A winning playbook

2020 Horticultural Industry Leadership Awards - Lyndsi Oestmann

Lyndsi Oestmann delivers devoted and sincere leadership in her business and personal relationships.

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Lyndsi Oestmann of Loma Vista Nursery

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.”

Blazing a trail

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. As she grew up in the family business, Mark had dreams of Lyndsi and her brother attending Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, getting a horticulture degree, and coming back to work in the family business.

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.

Taking a job away from the family business also taught her how to work for a boss who’s not part of the family — something she recommends for anyone working for relatives.

“That was a really important lesson. It’s a skill you need to have to be able to separate the business relationship and the personal relationship,” she says. “On Saturday afternoon we may be celebrating a birthday and he’s my dad, but on Monday morning, he’s my boss. That really helped me be a better employee and manager.”

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.

Since returning to Loma Vista, she hasn’t had a single regret — even through the Great Recession and the current COVID-19 situation.

“Coming back to the family business was the best decision I’ve made in my life,” she says.

Loma Vista diversified its customer base during the Great Recession, which included changing product mix and production schedules. Mark, who's semi-retired, says he's proud of Lyndsi's leadership abilities.

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 her customers what they needed from the Loma Vista team, had face-to-face meetings with customers, conducted focus groups and sent out surveys.

“She’s a hands-on visual learner,” Mark says. “I was always more into the growing side of the business and she was managing our two distribution sites. 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.”

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. A good example is our propagator, who’s been here for five years. She went to Bluebird Nursery to look at their perennial production. Making those contacts and going to those events has totally changed the dynamic of our team.”

The nursery’s interns also get the same opportunities to learn from industry events.

“We take our interns to Cultivate each year and they’re tasked with finding one thing or one idea that can be used or implemented at Loma Vista. It’s great having a different set of eyes there. They have an interesting perspective,” she says.

Lyndsi brings in three or four interns each year from all over the country. They spend time with the management team and one-on-one with Lyndsi. They go through every department and see how the operation works. They attend planning and management meetings.

“I take them out into our local Kansas City metro market to visit related businesses and set up tours with our customers, other nurseries and independent garden centers because it’s important for them to see other parts of the industry,” Lyndsi says. “I encourage them to actively seek out mentors, to be curious, ask questions and to share their ideas. No matter your experience level, once you understand the ‘why’ behind things, you can be the person who effects change.”

Once the interns have completed that process, they’re able to choose one area of the nursery to concentrate on for the remainder of their internship.

“I’m inspired by her support of students and emerging leaders,” says Sarah Woody Bibens, executive director of the Western Nursery and Landscape Association (WNLA). Lyndsi serves on the WNLA Board of Directors.

Loma Vista provides a sponsorship that brings students to The Western [trade show] each year. And she takes that extra step to ensure interns and their families are comfortable before making the trip to Loma Vista.

“She genuinely cares for these students. Part of her process involves asking students who the support people are in their life. Lyndsi called one intern’s mom to reassure her about the responsibility they take with the students,” Sarah says.

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.”

Cheryl Boyer, the nursery extension specialist at Kansas State, has been colleagues with Lyndsi for about 12 years.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed watching her career grow. It’s wonderful to have a progressive nursery leader in Kansas,” Cheryl says. “Her perspective — coming from Pepsi and then landscape distribution — is one of the key reasons Loma Vista is successful. That combined with the culture she’s built. The fact that the nursery even talks about culture is amazing. She puts a lot of time and effort into training and mentoring new leaders.”

Mark also marvels at her ability to build a team.

“When she’s looking for a new team member, she’s looking for someone who’s better than she is at certain tasks,” he says. “The team that’s in place is the best it’s ever been. It’s one of the best things she’s done for our company.”

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 spend 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.”

Leaning on family

Lyndsi says motherhood has changed her the most, bringing her more empathy and patience.

“I feel so fortunate as a mom working in a family business. And now I try to extend grace to the moms working in our nursery,” she says. “When I had my youngest, we were right in the process of buying a second distribution center location and we opened it about a month after she was born. I just strapped her into the baby carrier and took her to work. We did that for six months. It was nice to get to go to work and spend time with her.”

Her girls are ages 8 and 6, and Lyndsi says they love to go to work with her. “They like to prune and check on the crops. My 8-year-old has even answered the phones,” she says.

Lyndsi and her husband recently bought an old farmhouse and they enjoy remodeling projects with a special emphasis on the landscape, of course.

“He’s in the construction management business and is a really smart businessperson, and I’m able to talk to him about the nursery business — but not every night,” she says with a chuckle. “He’s patient and he’s a good problem-solver. In his business, safety standards are so rigorous, so he’s helped me strengthen our safety program. That was a focus for us this year.”

Lyndsi can always count on her brother for advice. He’s in the produce business in Southern California.

“When I need an outside opinion, he’s one of my go-tos,” she says.

He’s the one in the family who lived out Mark’s dream and received a horticulture degree from Cal Poly. He also received a master’s in ag business from Purdue.

“I tried to hire him back into the nursery last year, but he decided not to move back to Kansas. I guess we can’t compete with Southern California and life on the beach,” she says.

Lyndsi also leans on a tight-knit group of female friends who are also businesswomen.

“I lean on them personally and professionally,” she says. “It’s critical to make connections outside the industry and see how others handle challenges.”

Whether it’s examples from her dad and industry mentors, or advice from her circle of friends or her husband, Lyndsi has learned that effective leadership characteristics involve being a good listener, listening to understand, being open minded, admitting when you’re wrong and being OK with it, as well as willing to make mistakes but learn from them.