Home Month and Year September 2020 A Peek Over the Edge

A Peek Over the Edge

Cutting Edge Landscaping Ltd. celebrates 30 years by revealing the mindset behind their employee-first company and ground-breaking projects.

Back row; Fred Dunn, Jay Stephano, Neil Stone, Garrett Huntley, Lance Simonin, Kevin Duffy, David Court, Jordan Simnovic and Ryan Campbell. Front row; Crystal Cure, Derek Stainer, Alex Hefford, Danielle Thompson, Kris Sloan, Chris Henderson and Tyler Feist. Photo by Rebecca Lippiatt.

Kris Sloan had nothing to lose, the day his boss, Peter Mulder, called him into an emergency meeting to tell him the business was in jeopardy. That was the day Sloan started his journey from employee to owner – and discovered that landscaping was about far more than meets the eye.

It all began in 1990 when Mulder rented a truck, borrowed a lawnmower and, with a friend, started mowing lawns as a business. Within 10 years Cutting Edge Landscaping Ltd. had experienced consistent growth. Sloan joined Cutting Edge in 2007. At that time, the company had approximately 50 staff in the summer and 15 in the winter. The opportunity to work at Cutting Edge came at the right time for Sloan. The years prior to his joining the team were challenging. He had hit rock bottom and had zero direction and even less hope. Through the ups and downs of life, Sloan managed to graduate from the Telecommunications Engineering Program at NAIT in 2001, but after two years in the industry, he knew he had not found his true calling … yet.
Things took an unexpected turn in 2013. It happened on Halloween. Sloan had been out trick or treating with his children when he got an urgent call from Mulder to “come in right now.” Mulder’s equity partners had abandoned the company. The two men sat across the boardroom table for hours, trying to figure out the next steps. Mulder was leaning towards shutting down Cutting Edge. Sloan, after summoning courage he didn’t know he had, countered with, “Give me one year as operations manager and see what I can do. The assets will still have similar value after one more season, what have you got to lose?” Much to Sloan’s surprise, Mulder agreed.

Cutting Edge’s sales increased by 20 per cent in the first year of Sloan’s direction. By 2017 Cutting Edge had tripled in size from when Sloan had taken the helm, employed over 100 people in the summer, and created a program to keep almost 50 people employed over the winter. It was at this point that Sloan began to look for the next step: 100 per cent ownership.

Sloan had zero capital and even less experience in business ownership. What he did have was a decade of construction experience, a healthy risk appetite, and a faith-over-fear attitude. “I became the owner,” says Sloan, “with the help of RoyNat Capital who gave me a loan. RoyNat Capital saw something in me and the company and facilitated the acquisition.”
Sloan began as a labourer/equipment operator and through his tenure, has held almost every position in the company. “I’ve worn every hat,” he smiles. “This gives me a unique perspective on what my staff go through. I balance a deep sense of empathy for what they work through on a daily basis with a new understanding of what it costs to run a multimillion dollar business. I am still learning how to make the hard decisions. I’m young in my entrepreneurial journey but I’m a quick study and I ask a lot of questions.”

Cutting Edge’s work is seen all over the city in land development, commercial and residential projects. The company is known for its long-term innovative designs, such as the Tweddle Place Dry Pond Expansion, located along 91 Street, south of the Whitemud.
“This two-year project includes over a kilometre of vegetated sound barrier structure,” explains Sloan. “It’s an alternative to concrete and wood sound attenuation walls. By incorporating more than 60,000 willow whips harvested from around Edmonton, the sound barrier will continue to grow and envelop the structure. Based on the success of this project we look forward to providing this as an alternative to concrete sound barriers across Western Canada.” Cutting Edge thanks Stantec, Weinrich Contracting, and EPCOR for their partnership in this project.
A current project that the team at Cutting Edge is excited about is Re-Imagine Jasper Ave. Working for PCL and the City of Edmonton, Cutting Edge is installing four blocks of Silva Cells (provided by DeepRoot Green Infrastructure, LLC). Silva Cells, also known as soil cells, are one of the newest technologies to hit the construction industry and Cutting Edge has been an early adopter of this method.

“The cells are small plastic tables stacked underground and filled with uncompacted soil,” Sloan explains. “the Silva Cell is a modular suspended pavement system that uses soil volumes to support large tree growth and provide powerful on-site stormwater management through absorption, evapotranspiration, and interception.” He pauses, then grins with boyish excitement, “We paint this city green! We take dry, dirty, and grey and make living art that will be sustainable for generations.”

Sloan continues, “Our industry works so hard. It is physically demanding work and it must come from a place of pride. People are quick to glance over what a landscaper does, and the impact landscaping creates, but just walk out your front door and look around. Trees. Storm water management ponds. Soccer fields. The green spaces along the bike path you are riding on. It starts with your engineers, architects and underground guys, but the landscaper brings the visions to life!”

In addition to city, commercial, industrial, and developer projects, Cutting Edge still does some residential work, especially for repeat clients that have deep roots with Cutting Edge since the early days.

“I learn as much, probably more, from my staff everyday, as they glean from me.” Sloan says proudly. He attributes much of the company’s success to their commitment and dedication.

“Some of my best workers have not come from a landscaping background. Neither did I. If you have a good work ethic and commitment to quality and detail, I can teach the rest,” Sloan says. “Landscaping has a stereotype in the construction industry that it’s for summer students and transient workers. That stereotype became one of my focused initiatives to change. We began bidding on more snow removal contracts even though the margins in snow removal are horribly low, which means we operate at a significant loss during the winter, but that keeps our team employed. Having a committed team being part of our journey and culture – how do you put a price on that? Watching my staff grow is as important as being profitable. Here is a work culture of self awareness, empathy, communication, and support. I think we are beginning to challenge the status quo of landscaping and landscape construction. I really hope our commitment to professionalism, safety, systems, processes and above all, the commitment to our community and to our clients, changes the industry.”

For Sloan and his team, giving back is paramount. They are proud to support non-profit organizations such as Wellspring Edmonton and Ronald McDonald House with donated labour, yard maintenance and landscaping. Cutting Edge also supports numerous minor league teams and is a contributor to Habitat for Humanity. The company is thankful for its industry partners who help provide Cutting Edge with opportunities to give back, and the partners who donate products to their charitable projects. Just a few of these partners include BURNCO Landscape Centre, Manderley, and Cheyenne Tree Farms.

Sloan, on behalf of Cutting Edge, also thanks Qualico Communities who took a risk on the company 12 years ago and has become an industry partner. Other partnerships include WCL, York Realty, Canbian Construction, WSP, Stantec, Rohit Communities, Brookfield Residential, Hopewell Residential, and PCL, among others.

“We hope our partners have all sensed our commitment to landscaping and our commitment to valuing our people,” says Sloan. “Cutting Edge has wonderful peripheral support be it accountants, lawyers or consultants, and we have many 30-year relationships with multiple vendors. It’s a small industry so supporting each other is a key to sustainability.”

On a personal note, he expresses boundless gratitude for his staff, especially his operations manager Neil Stone and his office manager Crystal Cure; those that supported him when he made the leap from employee to owner; Mulder for his years of guidance; and the patience and support of his wife Maxine and his three children Nolan, Kaden, and Mackenzie.

Sloan concludes, “Cutting Edge has a history that is rich, deep and filled with hard work, grit, growth, some dumb luck, and really great people. I want Cutting Edge to be here to continue to change lives. I want Cutting Edge to have a lasting impact on our communities and be a source of pride for generations to come. I want Cutting Edge to be an innovator in our space. I want to see some of our current staff become future owners. I am grateful, and some days still shocked, that I have an opportunity to create my own legacy.
“We are far from perfect and we would never profess to be, however, as we make mistakes and continue to grow, we will always strive to be better each day as a company, a community, and as people. Recognizing who we are, admitting to where we are at, and agreeing that who we will be tomorrow is better than who we were yesterday, is our greatest strength. It’s about progress, not perfection.”

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