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Greenville Business Magazine

ExTerra: From Big City to the Backyard

Aug 17, 2022 02:38PM ● By Amy Bonesteel

Meghan and Chris Pierson launched their careers in the Chicago area, but a trip to South Carolina for a football game brought them to Greenville.

Chris, a Clemson graduate who majored in landscape architecture, says while visiting for a game several years ago they joked about the flight delays while at a downtown Greenville restaurant: “I told Meghan that if we got another delay it was a sign we should move here. Then we got the notification (of the delay),” he laughs.

As production manager for a landscape lighting company in Napierville, Ill. he welcomed the professional experience, but the long, hard winters of the upper Midwest made the job seasonal. 

“There was a mad dash in the springtime into summer,” he recalls. “I learned so much – but wanted to apply it in a climate that was easier.”

Meghan, who is originally from the Orland Park, Illinois, area, had an up-and-coming career in the Chicago banking industry as a commercial lender. With a finance degree as well as an MBA to her credit, she was “eager to take on the challenge of business ownership,” he notes.

The couple found an existing landscaping business to purchase (the well-established TC Unlimited in Easley) and started ExTerra in February 2021, right in the middle of the pandemic. Like so many others, the couple found the timing right to make a change. They also were part of an industry that was being reimagined as more and more homeowners learned to embrace being outdoors during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

“It pushed people outside,” agrees Pierson, who notes the ripple effect has consumers seeking “more elevated outdoor living spaces” often including built-in fire pits and luxurious outdoor furniture.

By taking in an overall landscape, Pierson says they are often able to determine a focal point, such as a few trees, to build the design around. ExTerra also stands out by including smaller spaces in their portfolio, and Pierson takes these as a challenge to curate and design.

“If you have a symphony orchestra you won’t necessarily hear if one musician is having an ‘off’ night. But if there’s a three- or four-piece band, everyone needs to bring their ‘A’ game,” he offers by way of comparison.

The firm is all-inclusive – meaning they can handle design, installation, and maintenance. 

“By the client having that one point of contact, it really streamlines the communication,” says Pierson. Typical tasks can include fencing, retaining walls, plantings, irrigation, and hardscape. Conservation is another concern, and he prioritizes preserving tree canopies and installing native plants whenever possible.

Lighting is another important trend for outdoors, and Pierson calls it “the cherry on top for landscapes,” and a way to provide a welcoming feeling at home.  

While solar lighting has grown in popularity, he notes it does not always work well enough to provide the best wattage for outdoor needs.

Moving into the community (Greenville and Easley, where their equipment is based) as new business owners, the couple eagerly met existing clients to re-establish those relationships. Pierson says they explained that pricing and team members (there are a total of 17 working in some capacity for the business now) would stay consistent, reassuring customers who may have had questions about the new owners. 

The strategy has worked, and the business earned a return on their investment after the first year.

With her strong banking background, Meghan was able to file the paperwork for the couple’s Small Business Administration (SBA) loan and to quickly assess the former owners’ finances, notes Pierson. “She also does a fantastic job working with some of the clients,” he adds.

The growing business has around 200 clients, and a contract with the Upstate’s The Cliffs residential communities. Other projects and maintenance customers include commercial properties (about 10 percent) as well as several churches.