It was just last year that Neil Hedman, owner of Olympic Landscape and Irrigation in Puyallup, was marking his company’s 40th anniversary. Hedman, who started the business with two employees, reflected on its lean and uncertain early days in an interview with our sister publication, South Sound magazine. In the early 1980s, a national recession crippled the local economy, and the company was $165,000 in debt, according to Hedman, and struggling to pay its taxes. The reality of filing for bankruptcy loomed.

Neil Hedman in his Puyallup office last year. Photo by Joanna Kresge.

Thankfully, Olympic Landscape and Irrigation was awarded some big contracts (including half of the landscaping for the Tacoma Dome in 1983), the economy improved, and Hedman paid the last of his vendor debts. He even kept the old green-and-white accounting sheet with all the payments marked off in pencil as a cautionary souvenir.

Fast-forward to today, and the company has grown from three employees to more than two dozen, and earned a business name and reputation that are well-known in the South Sound. For seven consecutive years, South Sound readers have named Olympic Landscape and Irrigation the best landscaping company in the magazine’s annual ‘Best of the South Sound’ list.

On May 31, the company announced in a press release that Hedman would retire in September and Joe Areyano, another experienced South Sound landscaper, would become the new owner.

From left to right: Employee Jon Espeseth, owner Neil Hedman and employee Duane Reed operated Olympic Landscape and Irrigation when it was founded in 1977.

“Well, I’m getting really old,” Hedman joked when asked about his decision to leave the company after 40 years. “No, you kind of have to think about (retiring) at some time. My lovely wife was looking forward to it, so we can spend time doing some of the things we’ve been talking about.”

According to Hedman, a succession plan has been in the works for a while. Three years ago, Areyano approached Hedman about purchasing Olympic Landscape and Irrigation, and the two men connected over coffee and what would later become a series of meetings to discuss the future of Hedman’s business.

Areyano’s landscaping experience dates back to his junior year of high school, when he started to work for his father’s landscaping business, which was started in 1980 in Puyallup and is still in operation today.

“I found that I really loved the work and it just stuck,” Areyano said.

In September, Areyano bought Olympic Landscape and Irrigation, according to Hedman, and has worked at the company for the past nine months to prepare for the change in leadership. Along the way, he has helped expand the business by adding four new lines of services and products: synthetic and artificial turf; snow and ice removal services; landscape maintenance; and small works projects.

“(Joe’s) young but very industrious and entrepreneurial,” Hedman explained. “He has a good reputation in the industry. It’s a really good fit.”