November 3, 2023
Creative Landscape Depot takes natural opportunities for growth
member profileBy Julia Harmsworth

Agility, excitement and risk are words that arise frequently in conversation with Jordan Ward, owner of Creative Landscape Depot in St. Jacobs and Guelph, Ont. He is always looking for the next big opportunity to jump into headfirst.

“People create their own dreams,” Ward said. “My mind doesn’t shut off and I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it seems to be wonderful for the company.”

Ward got into landscaping in the early 2000s, flipping houses with his brother. He was working on the front yard of a house in Waterloo when a neighbour asked him for help with a small landscaping job. Ward agreed.

“When I ran the math, I thought, ‘I could make something out of this,’” he said. Ward put some flyers in mailboxes, gained more clients and officially formed Creative Landscape Designs — a landscape maintenance and hardscaping company — in 2004.

Two and a half years in, Ward found a gap in the level of service offered to contractors and decided to fill it. He purchased land in St. Jacobs and became a stone retailer, renaming his company Creative Landscape Depot.

“Where I was buying my materials from, I just wasn’t receiving what I thought I could receive in terms of service,” Ward said. “People believe you can treat a contractor differently, with a lesser customer service-oriented focus, and it shouldn’t be like that.”

Now, Creative Landscape Depot sells homeowners the product a contractor would demand and offers contractors the service a homeowner would demand. Of this business model, Ward says, “That’s unique.”

“The focus was to not only participate in landscape supply, but to hopefully refine it, change it, elevate the perception that the end user has for the landscape industry as a whole.”

group of people standing in front of a truck

A natural niche

Creative Landscape Depot only stocks A-grade materials, or the highest-end product available. Ward only sells homeowners what a contractor or architect would choose to install — something that may be more expensive but will last year after year.  

“You should never sell a homeowner some marketed gimmick just because it’s got a better price,” Ward explained. “You should only offer them the industry’s leading quality item because it’s going to the biggest asset they’ll ever own in their life: their house.”

The company focuses on natural stone, favouring quarries in Wiarton and Kawartha, Ont. It sources products including granite, sandstone and limestone, which Ontario is known for worldwide. Keeping it local keeps it consistent: according to Ward, Ontario natural stone matches the colour palettes of
most houses.

“[Natural stone] is a passion of ours. It’s our niche. It’s finicky — it’s a delicate product line. To fully understand it, you have to stay connected. The fact that it’s not manufactured means it changes daily,” Ward said.

In order to ensure its supply meets demand, Creative Landscape Depot maintains consistent correspondence with local quarries. Ward realizes it would be easier to favour artificial stone, but the delicacy of natural stone gives it an added value — and makes business more exciting.

Sales manager Jeremy Kwiatkowski believes the company’s product quality sets it apart. He was a client before becoming an employee, previously owning a hardscaping business. The A-grade product line drew him to Creative Landscape Depot.

stone patio with firepit

A team of industry leaders

In addition to their product line, Ward believes the company’s strength lies in its team. The majority of Ward’s employees — whom he refers to as “family members,” and occasionally “Spartans” — previously owned landscaping businesses.

This background uniquely equips them to give homeowners the creative direction and confident advice they are looking for. For Kwiatkowski, it also motivates the team to offer exceptional service to contractors, which he says “makes the biggest difference.”

“You want to create an experience that you wish you could have shopped at. That was a big one for me. I wanted to continue to help elevate the industry, create some accountability,” Kwiatkowski said.

Ward says he would not be where he is today without his team. As the company grew, he filled the gaps in his own abilities and proficiencies with the right people. Now, Creative Landscape Depot has about 60 employees across its two locations. Ward makes the most of this team by encouraging his staff to lead without titles.

“I believe everyone’s got an ounce of creativity, and we should all fight to figure out what that is within everyone,” Ward said. “I’m very appreciative. I’m very proud of this team, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Ward strives to offer his employees a positive work-life balance and individualized compensation schemes based on their circumstances. If someone wishes to trade salary for extra vacation days, for example, he makes that happen. He believes in creating power from within with a strong, loyal team — which is a prerequisite for growth.

To be the best leader and teammate he can be, Ward is dedicated to personal growth through reading and learning as much as he can. “As we grow, so do I,” he says. “I need to grow. And that’s been a fun process.”

outdoor stone yard

An eye for opportunity

Ward is no stranger to finding surprising opportunities for growth. Creative Landscape Depot opened a second location in Guelph in 2021 — during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was the perfect opportunity: Guelph was close enough to the St. Jacobs location to exchange materials but far enough away to tap into a new market. Plus, competing businesses were slowing down given the pandemic’s economic toll. Ward saw a gap and wanted to fill it.

“A wise person once told me, when the world is walking, run,” Ward said. “We were not so concerned about the risk as much as we were seeking opportunity and pushing the company forward. It was a roller coaster. There’s nothing more exhilarating.”

While following pandemic restrictions, Creative Landscape Depot managed to come out of COVID-19 at double the size, with more inventory, more staff, more administrative infrastructure and more natural stone.

“Business isn’t stationary. The marketplace is variable. So if we want to be in that race, we better be ready to mold. We’re reshaping every moment,” Ward said.

To thrive in a seasonal industry — with a six-month high season and a six-month off-season — Creative Landscape Depot must be flexible, finding new revenue streams to keep its staff busy and the business growing. For example, it recently became one of the largest salt retailers in the province.

The company is also in its third year of brokering, shipping natural stone from quarries directly to job sites across the province. This service keeps Ward in touch with the greater landscaping community — and reveals any new gaps in the market he may wish to fill.

“I come across a lot of closed doors and brick walls. I also seem, every now and then, to find that one ounce of potential opportunity that exists, and then my art of curiosity forces me to continually engage,” Ward said.
outdoor showroom
stone face in a garden

Passion for the profession

Looking forward, Ward wants to create something sustainable. He embraces digitalization with open arms as a way to offer consumers the best experience possible. He believes in addition to margin protection, digitalization can better the public’s perception of the profession.

“In the green industry, because of the abrasive nature, the dirty work, we often don’t get treated with the same respect,” Ward explained. “[But] the landscape construction industry is a major contributor to the GDP. There should be some respect for it.”

“We’re offering all sorts of materials that are enhancing people’s lives. They’re creating the ambience of what they call home. That’s people’s safe space.”

When asked where he believes Creative Landscape Depot’s success has come from, Ward highlighted multiple factors: taking advantage of opportunities others may shy away from, motivating a strong team and being creative.

His wife Ivonne Malave — who has worked for the company for 10 years — pointed to intention for enacting change in the industry: “I’ve seen the company grow and change, and in the beginning, [Ward] was saying, ‘We should improve this in the industry. Not just in Creative [Landscape Depot], but industry.’”

Ultimately, Ward settled on passion, which he believes is the root of everything else. He is passionate about the industry, his customers, his products and his staff — whom he carries with him on the company’s adventure, forever exhilarated by risk.
angel statue in a garden
gargoyle statue on stone
buiilding a garden in front