larry Koen: Well, I would say knowing where your resources are and knowing how to find them. So many people, they start businesses, they go and get their paperwork taken care of, and they start off kind of at the top of this roller coaster. But what goes up has to come down at some point. And I think our biggest thing for us being in business is knowing who to take direction from. It wasn't until we started to really network... And a lot of business owners network, but it's kind of a science to effective networking.
Larry Koen: Basically, I would say any business owner needs to start with a business plan. And a business plan needs to be specific and give timelines of when you should move from one step to another. Because you can really kind of exhaust yourself and your resources if you don't have a strategic plan going forward. That's the best advice I think I would say.
Marcus Neto: What about you?
Larry Koen: I totally agree with her, and just take your time. Don't rush. Because one of my biggest problems was I wanted everything to happen right then. And it took me time to realize that it takes time, patience. And just focus on your craft, learning whatever you don't know about it and try to learn it. Perfect it. And what I'm trying to say is, most and foremost, you've got to have God in there because without him you're not going anywhere.
Marcus Neto: No, it's interesting to me that, so oftentimes people, they see the unicorns, right? That basically somebody launches a business and boom, it takes off, right? And the reality is that a vast majority of small businesses in the United States do really well, but it just takes them a while to get there. Three, four years to get some really... a foothold, and then who knows how long it takes before it becomes something that's really something.
Marcus Neto: But I think there's a reason behind that, right? You don't know a whole lot about running a business when you start a business. And so then you have to actually go through the process of starting the business and running the business for a little bit as a smaller business. And then you get a little bit more responsibility, more business comes your way and you have to learn how to manage people and then you get... I mean, it just keeps growing and growing. And it's kind of like the old lamp unto my feet, right? You only have as much information as what you currently need and you just keep stepping by faith into that. And then next thing you know you've got really something special.
Marcus Neto: Who is one person that if you looked to the business world that they really motivate you? And I don't mean just Mobile. I'm saying like you're in the line of the grocery store or looking at the magazines, there's somebody on the cover, you maybe pick that up. Maybe it's Entrepreneur magazine, Inc. magazine. I mean is there anybody? And I mean, you can use somebody local if you want, but I'm saying like Richard Branson. I mean it could be anybody.
Larry Koen: Right now, I will say Clarence Johnson, the owner of Bama Pest Control.
Marcus Neto: Okay.
Larry Koen: He gives me a lot of good information and tries to keep me on the right path. And just some of the stories he tells me, I just admire it because I can relate to a lot of it. And he tries to keep me from making some of the costly mistakes that he did back because he has 40 years of wisdom. I'm only three and a half years in, so anything he can tell me is always valuable.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Shortcut, shortcut your path to success by listening to somebody that's been there before, right? No, that's cool. And how about you?
Larry Koen: There are so many. I think locally I would have to say Nate Patterson. It's a lot of things that he shares on social media, and when you have conversations with him you can be very candid and transparent. He never is judgmental. And so I think he's been a good mentor to us both because he gives him advice on the male side and kind of gives me advice that I can look to professionally and personally.
Larry Koen: If I had to say a celebrity, I love the backstory of Viola Davis. I like how the triumphs that she went through in her personal life before she even started acting, and so I just love a good backstory. I love hearing the stories of people as they started and the journeys that they went through and what they're doing now.
Larry Koen: And a lot of businesses that we've come into contact with, they have been open and operating for long periods of time. And it just kind of seems, like you say, you just see them and it seems like they just opened yesterday-
Marcus Neto: Another overnight night success.
Larry Koen: ... overnight and-
Marcus Neto: Yeah, but they've only been doing this for 20 years, but-
Larry Koen: Yeah, and I just loved the back story. I like to hear how names have come about and the mission and the vision of businesses. We have a great backstory as well. I just like to see people as their journeys kind of unfold the the different places it takes them.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. No, that's cool. Now, are there any books, podcasts, people or organizations that have been really helpful in moving you forward? I mean, you've mentioned some here, but if you want to go back and revisit like BNI or the Chamber or if you have another organization that you want to kind of highlight since you've already talked about them. Really the purpose here is if somebody's listening and they're wanting to get started, okay, maybe a BNI group is a good one to join. By the way, we have one here every Wednesday at 8:00 AM at 920 Dolphin Street. Maybe a BNI group is a good place to join. The Chamber's definitely a good place to not just join but get involved. What are some other things that have been helpful in moving you forward?
Larry Koen: I just found out about the... What's the name of it? The Landscape Association?
Larry Koen: Yeah, the National Association of Landscape Professionals. I feel like everybody industry-specific should join some kind of organization that is enrooted to you perfecting your craft. So yeah, that's a good one. The Women's Business Alliance, I think is a good one. I do a lot of stuff with Dearborn YMCA, that's a good one.
Marcus Neto: In particular, and you're not going to be able to answer this, but what in particular have you gotten out of like say, the Women's Business Alliance?
Larry Koen: Well, they have a lot of information about grants and fundings that are specific for women and they have a lot of support groups. What I love about women in business is that we wear so many hats, and not saying that men don't, I'm just saying we talk about different things not only at the Business Alliance but just women in business about motherhood or if we're in school or just dealing with just being a woman, and so a lot of times it's just nice to hear common conversations.
Larry Koen: Because I mean, we're a husband and wife team, but sometimes if I'm struggling with something that's female specific, I'll initially tell him about it. But if I really want to dig deep into what my issues are, you kind of need to talk-
Marcus Neto: To someone that can relate.
Larry Koen: ... Yeah, to someone that can relate. I actually have a group on Facebook called Build a Sister Up and it's about 800 women over the course of the state of Alabama. And we just kind of get together and fellowship and just kind of share different things, whether it's business related, personal or motherhood stuff.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Now what is the most important thing that you've learned about running a business? And I want that separately. Larry, you first.
Larry Koen: I would say accountability and quality.
Marcus Neto: Okay. You're going to have to give me more, man. A man of many words over. I'm pulling it out of him folks. What do you mean accountability, and what was the other one?
Larry Koen: Make sure you always have great accountability and make sure your work is always the best quality that you can provide for your customer. And I would say customer relationship too. Because you don't build a relationship with your customer, they might even not feel valued, you know? I would say those three on my main, so.
Marcus Neto: Very cool. What about you?
Larry Koen: I would say running a business, my biggest thing is transparency.
Marcus Neto: Okay.
Larry Koen: Being transparent. As I stated, I was kind of raised kind of sheltered and we were kind of raised by, when you go on through something, you kind of put on this smile like everything is okay.
Marcus Neto: A Sunday morning smile.
Larry Koen: Yeah. And I think what I've learned the most from my husband being in business is he may be a man of few words personally, but if he's struggling with something, he'll go to social media or he'll tell you about it. And it's raw and uncut. And when we first got in business, I would kind of clench my teeth and be like, "Larry, don't say that. We're trying to build this thing. Don't say that." But I've learned from him that in order to really grow and to really expand and get uncomfortable, you have to be transparent. And I'm surprised I'm even saying this live, but-
Marcus Neto: Well, the interesting thing is that you're very interested in people's backstories, but it sounds like if you had your preference that you almost wouldn't want anybody to know your backstory.
Larry Koen: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: And so it's fine when it's other people's backstory, but when it's yours, you're just like, "Well, I want to just keep it private." But it also sounds like you've grown kind of accustomed to it and understand the value there because I think people want to come along on the journey with small business owners. They feel like they have a vested interest in you and your success. And it's not just other people that are alongside you like Nate, and I'm sure you've had some other people like him pour into you all. You mentioned Clarence. I mean I think, it's not just them, it's all your friends and family. They want to know like, "Hey, you're being honest. You're being open with the turbulence of being a small business owner." Because it is not all an upward swing. I mean, there are days, weeks, whatever months where you feel like you're just putting your head in your hands and just being like, "What the hell was I think when I started down this path. I need to have my head examined."
Larry Koen: Yeah, we've been there. But what I can say is throughout my transparency, I always have someone either contact me, whether it's social media or personally, and say, "Hey, what are you struggling with? Let's sit down and have a conversation about it." And we get the help or guidance or support that we need. There's actually, I feel, ministry in being candid and transparent enough to work through, what you got to work through.
Marcus Neto: Very good. All right, so we're getting to the point now where we're going to wrap up, but tell me how you like to unwind. What do you do after a long day? How do you like to kind of come down off of the madness of running a business?
Larry Koen: My therapy used to be baking a cake and you'd get used to seeing me bake a lot of cakes.
Marcus Neto: Yeah.
Larry Koen: I've been so busy lately, by the time I get home and then four kids, it's chaos as soon as we walk in the door anyway, so just try to have that good dinner and at least our quiet time.
Marcus Neto: Yeah.
Larry Koen: Sometimes I have to go sit outside.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Just get alone with your thoughts. How about you?
Larry Koen: Me, I kind of, to unwind. I mean, there's like this coloring book that... And I don't think he knows anything about it, but I have a coloring book that is geared for you to meditate. And it's kind of like the one, two, three, four color, the different colors and different colors or whatever. But I liked that book.
Larry Koen: And then I like watching Paternity Court.
Marcus Neto: She's admitting her guilty pleasures on here.
Larry Koen: Very strange, I know, but I just think we're so in tuned with the hustle and bustle of running a business that sometimes you just need some plain entertainment.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, just checkout Lion King.
Larry Koen: And so some episodes kind of make you cry and then some episodes where you're like, "Oh Lord, my life is so much better than this." You know? Some episodes you can actually learn from, so that's kind of how I unwind.
Marcus Neto: There you go. Well, tell people where they can find you.
Larry Koen: Well, currently, we have a business page, so it's a Green Magic Landscape, LLC on Facebook, and iamgreenmagic on Instagram. We're both on LinkedIn. Larry Koen on LinkedIn, Carita Koen on LinkedIn. Our website will be coming soon, but if you want to get in contact with us, that's where you're find us.
Marcus Neto: Very good. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Larry Koen: I'll just leave you with this. If you have a property that's looking tragic, don't panic. Call Green Magic.
Marcus Neto: Oh my gosh, that's awesome, man. Oh man, hat is great. Well, Larry and Carita, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as business owners and entrepreneurs. It's been great talking with you.
Larry Koen: Thanks so much. We appreciate it.