Felix Garcia started his north Fort Worth landscaping business after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 2011.
“I always knew I wanted my own business, so I started this and it took off,” said Garcia, 50.
And, as his business has grown, he has strarted looking for ways to share the leadership skills he learned in the military – and as a small businessman – with others, particularly fellow veterans looking to own their own businesses.
“I think we’re starting to get to the place where I can do more of that,” he said.
Currently, Affordable Lawns’ team of eight has been busy in the fast-growing Alliance corridor, but, like many landscapers, once winter hits, business slows down. In 2014, Garcia’s company, Affordable Lawns, moved into hanging holiday lights to boost income during those down months.
Garcia got the idea for doing holiday lights when he had hired a company to do lights for his own home in north Fort Worth.
“They didn’t do a very good job and I knew we could do a better job,” he said.
Garcia said he is always looking to add new services and products for his customers and this one helped the company through the lean months. And it began drawing more business, earlier and earlier each year, he noted.
“We seem to start getting calls earlier every year, which is great, but it can overlap with the landscaping,” he said.
This fall, he opened Christmas Decor Fort Worth, a holiday decor and landscape lighting franchise concept. Christmas Decor provides holiday decor and lighting services to both residential and commercial customers, much like Garcia’s landscaping business does during the rest of the year.
“It’s a great fit for us and they can offer more products and services as well,” Garcia said.
As a veteran, Garcia felt Christmas Decor was a particularly good fit. The Irving-based company has a program that decorates homes for many veterans for free during the holidays.
Company president Brandon Stephens said Christmas Decor has many franchise owners who are veterans and finds them to be disciplined workers who operate well in a structured franchise system.
“Aside from the fact that they are high-character people, they make fantastic franchisees in the fact that they know how to follow a proven system very well and are dedicated to the task at hand,” he said.
Stephens said Garcia made a quick evaluation of how the franchise could help his business.
“He fit the bill for us immediately and is already making great strides,” Stephens said.
Garcia decided to go into the military shortly after high school.
“I think I just, in my mind, just needed a little bit more structure in my life, so I joined for that reason and just ended up completely falling in love with it,” he said.
Garcia was initially in the Army and then the Army National Guard. He served in the infantry with a specialty in indirect fire or mortars.
In the National Guard, he was deployed to Iraq for 18 months.
He went over as an infantryman with the opportunity to be able to utilize his mortar training for combat missions. But that quickly changed to a pure infantry role.
“You learn to be flexible in the military,” Garcia said.
Garcia and his team did scouting for his base and also provided security and escorts for some high-ranking members of the military.
“We provided security for those vehicles to enable them to safely travel throughout the country,” he said.
Garcia would have stayed in the military longer, but the infantry work had taken a toll.
“Being in the infantry is pretty brutal,” he said. “Unfortunately, I had to cut my career just a little bit short. But I loved every bit of it.”
He also took advantage of the training and education offered by the military.
“I was in a leadership position for the last seven years of my career and I learned so much,” he said. “There are several leadership courses that you can take through the military and I took advantage of those. I think anyone in the military should take advantage of those opportunities.”
After leaving with a rank of E-5 sergeant, Garcia returned home and finished his degree, then added a master’s degree on top of that. He then started thinking about operating his own business and started Affordable Lawns.
“This area is growing so fast, I knew there would be plenty of work,” he said. “So far, we’ve been right.”
Veteran-owned businesses made up about 5.9% of all businesses in the nation, with an estimated $947.7 billion in receipts, approximately 3.9 million employees, and about $177.7 billion in annual payroll, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Affordable Lawns has held at eight employees for several years, but Garcia expects to add workers in 2023.
“We’re pretty optimistic,” he said.
Garcia has a simple recommendation for Texas homeowners worried about their lawns: a screwdriver.
“You take a screwdriver and you drive it into the ground in a central location of your yard and that’s going to tell you whether you’re watering too much, or not watering enough,” he said.
If the screwdriver goes into the soil with minimal effort, you’re probably watering the right amount, he said. If the screwdriver can’t get into the ground, more water is needed.
“That works very, very well for both lawns and also your landscaping product, like your flower beds and things of that nature,” he said. “It’s simple, but it tells you a lot about your lawn.”
Since Garcia has been busy building his business, he has not had much time or opportunity to be as involved with the community as he would like.
“We’re just now at the point where I feel like we can be out in the community more,” he said.
He hopes the company can soon become a member of the local chambers and then he can offer some leadership advice to others.
“I’ve done it for some former military buddies and it’s worked out well, so I hope to do more,” he said.
Garcia is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and does participate in area veteran events.
“We either participate or sponsor some events related to veterans,” he said.
The new franchise with Christmas Decor can help Garcia and the company raise their profile in the area and participate in more community events.
“That’s another reason the franchise appealed to me,” he said.
Garcia also believes that the new Christmas Decor offering is good for the community. Safety is a key reason most people should allow a professional to hang holiday lights.
“I’ve been getting on roofs for the last 20 years, it’s second nature to me,” he said. “Most people haven’t.”
Garcia said as lights become more technical it helps to have people with expertise installing the lights. Garcia also said there are so many new products on the market for holiday lights, it helps to have someone who knows what’s available and what product is right for a house.
“It’s more complicated than it used to be,” he said.
Garcia’s advice for leaders is something he learned during his military service.
“The biggest thing that I took from the military in both personal and business was to lead from the front,” he said. “I’m not going to ask somebody to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.”
He also wants to know how to do a job better than anybody else before he asks someone else to do it.
“One thing that I always preach to my guys is, before you learn something else, learn from someone who already knows it,” he said. “I go out every day and, I’m not a nag about it, but I’m constantly trying to give them pointers, give them helpful advice on how to do a better job, how to make it look better, how to go that extra step for our clients because ultimately this is going to be our success.”
Garcia said he is learning that way himself with the new light franchise.
“Over the last month since I’ve gone through my franchise training, I’ve had to follow several different franchisees around and ask questions and ask their advice,” he said. “And there’s always been somebody there to help, which is one of the great things about being part of a franchise.”
Birthplace: Fort Worth
Family: Wife, Mary, and four children, aged between 17 and 31
Education: University of North Texas, bachelor’s degree in engineering, master’s in project management
Work experience: 13 years in the U.S. Army and U.S. Army National Guard
Volunteer Experience: Veterans of Foreign Wars, local veterans events
First Job: Odd jobs growing up.
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “Lead from the front.”
Best advice you ever received:
“My platoon sergeant in Iraq, David Liston. One of the things that he taught me that took me a little while to learn, but it’s probably the most valuable lesson that I’ve had. And it’s even kind of, again, you parallel with just general leadership, it’s just patience. I had a little difficulty early on in the career with patience and I think that probably hindered my progress early on in my career. But working with him and learning from him, I think is what made my military career and I’ve held onto that.
.Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.