Heritage Businesses in WNY / Elbers Landscape Service
Consistency—and the wisdom to diversify
Jim Hornung Sr., president of Elbers
Photos by Stephen Gabris
2918 Main Street, Buffalo
LANDSCAPE SERVICES & SNOW OPERATIONS
In addition to retail shop and offices, the company maintains 160,000 feet of warehouse space for trucks, rock salt, and landscape materials. The business is five percent retail store, forty-five percent landscape services, and fifty percent snow operations.
How old: 100 years
How many employees: 75 in landscape season, 95 for snow removal
In 1919, Henry H. Elbers established a landscape business and moved to 2924 Main Street in Buffalo, next to the current store. A young James (Jim) Hornung started working for Elbers in 1972, eventually purchasing the business from Joe (son of Henry) and Jean Elbers. He maintained the name and image of the business: a service-oriented company located near its city-based customers. Currently, Elbers serves large residential and commercial properties, and a sister company (Great Lakes Athletic Fields Inc.) manages natural sport fields throughout New York State and Pennsylvania. Jim Hornung Sr. is president and son Jim Jr. is senior vice president.
A vintage shot of the original Elbers, which was purchased by Jim Hornung Sr.
Service to the industry
The lawn and landscape industry in general has a culture of mutual support even among competitors, and the Hornungs represent the highest level of that standard of commitment. Both Hornungs (senior and junior) have been officers in the New York State Turfgrass Association, and Jim Jr. has been president of SIMA (Snow and Ice Managers Association). Jim Sr. was president of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County and its Foundation, and is currently the chair of the Buffalo Green Fund. He was also Head Groundskeeper for Pilot Field (now Sahlen Field) for fifteen years.
Why all that board and association work? Why do some business owners put so much into education and strengthening their industries? Jim Sr. explains, “I wish the public understood better about turfgrass and landscaping. It is about the quality of life, pride in how you maintain your property, and knowing the advantages of having properly planted trees or shrubs, and the good that healthy turf can do for your health and comfort. All they hear is how bad this industry treats the environment—and that is just the opposite.”
Jim Hornung Sr. with Jim Hornung Jr.
What has changed, what is the same
The snow removal part of the Elbers business may be the most surprising development over the past few decades. The company stores and uses thousands of tons of rock salt every winter, with a combination of brine—important for lowering salt usage and making salt work faster on snow and ice. Elbers snow removal crews removed more than 50,000 cubic yards of snow from client properties during a recent winter storm.
Another change is the consumer’s level of knowledge and involvement, says Jim: “Our clients are better informed as to what they like or want because of social media. More clients want to be more environmentally friendly but also practical.”
A conversation with Jim Hornung, Sr. is similar to talks with Bill Zittel and Harry Lockwood, who also head long-running green-industry businesses. Three threads are powerful:
• A family business link. (The Hornung family maintained close relationships and established continuity with the business the Elbers family built.)
• Client relationships are highly valued and tend to be longstanding.
• Diversification—seeing changing needs and responding to them—has been the key to survival. Hornung says, “We do much more now than we ever did”—including innovative landscape design, broader hardscape choices, and landscape lighting. But clearly the values and standards remain consistent.