Whether it’s on a dusty softball field, in a corporate boardroom or on a gravel-lined nursery plot, Lyndsi Oestmann remains consistently devoted to the task at hand. Her purposeful and sincere work ethic was forged when she was a child, watching her dad play professional baseball. It was reinforced as she played competitive softball, persisted into her college studies and eventually became etched in her career. Lyndsi owns and operates Loma Vista Nursery in Ottawa, Kansas, a business that was founded by her father, Mark Clear in 1991.
Lyndsi spent nearly the first decade of her life traveling to ballparks to watch her father play. From some of her first memories, he instilled in her not just the importance of hard work, but the necessity of it in every aspect of life.
“Dad always taught me that if I wanted something, I had to work hard for it,” says Lyndsi. “It’s something he’s always done, too.”
When Lyndsi started playing softball at age 12, Mark told her a lesson he learned from a former coach, “You can expect to play like you practice.” It’s a lesson she’s never forgotten and a standard that continues to drive her.
“We’re a very competitive family, and when dad was my coach, we always practiced like it was the ninth inning of the World Series,” she says. “It’s the same in business. You need to always do your best, not just when we’re pulling orders for the customer that will scrutinize the plants the most. We want to do that every time, every day.”
Sports has certainly influenced Lyndsi’s outlook and how she manages employees and the business. When she started softball, she was playing 150 games a year. Mark noticed her natural leadership qualities with the team.
“I was her coach and probably harder on her than most of the other kids,” he says. “Instead of moping or pouting about it, she looked on the positive side and worked until she got to be one of the better players in the area. She always dug in, no matter what it was, and she was always the team leader. It’s no different now as she’s running the nursery.”
Mark and the family moved from California to Olathe, Kansas, and started the nursery when Lyndsi was 10. Lyndsi and her brother performed several duties at the nursery and even planted the first crop of trees. Lyndsi enjoyed working at the nursery, but she had different career aspirations. She attended Kansas State and received a marketing and international business degree with a minor in Spanish and planned to travel the world. After graduation, she landed a job at PepsiCo Inc. and got a taste of corporate America. She dove in, learning all she could about managing people and process improvement. While at PepsiCo, she learned about accountability and had the good fortune of being cross trained within several departments.
She wasn’t traveling the world as originally planned, but unbeknownst to her, Lyndsi was soaking up valuable lessons that she’d eventually take back to the family business.
Mark bought property in Ottawa to expand Loma Vista and he needed someone to run the Olathe operation, which had been converted into a landscape distribution center. He asked Lyndsi to return home and manage the distribution division.
“I really liked being part of corporate America, but when dad offered me this opportunity, I thought, ‘I can do this because I’ve had this great training and I’ve been managing people at Pepsi and learning how to manage processes,’” she says.
Lyndsi brought a fresh perspective when she returned to the nursery.
“Dad and I make an awesome team because his passion for the business has always been on the production side, and I came in and immediately focused on sales, customer service and marketing,” she says.
Executing a game plan
As she gained a foothold in the distribution operation at age 23, she looked to some of her landscape contractor customers as mentors.
“I tried to learn some of their best practices and see how we could apply those to our own operation. I looked at companies with really strong cultures and ones that had good employee retention,” she says.
She asked customers what they needed from the Loma Vista team, had face-to-face meetings with customers, conducted focus groups and sent out surveys.
“She came in and found areas that needed improvement and executed those changes. She did it by building a good team. She’s got the team concept down pat,” Mark says.
Four years ago, Loma Vista sold the distribution division to SiteOne, one of the largest landscape distribution companies in the nation. The deal essentially reduced the size of the company by half, which gave Lyndsi the opportunity to work on the production side of the business.
“It was a great move for our company,” she says.
Now the company was solely focused on growing and there were some staff changes, which presented another chance for Lyndsi to learn new skills.
Her first lesson was in approaching change. The company’s controller was leaving, and Lyndsi took over the finance and accounting duties of that position.
“I was ready to change everything. We were doing a good job, but I felt like we could be so much more efficient,” she says. “As I started talking to one of our key team members about all of these changes, they had one of those deer-in-the-headlights looks. I tended to approach change like just grab the bull by the horns and just do it. But I’ve learned that I need to slow down a bit and respect how others react to change. It’s important to have lots of communication during changes, really overcommunication in this case, to have complete transparency and buy-in. Because nothing works without buy-in.”
Providing for people
Mark taught Lyndsi a lesson that she never forgot and one that resonates with every decision she makes about the company.
“Dad has always said that people are the most important asset of a company,” she says.
Investing in the Loma Vista employees has been her top priority. Applying some of her experiences from PepsiCo, nursery team members are cross trained to understand how each department affects the others. There’s accountability throughout the system.
“It used to be that one person knew how to do everything, and if that person wasn’t at work, there’d be a lot of people standing around not knowing what to do. So, we developed a playbook for our company with strong documentation of our processes and a formalized planning system,” she says.
Another vital part of training at Loma Vista is taking part in nursery conferences and visiting other nurseries.
“I want everyone on our production team to have lots of contacts in the industry,” she says. “If they’re facing a challenge, they can pick up the phone and call on a fellow grower. Or they can go on a nursery tour and bring back an idea for us to execute. Making those contacts and going to those events has totally changed the dynamic of our team.”
Lyndsi values every person that’s related to the nursery, from each employee and their families to the customers and the community.
“My mission in business is to help the company become the best it can be,” she says. “The company is a lot bigger than just a nursery and its employees. The health of a lot of families relies on Loma Vista, and I take that really seriously.”
That blends impeccably with her mission in life.
“I want to always strive to be the best version of myself, to act with purpose and outwardly express people’s value to everyone I encounter,” she says.
Caitlin Hupp, a territory sales manager at Loma Vista, says she admires Lyndsi’s ability to see the potential in people and help guide them to their best role.
“There’s so much about Lyndsi that makes her a great leader. She’s very conscious of everyone having a work/life balance and she gets to know the families of everyone here,” Caitlin says. “I admire that she’s worked in every role in the company, so she can speak from experience no matter the job. She doesn’t hire square pegs for square peg roles. She sees the potential in people, lets them experience the company culture and helps find a good fit for them.”
Reacting with purpose
As the nursery was navigating the Great Recession, Lyndsi made a profound observation during a budget meeting with her dad, an operations manager and the accounting manager.
“I said, ‘Hey, we’re four people and we’re trying to move the direction of 150 people. We need everyone in the company to hear these numbers. We need everyone to understand what’s going on so the four of us aren’t spinning our wheels.’”
The company became totally transparent and began sharing all financial information in company meetings, including how the nursery is performing compared to budget and how it’s doing compared to industry benchmarks.
“It has made a huge difference. Having buy-in from everyone — not just your top managers, but your middle managers, supervisors and down to the individual level — it’s difficult to get 100% buy-in, but we’re working on it,” she says. “One person, or in our case four people, can’t make the company successful. It is the effort of every single person here because every person is here for a reason.”
The employees appreciate the transparency.
“When Lyndsi implemented the open-book mentality with our budget and finances, that let us know she believed in our capabilities and our ability to problem solve,” Caitlin says. “She gives us the power to get involved and make decisions about the business and the direction we’re going, and to provide solutions to obstacles.”
During the last recession, Lyndsi also realized the nursery’s customer base needed more diversity.
“We were deeply tied to the commercial construction market, so we took a hit during that time,” she says. “We knew right away that we had to put some measures in place, which took a lot of time and planning, to diversify our customer base. We put a lot of work into our product mix, our production timing, how we tag products, how we deliver products and how our sales team operates. I feel a lot more comfortable having a diverse customer base as we face another recession.”
With the recent COVID-19 concerns, Lyndsi realized the importance of being nimble, which also means having a well-developed plan in place.
“We work off of really solid plans — plan A, B, C, all the way to Z if needed. You have to be able to make changes in a timely matter and plan for the things that you can control,” she says. “In the past I have spent a lot of sleepless nights worrying about things that are out of my control. That’s futile. Now we plan for possible scenarios and execute the plan based on variables we can control.”
Loma Vista’s customers appreciate the team’s focused planning and the calculated reactions.
“My company started in 1991, the same year as Loma Vista, and we were their first credit customer,” says Marty Seiler, principal of Epic Landscape Productions in Olathe, Kansas. “Lyndsi has worked hard to lead Loma Vista and take it a step forward. Sometimes in family businesses, the second generation rides the coattails of the first generation. That is not the case with Loma Vista. She’s very professional, well studied and very knowledgeable of the industry. There’s a high level of confidence from father to daughter.
“She demonstrates a passion and love for the industry. She’s personable and easy to talk to. As we’ve gone through the recent COVID-19 issues, we’ve been able to work through some of those issues together.”