May 18, 2024

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St. Anthony: Marketing exec bolts beer giant to build Twin Cities landscaper

Steve Mura ditched a six-figure corporate career several years ago and found the grass is greener on the other side.

The owner of Richfield-based Barrett Lawn Care and Signature Pools has profitably doubled the size of the business since 2017.

“There’s no delineation between my personal and professional life,” Mura said. “I gotta take that call, even when I’m coaching a kids’ baseball game.

“But this doesn’t feel like work most of the time,” he added. “I also like changing peoples’ lives. We have doubled the income of some of our people through our success and adding profit sharing and health care and a 401(k) retirement plan.”

Mura’s 20-plus year corporate career began as an event marketer, trucking baked goods to Sara Lee-sponsored tournaments and festivals. That was followed by a 12-year run with what is now beer conglomerate Molson Coors.

A successful sales rep, he was promoted to director of national accounts in 2013 and vice president of global innovation in 2015. He became a headquarters guy.

“I got pulled out of the front lines, dealing with store managers, Buffalo Wild Wings, Kroger and Walmart, our biggest customers,” Mura recalled.

Mura got nervous when his boss, something of a maverick who also had advanced Mura, left in 2016. Mura was assigned to another boss and told he would have to move from Minneapolis to Denver, then the Molson Coors headquarters.

“I realized that my last job was about keeping C-suite executives and the board happy,” Mura said. “Pleasing the boss was more important than … driving the business. Layoffs were accepted as necessary versus the failure of leadership that it is. I can’t tell you the last time I saw someone in management retire on their terms and with dignity.”

The traditional beer industry was shrinking. Consolidators like Molson Coors, with dozens of brands, acquired and merged in order to cut costs, including people, and increase revenue.

Mura knew he could get axed at any time.

Jackie Woodward, who was Mura’s boss at then-Miller Coors from 2010 to 2013, recalled Mura as a candid, talented marketing executive who worked with her to successfully pioneer online advertising and other digital tools at a company that was slow to adapt.

“Steve was an entrepreneur in the corporate world who raised his hand to do new things,” said Woodward, now chief marketing officer of North Carolina-based Bojangles Restaurants. “He ran our digital properties. He could zig when others only zagged.”

Regardless, Mura was done as a headquarters jockey. He also wanted an end to family-separating travel. He hired Sunbelt Business Advisors to help him prospect.

“I looked at truck stops and other things,” Mura recalled. “I wanted to do something new. I wanted equity and I wanted to be a general manager.”

He bought Barrett Lawn Care in 2017 from a husband-wife team who were unwilling to make the investments to take the business to the next level.

It has worked for Mura.

He paid about $2 million for Barrett in 2017 and about $1.5 million for Signature Pools last year, with most of the funding from two U.S. Small Business Administration-guaranteed loans through BankVista, a small SBA-oriented lender.

“We’ve doubled the size of the business to about $7 million in revenue this year,” Mura said. “Essentially, we’ve grown it for free. We’ve created something bigger and more valuable.”

Mura, who is 49, invested in technology that helped make the business more efficient. But the secret is hiring and retaining good people, he said.

Planting, mowing, excavating and building is hard, dirty work. The minimum wage is $18. Most line workers make $23 or more an hour. That’s supplemented by profit sharing, bonuses and retirement contributions. Some line employees have been promoted to $50,000-plus managers.

“I pay more as they make more for the company,” Mura said. “I respect our hard-working people. I run the front end of the business and provide good equipment. I ensure we do quality work. And the key to customer success and retention is engaged employees who do a good job.”

David Kuehn, a laborer who was promoted last year to run the fertilizer division, said Mura helped him grow after other jobs, including selling autos, didn’t last.

“I also don’t mind getting my hands dirty and working hard,” Kuehn said.

Peter Hatinen, a Minneapolis residential customer for whom Barrett provides lawn service and landscaping, said he was impressed that the folks who consulted on a landscaping project “also came out to work on the project. And I also got the sense that the employees are treated well by management. It was a happy team.”